FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Mike Bodnar
March 5, 2019
First impressions matter … and they last.
Michael (Mike) Bodnar first crossed my path a few years ago – he was establishing Calgary operations for his employer at the time. I helped securing business premises and then another facilities lease for expansion a couple of years later. He was hard-nosed. And kind, young (by my standards) and incredibly smart. We got along well but didn’t spend much time together. Time passed, his company was acquired, changed focus and he was ‘packaged out’.
I wanted to reconnect with him once his non-compete expired and he had hung his new shingle – Buffalo Fire Engineering. In part to help him, but also to thank him for his impact on me. A few years ago when I was moving residences I sold some surplus furnishings. Mike came by, bought my treasured Weber BBQ, but he also bought an odd assortment of old chairs. His explanation was that they weren’t for him but for a family they were helping out who had nothing and needed chairs …
Fast forward – fall of 2018 – launch of Buffalo Fire, and the challenge of getting together for this interview; hard to capture time of a busy guy building a new firm but we both persevered, leading to a recent two hour lunch and copious notes.
Born in Calgary, mom was a stay-at-home. She had a B.A. from the U of S, dad was ‘a lineman for the county’ – actually for Sask Power who met mom when working in the LaFleche, Saskatchewan area. Dad’s work took the family to Calgary, then to New Westminster and back to Calgary. Mike is the middle child – he has an older brother and a twin sister.
Growing up in Calgary Mike’s focus was school and hockey. Valedictorian at E.P. Scarlett High, rep hockey (defence and forward) and pro prospects with scouts offering hockey/school combos in Canada and the U.S.. As well, staying in Calgary was an option. A chance encounter via a classmate with information about RMC (Royal Military College) in Kingston caught Mike’s interest – getting away from home, an education and hockey proved a compelling combination and off he went. He got his schooling on condition of a five year commitment to serve in the Canadian Army.
Mike earned his B. Eng. at RMC. Later, P.Eng in 2001, M. Eng. From University of Maryland. 4.0GPA/Phi Kappa Phi Honor Society.
RMC days were divided in four focus areas: academics, athletics, 2nd language and military training. Yes, he played hockey too – including playing in a German pro league. His first posting was to Germany, then Bosnia and as a NATO liaison with local authorities. He explored further training in Britain with special forces – where he did well but decided the ‘green beret/James Bond’ sort of career path was not for him. But he did the training …
Posted next to CFB Edmonton, he joined friends at a local pub one night where he met a child and youth care gal named Andrea who proved an immediate and profound influence on Mike’s path. He carried on with his Special Forces Training in Eastern Canada – but returned to Alberta, Andrea and had a epiphany that he knew that was where his life should focus. Following this time in the army he got a job as a field engineer in oil & gas and didn’t care for it, opting to go back to school at UNBC. Married Andrea in 2002 (they have an 11 yr. old daughter), mixing work with B.C. Hydro (Sr. Fire Prevention Engineer) and getting his Masters degree – and work with Serica Fire who transferred him to Calgary to establish operations here, which he did. A private-equity acquisition of Serica by Jenson Hughes – Mike stayed on for three years and set up Buffalo Fire Engineering in 2018.
Why are you successful? “Work ethic. I got that most emphatically and early from my dad – the hardest working person I’ve even known.”
What has held you back? “nothing really. Laziness at moments, but few. I’m very hard on myself – not sure if that is part of success or a limiting factor. Time – there never seems to be enough.”
How do you see your business – forensic fire investigations, and, fire & life safety consulting – going forward over the next quarter?
… very good right now. Fire files come in ‘when they come in’. In terms of consulting work – particularly on new building planning I’m building my pipeline – mostly from renewing connections with people and companies I’ve worked with before. I also sit on a number or industry board and panels dealing with code and regulatory issues …
And over the next five years?
… I don’t know. On the forensic side, insurance companies are always shifting the ways they analyze their approach to things …(i.e., the Fort Mac wildfire). Practices around prevention are always shifting. There is movement for fire and building codes to be more prescriptive and scientific even though we’ve shifted into objective based codes.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… I focus on value – which doesn’t mean I’m cheap, because cheapest in rarely the best. Picking suppliers, people or buying things, I choose things and relationships that will last.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Mike Bodnar, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… Service. I believe my services add value. I want to help my clients make the best decisions they can.
How would you describe your leadership/management style?
… I’ve always tried to value my employees for what they bring to the table. Building a business is like building a sports team – you can’t have all ‘all stars’. I’m a big proponent of letting people fail and learn.
… I’ve learned to have it …
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… different things today than I used to. Not much anymore. I hate to be unprepared – so I wrestle with that a bit.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… when I was overseas training with Royal Marine Commandos I experienced compartmental syndrome – extreme pain. I should have quit but I was determined. There was a certain level of insanity in that, but I came to grips with my fear of failure. We had some disastrous times, got lost, we were freezing and some guys quit on the spot. I learned, “you gotta do the right things for the right reasons”. And Andrea. She’s very grounded, self-confident – knew what she wanted out of life, and I was very attracted to that. I saw something in her that I wanted, she would help make me a better person. And my relationship with god. St. Augustine said we have a god-sized hole in our heart. Andrea had that 'peace' about her and I realized I needed that in my life too.
… recreational hockey, golf – handicap 1.5 [that’s not a typo folks], member at Cottonwood, taking my daughter to riding lessons – family time is really important to me.
What do you read?
… two books on the go right now. Gulag Archipelago, and 12 Rules for Life: an antidote for chaos. Not much fiction, unless it’s historical fiction. Devices more the books.
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