FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Naum Shteinbah
June 11, 2013
Have you ever been to a conference where one of the students stands out as smarter than everyone in the room – especially the presenters – which becomes apparent from their questions? Sure, what you might expect from a guy with finance designations on his Homes by Avi business card. To my surprise it said, P.Eng., MBA. An engineer, fluent in finance? Who knew! That is how I met Naum Shteinbah (he says it Schtein-baw but says Steinbeck is fine too) at a construction financing conference I was chairing.
He studied English in school in the former USSRrepublic of Molodva – was an honour student in school and university where he studied engineering. His wife’s family, living here, sponsored their immigration to Canada in 1990. An engineer trained in hydraulics, he had a choice to make to achieve his engineering designation here – mechanical or civil. His choice was civil and he takes great pride in his iron ring, which he got from APEGGA in 1995. His career has come a long way since he arrived in Canada with $273 dollars in his pocket . . .
From menial jobs at first – to a series of serendipitous steps have build a varied career in civil engineering followed by development and construction of facilities in Canada, Arctic Russia, Germany and Poland. Then a job offer from Avi Amir in 1997 that he had to turn down to finish a project in Russia, followed by an 11-yr run at Qualico’s multi-family housing division, Streetside, culminated in 2009 with a Provincial SAM Award for the Best Multi-Family Community of the Year. Since 2010, Naum has been with Homes by Avi Group of Companies.
His role is Vice President, Business Development & Finance for Homes by Avi with offices in Calgary, Edmonton and Austin, Texas. He says, “I try to see the deal through, from the beginning as raw land all the way to a cash-flowing asset. When that can be done creatively – it is what I really enjoy. My job is to help make strategic business decisions and manage our project financing to make sure we can do more, expanding the use of our equity. I enjoy what I’m doing!”
What defines life-work balance for you?
. . . I work “9 to 6” days. My wife starts working early – I normally drive kids to school in the morning. Hobbies - I love photography, both landscape and close-up photography. I collect briar pipes. I rarely if ever smoke them, I just like to collect them.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
. . . unpredictability. People who’ve not lived through a business crash have an unbridled optimism. People who have – know that the economy is cyclical. Housing industry is very local in nature. It is a supplier to the demand created by the economic conditions. We procure this demand. I worry about what might happen if major pipeline projects don’t go ahead and people in the oil and gas industry get laid-off. Our business, like any other business is driven by opportunity. There is a lot of talk on all levels about municipal growth, its costs, benefits, challenges. Some say it is all bad, some say it is all good. I don’t believe it is all that black and white though. Municipal growth is like a precious eco-system – disturbance in one thing usually leads to unintended negative consequences in other things. I learned a lot about tolerating and understanding opposing views during my term with the Development Appeal Board (2005-7) and through the past 15 years of working with Calgary communities.
I asked Naum how he sees business over the next 90 days?
… Comparable, albeit slightly increasing production levels for our firm – and for the industry most likely.
. . . and over the next 5 years?
I see a 10-year horizon that could be relatively flat with housing starts being timid, unless some significant positive shifts happen with the global and local economy in the next couple of years. As a company, we need to look into other things to maintain our market share and diversify our revenue sources. There will be new entrants in the market places where we operate – they will try and win their own market share at the expense of existing players. Of course, there is the question of how the Plan It Calgary initiative unfolds and how it will affect the business of all Calgary homebuilders. Our company is diversifying, doing several partnerships with investors and open to new partnership relationships.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life?
… my mother and grandmother (my father died when I was 6 months old), my lovely wife, who has to tolerate MY opposing views on everything for over 25 years now. Several mentors through my career – Alexey Fedorchuk, my hydraulics engineering professor at the university, Les Sawatsky, a senior engineer at WER Engineering, my first engineering job in Canada, Terry Gowing at Urban Systems, Len Schienbein at Qualico and, now, Monty Kendall here at Homes by Avi – they’ve all been a tremendous help to me. And Avi Amir himself is a great role model, an understanding and caring person – down to earth, smart, witty, calm. Homes by Avi invested in me by sending me back to school as soon as I joined them in 2010. I now got my dual MBA degrees from CornellUniversity and Queen’s University – a lot of early Saturdays and Sundays!
What are you reading?
. . I read a lot. Lots of research, 3 newspapers a day, New Yorker magazine, everything Malcolm Gladwell writes.
. . . nothing fancy – Nissan truck, I’ve got a big family and two dogs to fit in it.
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