FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Perry Kinkaide
January 6, 2015
Many years ago in my Edmonton era, I served on a not-for-profit board of an organization called Skills (Society for knowledge in learning living skills) which serves people with developmental disabilities. That six years changed my life in many ways and brought some fascinating people into my life. Skills was the morphing of a government program called Hillside, started by Perry Kinkaide – I’ve heard lots about Perry Kinkaide but never met him. These days his retirement from shaking up government programs serving vulnerable people (among many others, he started Handicapped Children’s Services) – he is a well reputed angel-investor in technology ventures and founder of Alberta Council of Technologies and raconteur extraordinaire. Over the holidays I was able to corral him for some conversation …
Academic, scientist, bureaucrat, retirement, tech-investing – a life most interesting, rooted in science but most obviously a man of humanity and kindness – Perry Kinkaide is quite the combo.
His mantra - “I really like people, believe in the goodness of man and believe we have a responsibility to make the world better.”
He began life in Brooklyn, New York. Mom was a well-read stay-at-home mom. Perry was the eldest of three (he has two younger sisters). Dad was a chemical engineer by training and a valve salesman by profession. Valves for nuclear plants etc. No doubt a scientific influence. Perry shared some fascinating side-stories about his family – no room for them here – but I gathered ‘high expectations and solid values’ and a desire to please/fight his father had an influence on his early years.
His B.Sc. (psychology major) from Colgate University in Hamilton, New York established him as a hard worker who loved labs and glee-club; and began his fascination with biodiversity of brains. An interview with an IBM recruiter orchestrated by his father had the intended effect, sort of. He railed against the job – and wrestled with ‘what do you want to do?’ – so he joined the Peace Corp. But he was fascinated with brain research – applications to Hoffstra University, Boston College and University of Alberta were all accepted. The program at U of A was the most interesting. Armed with a sense of adventure and $1,000 borrowed from the Oysterman’s Bank (yes, there is such a place) he set out for train-ride adventures to Edmonton where he distinguished himself as a passionate student. Missing his train in Brattleboro, Vermont brought on more serendipitous story telling – but soon intrepid Perry was working on the biochemistry of memory in Edmonton. His Ph.D. was earned in 1971 … about the same time the Lougheed government came to power.
About that time he became fascinated by and a disciple of the work of Dr. Wolf Wolfensberger whose breakthrough work on Normalisation for people with developmental disabilities would soon change the world for people with mental retardation. Perry’s work at the newly created Centre for Study of Mental Retardation at the U of A set the stage for what became a long and storied career changing lives as ‘the time had come’. While Wolfensberger was dragging most of the world along – Perry was racing ahead using that ‘Omaha model’ of services and care.
His objective, “to find an issue that needed attention. And, the Lougheed government wanted change.”In 1972 Dr. Kinkaide had three job offers in one day. He elected to stay in Edmonton as the regional coordinator for Services for the Handicapped in Edmonton, reporting to Marcel Arcand. He wrote a paper (the business plan) and with three staff began a long run as change-agent supreme in his field. But change costs money, and the NEP cost-cutting times slowed the pace of change and Perry was soon an Assistant Deputy Minister cutting budgets and getting spending under control.
Post government, consulting work with Stevenson Kellogg who merged with KPMG. Consultant work was as much about getting work, winning work as it was doing work – and he thrived there.
And yes, there is a Mrs. Kinkaide. Perry met Alexandra, a child psychologist at the U of A. Their two sons are doing well in professional careers … and there is a grandson who has captivated Perry’s attention. They all live in St. Albert. Close. Braniacs all. Must be fun.
There was more – a couple of hours more – discussion on a field I find fascinating, talking with a man who is legendary in terms of his work in Alberta, but I wanted to turn discussion to his role as a tech-guy, the angel investor.
Some gems from our talk:
On climate change: “coastal living may be over”.
Why found ABC Tech? “I realized, as a technology investor, I was doing a good enough job. I asked five people to be my advisors, to look at deals. Five became 10. Then 15, then 20 … now we have a newsletter mailing list of 15,000. We have never been more relevant than we are at this moment.”
“I believe in the power of collaboration – we have arts and culture, and we have science and technology, so why can’t we bring them together? What are the ethics of knowledge?”
His last words: “In time we touched life and we will never be the same.”
I asked Perry (he says he’s back to work after a short experience with the 3G approach to retirement – golf, gardening and grandchildren) how he sees his businesses – technology investor and change agent; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter? [but his answer seemed more about the state of things in Alberta … ]
… prosperity is a rights problem. We are far from markets – we sell raw materials. We’ve lived with a gift of cash, but what did we leave?
And over the next five years?
… we are really good at energy technologies, but where are we in being prepared for a post-carbon economy? We are entering an era of super-intelligence. As Hawking cautions, do we know where we are going? Should we trust market forces to decide our future? Government doesn’t have the guts to constrain it. Are we ready for forecasting?
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
… collaborative, always gather the data – insure that people value the data.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… about the loves of my life. About family matters, my wife’s health, my sisters’ health.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my sons, their experiences have had an impact on me, and I on them. My wife. Life is about relationships.
… golf. Cottage time. Sailing Estella at Lake Nakumun. Organizing high-school reunions every five years.
What do you read?
… history. Visionary leaders – like Eisenhower, Churchill, Ghandi. Iris Murdoch novels.
… I usually drive used cars. Ford Focus, because it can hold a baby car seat.
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