FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Peter Cohos
May 27, 2014
He continues as a director at Triovest, Atrium Mortgage and Winsport … but now that his Tonko interests have been rolled/sold into Triovest, what will he and long time partner Rob Proud be up to? Copez Properties is the vehicle, but what will its business now be? How does he see the world? I got far more than I bargained for in terms of entertaining story-telling, and came away with some insights worth sharing . . .
First, as we sat down, I noticed and asked about those conspicuous things on his wrist – what’s with those bracelets?
He explained, retirement has afforded some time for internet shopping – his first adventure at it, so he bought these re-cycled parachute cord ‘friendship bracelets’ for everyone in his family.
Clearly, he now has way too much time on his hands!
Recently retired, sporting an ‘I spent the winter in Scottsdale’ tan, I met recently with Peter Cohos for a debrief on 30 years in business and in search of ‘what’s next?’ for someone way-too-young to be hanging up his skates.
I asked Peter Cohos why he didn’t go into the family business – in his famous father’s footsteps – as an architect? “I failed drafting in grade nine. My dad was always supportive, he urged us to find and follow our passion.”
Dad was famous architect and founder of Cohos Evamy (now DIALOG), mom was a homemaker, eldest of three (two younger sisters), raised in ElbowPark, graduate of Western Canada High, married to Kim (32 years), two sons, one business partner.
You’ve led what looks to be a rather charmed life. Any low moments or tough times? “In the early days of Tonko, Rob and I had one month where we had to put the payroll on our visa cards.”
I asked Peter for a run-down/overview of his real estate industry career that most of us in the business have seen one part or another of. The story goes like this: graduated with business admin degree from University of Western Ontario (where he met his wife Kim through classmate Rob Proud), worked as an assistant at Knowlton Realty for a year, then as go-fer for executives at Trizec where he was encouraged to pursue his interest in an MBA combined with some travel adventure – which took him to South Africa for eighteen months. Back in Calgary, he began his business with one client – his family, managing a portfolio of properties. He grew that portfolio of properties and clients – leasing, property management and asset management services until he was finding it a little too challenging – especially since a large portfolio deal was on his horizon. He sought, and got, fatherly advice – ‘get yourself a business partner – you’ll never be lonely if you have someone you can trust’. His first and only call was to his pal Rob Proud who was making hay for Marathon Realty in Toronto – who readily drove west to join Peter in what become known as Tonko Realty Advisors. Meanwhile, that big deal collapsed, so they had their work cut out for them.
He explained that he knew they would get along – in business school they’d been on a business consulting team project and remembers saying ‘wouldn’t it be fun to be business partners?’. “Rob is one of the brightest financial minds I know."
Peter was the strategic relationship builder – and their collaboration built a great business success story. Best lessons learned? …”Spend your days making decisions. The next day, review what went wrong – can we change it? And, what did we learn? We empowered our people to make decisions.”
What’s next for you, or rather, for you and Rob? “We own a portfolio – and we are still partners”. His wise, final words, on his business experience: “Real estate is a local business. Sometimes it is guerilla warfare – you have to hide in the weeds.”
I asked Peter how he sees business, for real estate investment and development in Calgary over the next quarter?
… confusing. Different answer for market sectors - each are in different states. Prices are high. It is always best to avoid the highest of highs or the lowest of lows. We have more office space per capita than … anywhere – we are over-supplied.
And over the next 5 years?
… I expect Calgary will continue to grow and remain one of the most important markets in North America, a good city to be in business.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… service. Value. You get what you pay for.
What distinguishes you that causes people/employers to choose Peter Cohos to do business with, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… honesty. Clarity. Focused on what business we are in. Every client, every situation, has three or four defining factors – and I try to remain focused on those. A reputation for finding innovative solutions.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… helping my children launch their lives.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… deciding to go away to school – where I met both my wife and my business partner. Living in South Africa – where I saw what life is like where people are not valued and respected. My dad – prominent role in my life, nothing but supportive, encouraged me to find and follow my passion … and his advice to get a business partner.
Work life balance?
… I’ve yet to define that. Family is #1. Work is #1A. How important it is to have emotional stability at home! We used to make everyone go home by 5:45PM. We didn’t mind if they came in at 5AM, but we insisted they go home on time. My fun is a combination of golf, tennis and road biking. Of the three, road biking is my favourite.
What do you read?
… I used to read novels, John Grisham stuff for escape. Now that I’m not so busy, I’m reading business books to stay current. I’m reading The Art Of War by Sun Tzu.
… 2004 Porsche Cayenne, bought it used (he admits to only once having bought a new car .... but I’m sworn to secrecy about that one).
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