FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Ralph Huizinga
February 4, 2014
Intriguing quiet strong clear intelligent decent – these are words I easily use to describe this man who has been known to me for a long time, but only recently could I say I’ve begun to know him and I’m richer for it. I can’t say that about many people I meet, but I say it easily about Ralph Huizinga , VP Acquisitions & Development – Western Canada at First Capital Realty Inc.
You would have to look far and wide to find someone better – who understands food-anchored shopping centers in western Canada – than Ralph does. But it seems to me describing him that way barely scratches the surface of who he is. I’ve enjoyed finding out. I think he expected me to explore Ralph the commercial real estate guy – which is certainly interesting – but I wanted to understand Ralph the interesting guy behind the desk, title and position …
One wife Nancy (since 1979), 3 grown children, 3 grandchildren (including twins that arrived last Christmas).
He told me he isn’t comfortable with interviews – “I’m not ego driven. Our industry is driven by triple-A personalities. I try not to be one.”
But before all that – there was a background, a beginning:
He admits to being a typical rebellious 2nd child. He is 2nd of five. Born in Toronto. Dad was an electrician, mom stayed home. Schooling and church were Calvinist – grades 1-13 in private Christian Reform Schools, Trinity College in Chicago, CalvinCollege in Grand Rapids, Michigan. He played hockey in Chicago. And he studied history and philosophy. Then back to University of Toronto for a Masters Degree in History. A collection of Ministers had a desire to invest in a multi-res real estate portfolio – they hired Ralph to handle property management, asset management and development matters and the rest, one might say … is history!
That portfolio brought him west, to Edmonton in 1987 when liquidating Ontario assets and buying amd developing in Alberta made sense. When those investors faced retirement, the portfolio was wound down, a 3rd party management firm (which Ralph joined) took on the portfolio. Two years later that landscape changed and Ralph moved on, to Canada Safeway where he spent 9 years in property development, real estate management – then to his current post in 2007 where today he is happy and ‘very busy’.
Since he’s a developer, I tried to engage him in ‘what is wrong at city hall?’ discussion but he defers to ‘living the reality’ of the policy and administrative process of city governments as a reality of the marketplace that requires patience – but he had a pained look on his face when he said it.
I asked Ralph how he sees his business, and his industry, faring over the next 90 days?
… still good. Even the hype looks good. I can’t imagine what would deflate that. My vision is a bit myopic – I have to see beyond Calgary because we easily forget how fragile the whole world is – economically, environmentally, politically.
And over the next 5 years?
…. in the west I see us shifting more of our focus to urban core in pursuit of growth opportunities – how to develop on our own and in Joint Ventures, mixed use re-developments in the heart of cities (Calgary, Edmonton, Vancouver, Victoria).
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… price can't be ignored. Relationship based. Ability to perform. People you trust and respect. Loyal if it is consistent. Loyal to my colleagues – we are all part of a team.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Ralph Huizinga, why do they do business with you and your company over your competitors?
... relationship, track record. JV’s are tricky. The second project is easy. The first one is very hard – and no agreement is going to help you get along. The test is whether there is a 2nd or a 3rd project.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
…all family related. Not leaving a sustainable world to our children and grand-children.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… Mark Ward, a high school history teacher. Extremely intelligent, articulate, passionate about history and politics and understanding them. Mom .. great. Dad … still working on it. My heart attack took me a long time to process. No surgery, but I had couple of stents installed. It took me two years to quit smoking, longer still to get into restraint and exercise. It taught me life is fleeting – there are things you should enjoy; friends, kids, grand-kids.
Do you have a hero?
… Aleksandr Solzenhitysn. I was intrigued by his story – resilience and character. I’ve read all three volumes of the Gulag Archipeligo
Work life balance?
… I suck at it, but I try getting better. Travel, running (till recently – knee trouble), still play beer league hockey, golf, +50 games, travelling to softball tournaments with my wife Nancy.
What do you read?
… eclectic mix. Recently .. A Thousand Splendid suns by Khaled Hosseini, False Economy by Alan Beattie, travel books. I haven’t read a history book in quite a long time.
… Camry Hybrid, Ford F150, 865cc Triumph Bonneyville for fun
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