FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Robert Balfour
October 28, 2014
When I interview people, after we get past the ‘ask’, the challenge is sometimes one of getting people to open up beyond their stock politically-correct answers. I found my recent conversation with Robert (Bob) Balfour, Managing Partner, Development Finance Group at MCAP well worth my time. I found him incredibly forthcoming, fit, funny and focused, so please enjoy …
What has contributed most to your success?
“Inspiration from and remembering this quote from my early-in-career boss, and mentor at Great West Life, Jamie Knowles. He said ‘If you can’t get there, I can, so find a way’. Owning my own business. Coming through very difficult economic cycles – I learned to embrace it and move forward.”
What, more than any other thing, has held you back?
“Being unwilling, several times in my career, to take transfers to Toronto.”
I asked about the beginning of his career path. “University of Calgary, for a half-semester of pre-dentistry, doing what dad thought I should do, switched to Commerce, majored in finance. It took me four and a half years. I graduated without any idea of the importance of finance. I was interviewed by life companies. My first job was with Great West Life in Real Estate Finance.
Bob was a good boy. Following parents' wishes, he did K-nine in Catholic schools, but dad relented on his choice of high school, to be with his friends at Western Canada High. Youngest of five kids (mom stayed home, dad worked in the oil patch out in the field), Bob played football (defensive back, back-up QB), rugby and made life-long friends there – seven of whom had a reunion this September in Whitefish.
“In the mid-late 70s, I got lucky. On my first big underwriting project (1976-78) – I found my passion for mortgage lending. About that time I started dating my wife (married thirty-seven years). We met at a keg-party at a friend’s house during Stampede week.”
MCAP, Bob tells me, has $42.5 billion in loans under administration on behalf of 30 institutional investors. That’s a lot of lending power!
Otera Capital, a subsidiary of The Caisse de depot et placement du Quebec is the majority shareholder of MCAP, MCAN Mortgage Corporation have a minority piece - and the management group of which Bob is part own the remainder.
I asked Bob how he sees his businesses – mortgage banking – generally; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… through the moon! We expect to fund $800 million in commitments this quarter. Our funding is seasonally affected … so this is a more heavily weighted quarter, but wow! We are intermediaries so timing of moving parts often takes longer than expected, but it has been a very solid year.
And over the next five years?
… for the next two years, very strong; Alberta #1, Ontario #2, BC #3. Beyond that, I’m wary about longer range predictions. The oil industry is being beaten up emotionally about getting oil to market (pipelines). There are some warning signs globally. Where we excel is that we’ve historically been able to find ways to adapt quicker than our competitors.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… through my lens – a good sense of people, of reality. Integrity, trust, character – of course. People who are relaxed. It’s all about culture, fit, personality. Still, you don’t know what you have until they are on the job.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Bob Balfour and MCAP, why do they do business with you, why have they chosen you, over your competitors?
… raw honesty. Very open, direct. I take credit risk VERY seriously! I fight for people – staff and clients. Interesting really, considering I was a painfully shy child.
How would you describe your leadership or management style?
… high energy, passionate. Detail is not my strong suit. People find me ‘surprisingly strategic’, seeing bigger picture.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… Much less today …. Friends and their health. Everything we worry about isn’t worth worrying about.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… lots! Loss of a friend (Harvey Wylie Jr.) who died when I was very young brought reality to life for me; a time when I was out of work for nine months – perhaps I was being picky, it’s a process in which you realize you are a piece of a complex puzzle; an early mentor, Bill Henderson, President at Wellington Trust who believed in me; the breakup of Pro-Fund left me wanting a change in my career, some form of ownership following which I’ve been operating as an entrepreneur; my wife Janet (retired after a long career as controller at Agro Equipment) is a solid pillar - for her good works (Calgary Sarcee Rotary, work in Africa, our daughter); one of our clients suggested I get involved with TEC/The Executive Committee (it’s like YPO for people who are no longer young!) five years ago – and it has been life changing for me; Bill Quinney who introduced me to Rotary which has taught me the true value in life is giving back, a belief in service; coaching bantam hockey for seven years gave me great energy; I admire philanthropists like Bill Gates, Harley Hotchkiss, Doc Seaman – these exceptionally wealthy people, the only reason they are doing things is to help others …
Work life balance, do you have it?
… it’s a spectrum, over time, not a point in time – work vs. quality of life. I’ve been very busy. I took over leadership of our group (Development Finance Group business unit) nationally two and a half years ago … so lots of changes have been driving my work life.
… travel. Working out with a personal fitness trainer. I love cycling – spin classes, road biking. I’m a very bad golfer – it takes too much time when I would rather be doing other things. I skied lots with my daughter when she was growing up but not so much now that she has moved to U-Vic and has a job in Vancouver. Spending time at our place in Whitefish. We’ve been to Africa this past year. We've been twice – Botswana and South Africa - (my wife’s also been to Uganda). We are interested in helping to secure habitat, where every little bit helps to change lives.
What do you read?
… I’m a voracious reader. I always have a couple of books on the go. I like fiction, mysteries (a big Grisham fan), personal development books. I passionately believe in ongoing education and growth.
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