FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Robert Liden
August 11, 2015
“Good etiquette never goes out of style …” – Robert Liden
While I’ve known him a long time, did I really know him? I knew him as attentive suit salesman who gave great service. I knew he was son of Edmonton legal-legend, lawyer and judge ‘Swede’ Liden (Liden, Ackroyd & Co.). I'd always wondered why Robert had not followed in his father’s path, as do so many children of lawyers. Seems Robert was true to type – following in his grandfather’s footprints as a superb retail merchant.
I wanted to interview him – but he was resistant. While he certainly needs and wants to grow business like anyone else, he’s very modest and not a personal horn-tooter. I am glad I persisted – and in the process learned a good deal more about an old friend. Case in point – Robert Liden (pronounced le-deen) – who I met in the Holt Renfrew store in Edmonton more than twenty years ago. I quickly became a loyal customer. Robert rose to be department manager at Holts, but when we moved to Henry Singer’s, I happily followed and became a trusting customer who got great advice and even greater service. I moved to Calgary and that connection (my bad!) waned. Lucky for me, he moved to Calgary – he’s at Henry Singer’s in Bankers Hall , and our business relationship has rekindled.
Born and raised in Edmonton – his mother was an architect and homemaker. Dad, the lawyer, and later a judge. Robert is the youngest of four. Growing up he was avid in pursuit of sports – hockey skiing, golf – but academics were a struggle. After Ross Sheppard High School graduation, he attended NAIT where he studied Business Administration but did not complete the program. Work, a desire to sell, beckoned. First early sales jobs in car sales weren’t rewarding (he felt the customers thought him too-young!) but selling clothing was …
Why the move to Calgary? “My wife Siobhan got a great promotion and transfer in 2014 – she manages aviation at ATCO – so there was no question. It’s been a great move for her.”
His away from work passion is cycling (so that’s how he keeps wearing those slim-cut Italian suits so well!). Robert and his wife are DINKS (double income – no children) – but he admits to treating his eight bicycles with considerable care!
What has contributed most to your success? “You have to like what you do, then the money will take care of itself. My work ethic – I’m a hard-working perfectionist. Relationships with customers, my people skills … ”
What has held you back? “Nothing. It’s all a matter if how hard you work.”
Some people cross our paths and we don’t notice much – while others leave an impression – but time or distance separates us. And then, when we are lucky, those paths cross again. And we pay better attention. Not cycling, but certainly some form of re-cycling …
I asked Robert how he sees his business “premium men’s fashion business”; I asked ‘how’s business looking, going forward over the next quarter?’
… challenging! We are luxury goods – not necessities. With lots of uncertainty, one might expect difficulty, but I find when people are out of work they become more focused on their appearance. I don’t expect we’ll see any new retailers entering our market for a while due to the economy.
And over the next five years?
… I see a trend back to ‘better dress at the office’. While the economy will push many people ‘back to basics’ the job market and employment will be more competitive. Employers will look at many factors, I’m sure, but hygiene and appearance will be as important as performance in getting and keeping a great job. First impressions are very important.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… trust, honesty. Integrity. People I’m comfortable with, who treat me as I would treat them – then I’m loyal without a need to change. Gut-feelings.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Robert Liden, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I show my customers pride in what I do. I’m interested in people. It’s never about making the sale, it’s about doing the right thing. Someone whose knowledge level is high – why wouldn’t they want to deal with me?
How would you describe your management style?
… I don’t have the patience to be a good teacher and coach. In my career – at Tip Top, at Holts – I was in management and did well at it, but I wanted back into sales. When I left the Edmonton Henry Singer store I was #1. Starting again in Calgary has been a struggle to get myself known and establish clientele, but I’ve never regretted moving back into sales – I love it.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… my health. I've broken a lot of bones in cycling mishaps ...
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… I didn’t have a lot of self-confidence growing up – nothing ever came easy for me. I was a shy kid. Closeness with family has always been important for me. My dad was a great help to me …
Work-life balance – do you have it?
… hmm-hmm! I have a flexible schedule and I’m happy in my work.
… cycling, selling clothing! … hanging out with my wife. We like museums, galleries, travelling. Dinners with friends.
What do you read?
… current events, cycling and men’s wear publications. I like novels but don’t seem to get around to reading them much.
… we have a 2015 VW Golf. I ride a bike to work every day. My ‘pride’ in bikes shows most in my Pinarello …
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