FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Ryan Ackers
March 14, 2017
I know, he’s a different generation – and they talk differently. Not sure if that means I’m out of step or just not meeting enough younger people lately. He described his company as “we are in the IPP space, in the actuarial space”. I asked for an English language interpretation ...
I often interview people in twilight stage of careers who have accomplished much. Refreshing to go the other way, checking out fresh faces/rising stars earlier in their careers who are doing remarkable things … case in point, meet Ryan Ackers (pronounced Acres) – I met him recently to get a better sense of what I.P.P. could do for me. A friend sent me a link to a recent piece he’d written: The Taxman Cometh: Financial Strategy in an Increasingly Hostile Tax Environment – I was intrigued, wanted to know more, tracked him down, requested an interview, and there we were in a restaurant talking tax …
His firm, GBL (Gordon B. Lang and Associates Inc.), an advisory firm founded by – you guessed it, Gordon Lang. Started in Calgary, still headquartered here but with a growing national scope, providing advice to business owners, professionals and high net worth individuals wishing to provide for their future, to minimize and defer taxes - I was interested in learning more. Ryan is a marketer, so he didn't hesitate to tell me more about GBL and all the wonderful things they do – of which I got plenty. Good. Great, but I found I was interested in learning more about Ryan, what makes him tick. We have some things in common - 'follicly challenged’ and ‘only child’ types, and wanting to pay less tax ...
His career thus far: CIBC World Markets, providing investment services to high net worth individuals, then recruited by Robert Half to be a recruiter for financial services folks (he’d met a Robert Half senior executive while working on a Canadian Opera Company fundraiser), then to Randstad to recruiting finance and accounting types – a transfer to Calgary to Branch Mgr. for Finance & Accounting. He found he loved Calgary, found a fiancée (she's an LPN at a dermatology clinic) and found his way back to the investment world at GBL where he is VP Business Development & Client Relations with responsibilities for Western Canada (Victoria to Winnipeg). He has no plans to return to Ontario. Lucky us! We talked about I.P.P.’s (individual pension plans)… a vehicle for business owners and professionals to do far more, far more effectively, than RRSP rules allow – deferring tax, reducing tax … and by then my non-accountant eyes were glazing over. He sells GBL’s services directly to clients and via the financial advisory marketplace. He boasted about GBL’s new President and Chief Actuary, Navaz Cassam – but I wanted to focus on ‘Ryan’ …
The back story begins in Stirling, Ontario a 2,000 person town known mostly for its butter and Kraft-funded arena – northeast of Toronto. His parents, factory workers – cereal and paper. Dad still is, mom retrained in business admin and works in accounting. Without siblings, he made friends … but not academic success until he turned it around in 10th grade. Hockey, student council, volunteer work in local theatre and helping students with learning disabilities - and making friends, were his hobbies. Off to University of Toronto to study political science, he came away with a B.A. (Hons) and some ‘pre MBA’ work which he recalls as “best preparation for my work today” and he hopes to complete the MBA one day soon – but I’m not getting a sense he has time …
Why are you successful? “Hard work pays off. I’ve tried to be innovative outside my own silo. Now I’m in a ‘bigger silo’ but inside a smaller organization. When I’m feeling ‘on a team’ I work better and the team works better.”
What has held you back? “Not much. I suppose deciding to come to Calgary – altered my predicted path. Starting a new chapter - in a place I didn’t know was a temporary setback, but now I'm feeling highly energized by my work, my life and this place. And not having my MBA yet – but I’ve not lost sight of that goal.”
How do you see your business – tax and retirement planning / actuarial consulting – going forward over the next quarter?
… in Alberta, things are very good. Our business is driven not so much by oil & gas industry fluctuations, as it is by tax rates – which have been trending up – which is driving people toward I.P.P.’s. Yes, very good … And we are developing some new products I'm excited about.
And over the next five years?
… likely to continue strong – and with NDP and Liberal governments sustained higher tax rates are likely, so that bodes well for us, building awareness of what I.P.P. can do for people will continue to drive our growth.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… quality, service – and I hate buying things that fall apart! People who stand out. Trust. Relationships. I like value – but I’ll pay more for quality.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Ryan Ackers, and why do they do business with you, why have they hired you, over your competitors?
… I go the extra mile for my clients – and I’m often inspired by my clients. It’s all about relationship and trust.
… building it!
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… nothing much. And everything. Those ‘what if?’ things. I’ve got a great job, a great fiancée, good health – but nothing is certain. The regulatory environment, things we can’t control. Not so much worry, as ‘these things are on my mind’.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… my best friend from high school, Mike Duhig, was a huge influence – he got me into a workout regime and into being more focused on my studies. Lost him in 2008 – he was killed in a car accident. My parents – I was a problem child, only child, got into trouble – but their influence, their work ethic was an extremely strong influence. I’m a Churchill nerd from a small town who loves people.
… entertaining/cooking, board games, squash. Scotch and cigars. A good friend, a chef, taught me lots. My fiancée Jennifer is a great cook – so we do a lot of that. She's the reason I’m ‘organic’ now … [editor’s note to Ryan: less food, more squash if you want to be trim for those wedding photos].
What do you read?
… I’m a huge Winston Churchill fan – The Last Lion. Business books, history, cookbooks, anything written by someone I know …
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