FACILITYCalgary publisher Mark Kolke, in conversation with Scott Hutcheson
September 23, 2014
“I want to be better. I’m not there yet, in terms of my personal goals.” …
I first met Scott Hutcheson about ten years ago – when we worked on a couple of projects together. But we were busy on those projects, so there was little time to ‘get personal’. As his frenetic summer schedule calmed, I caught up with him recently for a lunch-time interview over salads and yogurt in his board room at Aspen Properties.
One might expect bravado from him – his successes certainly have earned him that, but decency, humility and grace easily flow as did some tears when he spoke of a friend's recent loss of a daughter.
Not to say he has a shortage of ego, but it strikes me more as him ‘carrying on the family business’ in which his father and grandfather schooled him – that business is worthy, community and family are important.
Small town boy makes good.
Skiing CAN lead to a successful career!
Divorced, two sons, three cars, four homes (Calgary, Canmore, Montana, Florida) and a personal trainer who comes to the house every morning. Natty dresser. Ski resorts. With partners he owns MountNorquay (the skiing, not the mountain). He’s on the board at Whistler Blackcomb. He’s involved in community endeavours, boards and charities. You won’t find him at golf tournaments much – though his company often signs on to sponsor good causes. He’s certainly a busy-about-town guy.
The family business began in hardwoods (since sold to Weldwood) in Huntsville, Ontario (pop. 3,200) where Scott grew up. “We walked to school, we came home for lunch every day. It was a great community for kids to grow up. My dad was an entrepreneur (Christmas tree business, gravel business, world’s best volleyball sand) and our mom was very active in the community, the arts, producing and directing plays and raising four kids. An older brother and sister. And baby brother Blake.
Hutcheson is a name synonymous with success in Canadian commercial real estate. Do you credit your brother Blake (head of Oxford, former head of CBRE) with that success – or do you credit his because of you? “Both. Of course. We talk all the time. We always have. We are best friends. Blake took the direct route – Upper Canada College, Western, LondonSchool of Economics”.
“I took a different route! I was an OK student. I dropped out of grade twelve in 1978 when I made the ski team and headed to Europe. I spent five years on the national ski team.”
Scott was on the Ontario and Canadian ski teams (ranked 40th in the world), ski scholarship took him to the University of Utah where he was an NCAA Ski Team: First Team All American. And then, when he aged-out of eligibility, he stayed as a ski coach. There he got his GED and went on to earn a B.Sc. in Finance. That led to a junior investment banker stint at Goldman Sachs, followed by an M.Sc. in Finance from Columbia where he won a thesis award for his analysis of waterfront real estate development in Manhattan ... which led to adventures in acquiring golf course communities in the southern U.S., Florida in particular, for a Warburg Pincus-backed firm. A series of deals and moves brought him to Calgary in 1998 where, with help of a backer, he orchestrated a reverse-takeover public company acquisition, transformed Consolidated Properties into the privately held Aspen Properties we know today as a substantial holder and developer of downtown office buildings in Calgary and Edmonton.
Do your son’s (15 & 17) ski race? “They did, but then chucked it – saying, 'that’s your sport dad'. They still enjoy skiing. They are both good athletes and students."
Speaking about building Aspen Properties and of his partners, he added:
“Greg Guatto and I and Veronica Bouvier never fought. How lucky are we? We never had a disagreement.”
What has contributed most to your success? “My partners, my board members and role models and my insecurities.”
What would you say has held you back? “Getting up every morning having to prove myself to myself, things that are a work in progress and a few – a healthy few – unhealthy fears.”
I asked Scott how he sees his business – downtown office landlord and developer in Calgary and Edmonton – generally; ‘how’s business?’ over the next quarter?
… market softening. Absorption is status quo. Industry is treading water. Interests rates are low. Most Alberta growth is blue collar. Cap-rates are holding stable in A class buildings. Not so in B and below …
And over the next five years?
… We need a massive infusion of capital to bridge the infrastructure deficit. More housing in the Beltline. Movement toward live-work-play environments. More offices in the suburbs – as younger people want to live where they work.
What qualities distinguish your preferred colleagues, collaborators and suppliers?
… we deal with people who bring their ‘A’ game who are on top of their profession. Driven. Honest. Style isn’t important. Integrity and intelligence are most important.
What distinguishes you that causes people to choose Scott Hutcheson, why do they do business with you, why you/your firm over your competitors?
… a reputation that we close on time, and at the contracted price allowed us to buy 20 buildings in four years. We make deals, and we live with them. We never tie-things-up unless we intend to buy them on the terms we negotiate.
How would you describe your leadership style?
… values based. Eyes on – hands out. My job is to set a strategy based on our value system and allow my team to execute. Management meeting once a week. We are a ‘family first’ organization. Honesty, integrity, flexibility.
What do you lose sleep over, what do you worry about?
… my children – teen years' challenges. Health. Health of my family.
Who or what influenced you most – that has made a difference in your life, or that was a major turning point?
… a mentor and ski coach, Ken Compton, showed me that I could be a successful athlete and then do business. My dad, for his positive attitude. He’s 88 and still skis 90 days a year! Harold Milavsky, who often beat me up in the boardroom. He made me a better person. We were really close.
Work life balance, do you have it?
… since 2007, today, yes. From 1998 – 2007 my life was out of balance. Young kids, working seven days a week. When kids are out of school, I'm out of school.
What do you read?
… The Economist, two newspapers a day. Autobiographies. I just finished my friend John Furlong’s book Patriot Hearts .
… a 12-year old Suburban, a six-year old Escalade and a three-year old sports car.
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