In its 16th year, Junior Achievement (JA) Southern Alberta is inducting four individuals into the Alberta Business Hall of Fame – Southern Alberta. With a vast array of accomplishments, these four great Albertans have each contributed to the province in unique and far-reaching ways, helping to shape our past, present and future. Though their stories are unique, their impacts are similarly profound.
“It is an incredible privilege for JA to recognize these individuals and we are so grateful to them and to the community for the continued support of this event and of JA and our programming,” says Melissa From, president and CEO of JA Southern Alberta. “JA is working hard to create a generation of visionaries, trailblazers, global citizens and community builders. I can’t think of better role models for our students.”
This year’s inductees include, for the first time, two women. Margaret Southern is known as the matriarch of Calgary who, along with her late husband Ronald (founder of ATCO Group), founded and built Spruce Meadows, the internationally-renowned equestrian centre in Calgary; Suzanne West (1965-2018) was a pioneer in her field as the only woman in the graduating class of her engineering program and a disrupter of the natural resources sector in the way she did business; Geoffrey Cumming exemplifies just how global the business world is and made the single-largest donation to the University of Calgary in its history; Jay Westman, chairman and CEO of Jayman BUILT, has led the company to great heights over the past 39 years, and is a shining example of a visionary who brings things to life.
Each of the laureates has also given much of their time and money to charitable causes in the city, including in the areas of health care, education, homelessness, sport and recreation, and civic beautification.
An independent selection committee chooses the inductees each year under the guidance and leadership of Bob Sutton, Marnie Smith and the Korn Ferry team. Nominees are evaluated based on business excellence, entrepreneurship, business ethics, leadership, community engagement and philanthropy. “It is a very tough job to make this selection each year,” From says. “There is no shortage of incredible business stories and deserving individuals in our province.”
JA Southern Alberta works with over 32,000 students each year, teaching them financial literacy, work readiness and entrepreneurial skills. “There is a lot of talk about the economy these days,” From says. “Household debt is at an all-time high. Government debt is an all-time high. It is just too easy to spend money that we don’t have in this day and age of quick swipe and Apple Pay. JA teaches young people about personal finance, the risks associated with debt, and the need to balance budgets in your home and in your business.”
In addition to teaching financial literacy, JA is raising the next generation of entrepreneurs. “We need innovators to continue to grow our economy and create jobs, opportunity and wealth for everyone,” From says. “JA equips young people to see this as a viable future for themselves.”
The Gala Dinner and Induction Ceremony was held on Thursday, October 24, 2019 at the Calgary Hyatt Regency.
An economist by trade, Geoffrey Cumming has had a global perspective all his life. From a childhood desire to live in New Zealand to the many globe-spanning commercial interests and philanthropic initiatives he contributes to today, Cumming is a man of the world. Calgary, one of his home bases, is a fortunate beneficiary of his work.
“I came to Calgary because I’d started mountain climbing in the Rockies,” Cumming recalls of his decision to leave Kingston and study economics at the University of Calgary. “I loved the mountains.” After graduating with honours, he completed his master’s degree at the London School of Economics and doctoral coursework at UBC.
An early job was with the Government of Alberta, where he became senior international economist. He then moved to RBC and to investment firm Peters & Co. in the late 1980s. “It was an influential period in my life,” he reflects. “I was leading the mergers and acquisitions business at Peters & Co. and I sold an oil company to George Gardiner, a wealthy Toronto businessman. He was a fine person and he asked me to become CEO of the energy company.”
Cumming ran Gardiner Oil & Gas and eventually took over the investment side of the parent company, Gardiner Capital Group, which he continued after he moved to New Zealand in 1994. In Auckland, he started his own firm, Emerald Capital. In 2002, he launched Karori Capital, which he still leads, before returning home in 2007. Today, he splits his time between Calgary, Vancouver and Auckland.
“I’ve been involved with many companies over the years,” he says. “I think I’ve been on the boards of directors of some 40 companies. Probably half have been international. I’ve worked on quite a number of continents and it’s been hugely varied and remarkably interesting.”
One company of which he is a particularly proud significant shareholder is Ryman Healthcare Limited, developer of fully-integrated retirement villages. “When I first became an owner, it was a small company with perhaps 50 employees,” he says. “Now they have 6,000 employees and a huge building program with 20 villages in planning or under construction in New Zealand and Australia.”
Cumming also conceived of, and funds, the annual Ryman Prize, an international award of $250,000 which goes to the person or organization making the greatest advance globally to positively impact the elderly.
With an appreciation for the importance of medicine – his father was a doctor and involved with Queen’s University and his mother sat on Queen’s medical admissions committee – Cumming donated $100 million to the U of C in 2014, one of the largest donations ever to a Canadian university. The donation, matched by the province, established the Cumming Medical Research Fund in two areas: the human microbiome and neurological diseases.
“Firstly, I wanted to thank my parents; they are wonderful parents,” he explains. “Secondly, the funding of medical research is poorly structured in my view. If you want to deal with big issues like cancer and Alzheimer’s, you need multi-decade research projects with long-term financing. Thirdly, I wanted to attract the very best people in the world here.
“For all of humanity, medical research has been important,” he adds. “While it’s great for the city and province, it will also benefit the world.”
Other philanthropic initiatives include the development of public policy for a stable and sustainable global population, a recent $6-million donation to the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST), and support for environmental initiatives in Canada and internationally.
“I never thought I’d be in the position I am today,” he admits. “It takes a lot of good luck. You need to be exposed to great people and you’ve got to work hard. Fundamental values are critical: decency, long-term vision and a desire to achieve significant advances. Things don’t just happen, you have to make them happen.”
Sport has been a focal part of Margaret Southern’s life since childhood. Growing up on a farm near Okotoks, her early years were spent outdoors, playing everything from hockey and baseball to basketball and volleyball, with her twin sister and one-and-a-half-year older twin brothers.
Her involvement with sport deepened while attending the University of Alberta, where in 1953 she obtained a degree in physical education and won the Bakewell Trophy as the university’s outstanding female athlete. She then became the first woman appointed as an instructor at the University of Calgary’s physical education department.
Southern’s passion for horses was also founded in her childhood on the farm. It was something she passed on to her two young daughters, Nancy and Linda, whom she would take riding.
It was the intersection of these two passions – sport and horses – which culminated in Southern, along with her husband Ron, founder of ATCO Group, opening Spruce Meadows in 1975. Forty-four years later, the equestrian centre is recognized as one of the top two showjumping facilities in the world.
“Once our girls got involved with horses, we realized there was no top place in Alberta at that time for young women and men to develop in that particular sport,” Southern reminisces. “We started out with just a small stable, three grass jumping rings and a riding hall.”
But with a background in the organization of sport, the Southerns soon decided to grow Spruce Meadows beyond a local riding club and into an international facility. To this end, they travelled to Switzerland and met with officials from the Federation Equestre Internationale (FEI), the world’s governing body for equestrian sports. “We told them we’d like to host an international competition,” she recalls, “and they said yes. They wanted a competition in Western Canada. Within two years of opening we were able to convince Europeans to come here to compete.”
Spruce Meadows soon became Southern’s life. “I would be out there by 8:00 in the morning and I would often be there until 8:00 at night,” she says. “It took a lot of my time, but it wasn’t work. It was something I loved, a real passion. It was my life and I loved it.”
Today, Spruce Meadows hosts the world-leading “Masters” tournament every September in addition to four other major international tournaments. Southern can still be found there two to three times a week. “It’s a beautiful park where people can come out to the country,” she says proudly. “And I hope it will continue to be a recognized establishment that Calgarians can make use of every day of their lives.”
Southern has a passion for the outdoors too. She was a founding member of the city’s first Parks and Recreation Board as well as an inaugural member of the Calgary Downtown Tree Planting Committee in 1975. “Four of us decided we would, as a contribution to the city, plant trees along Seventh, Eighth and Ninth Avenues,” she says. “We raised half a million dollars and got the province to match it. We planted 500 ash trees and if you go downtown now, those ash trees still make it very lovely in the summertime.”
In 1990, Southern served as a lady-in-waiting to Her Majesty Queen Elizabeth II during her royal visit to Canada. “That was a real honour,” she says. “I think I was probably selected because of my love of horses and animals. Her Majesty is a very gracious and caring woman, just wonderful to be with.”
Recipient of numerous awards and recognitions, including companion of the Order of Canada, the Alberta Order of Excellence and being named into both Alberta’s and Canada’s Sports Hall of Fame, Southern’s advice to young people is simple: “Keep a positive attitude. If you can get up in the morning and be determined and have a good attitude as you go through your day, it will make you happier and more successful than most anything else.”
In 1980, a 22-year-old Jay Westman co-founded Jayman BUILT with his father, the late Al Westman. Notwithstanding the declining home market, the pair started with $30,000 – secured through equity in Westman’s new home as well as the cash in of some Alberta Energy shares – and built one single-family home in Woodbine.
Almost 40 years later, Jayman BUILT is at the height of its industry, with 27,766 homes built to date and 270 employees. It has been named Builder of the Year 16 times and top single-family builder in Calgary 31 out of 39 years, averaging around 1,000 single-family and multi-family homes in Calgary and Edmonton per year. All the while, Westman has been at the helm.
To what does he owe this fantastic success?
“I’ve developed a tremendous amount of processes and systems,” Westman explains. “Best practices in all aspects of the business. Foundational pieces to build with consistency. And we’ve learned from our mistakes.”
Forty years have seen many ups and downs, and Westman’s approach to his business has been methodical. “As we’ve built the business, there have been different shortages that occurred that we’ve had to spend focus and time on,” he explains. “We started off in construction and estimating, and then focused on trade relationships, pricing and buying. Then moved to sales and marketing. Then on to land. As we grew we hired more people and had to focus on the people and financial sides. We were always working on wherever there was a constraint in the business.”
Today, the focus is on the market. “There is a shortage of customers,” he says, referring to the economic downturn. “So sales and marketing is key.” He adds that experience has taught him to plan for downturns. “We’ve kept our growth in line in order to handle a downturn. We can feel comfortable to invest and grow on the other side. That has given us great confidence moving forward in the market.”
The culmination of two generations of homebuilding, Westman Village – Jayman BUILT’s latest project – is a source of immense pride for Westman. “We’ve got everything there from long-term rentals to starter homes to estate homes to seniors housing,” he says. “It’s a pleasure to be there, to watch people of different groups interact. It’s by far my greatest achievement to date.”
Grateful for his success, Westman gives back to the community in many profound ways. “It’s actually more rewarding to give than to receive,” he says. “Especially to the parts of society that have helped me in life and business. We’ve focused on education, health and shelter.”
Named a “Founding Builder” of SAIT – from which he graduated with a business administration designation in 1984 – Westman donated $1 million towards the construction of the Trades and Technology Complex, as well as $6 million to the University of Calgary’s Westman Centre for Real Estate Studies. With a family history of multiple sclerosis (his mother, grandmother, sister and niece have all been diagnosed with the disease), Westman has donated $3 million towards MS research.
He is heavily involved with the RESOLVE Campaign to end homelessness, having helped raise $70 million, and has personally donated $1.4 million to the Mustard Seed.
“I lead by example,” he reflects. “I wouldn’t ask anybody to do something that I wouldn’t and haven’t done myself. I try to demonstrate leadership in every way I can.” One of these ways is with respect to the environment. In 2005, Westman brought Built Green to Canada. “We’ve built the most energy-efficient homes here since 2005,” he says proudly, noting all Jayman BUILT homes now come standard with solar panels. “We’ll continue to lead that initiative and do everything we can to be environmentally friendly.”
Rebel with a cause. Disrupter. Champion of the underdog. Hugger. These are just some of the ways to describe Suzanne West. To those who knew her best she was compassionate, non-judgmental and wise, always encouraging the best from others, always grateful for what she had. To everyone else she was a visionary entrepreneur who rejected the status quo, pushed the boundaries of the oil and gas industry, and set out to transform it for the better.
In her short 52 years, West became many irreplaceable things to many people.
“Suzanne never did anything at 80 per cent,” recalls Kathy Rwamuningi, West’s younger sister. “She was always at 110 per cent.” This energy was apparent in a young West who, in high school, knew she wanted to be an engineer. “She always loved learning, was a voracious reader. I remember her spending most of high school in the basement studying. And she graduated top honours.”
High marks meant many scholarships, and West went on to graduate from the University of Calgary with a degree in chemical engineering with honours, without having to pay.
West took her first job out of university at Imperial Oil in 1987, then moved to Gulf Canada in March 1996. When not at her full-time job, she also taught fitness classes, including a free boot camp.
“But she started to feel the limits of being in an Old Boys club,” Rwamuningi says, “and she became disenchanted with the industry. They weren’t utilizing people to the best of their abilities. So, she decided to mortgage everything and go out on her own, start her first oil and gas company.”
In March of 1999, at 33 years young, West started Touchstone Petroleum Inc. Over the next 14 years, she would go on to buy, develop and sell several properties: Chariot Energy Inc., Auriga Energy Inc. and Black Shire Energy Inc.
After attending a retreat on Necker Island with Richard Branson in February 2013, West had a new purpose. “She returned and wanted to create an environmentally-sustainable oil and gas industry,” Rwamuningi explains. “She said, ‘I decided to come home and change my entire industry.’ And that’s what she spent the rest of her life trying to do.”
She started Imaginea Energy – which stood for “imagine a new way of doing business” – in November of the same year. “She was the poster child of People-Planet-Profit,” Rwamuningi says. “She believed that people and the planet and profit can always work together. It’s about having ‘and’ as a solution, it doesn’t have to be ‘or.’”
West had just started Imaginea 2.0, focused directly on environmental technology, when she was diagnosed with brain cancer in January 2018. After a short eight-week battle, she passed away on March 6, 2018, at home surrounded by her family and dog.
One of her favourite charitable initiatives was Steps to End Homelessness, created in 2010. Each year on or around her birthday, West would invite individuals to climb the staircase on Crescent Road NW to raise money for Inn from the Cold. “Rain, shine, snow – she wouldn’t miss that day,” Rwamuningi says. “She loved it.”
Her passion and efforts to help others live on through Power of One, the charitable foundation West created. “She believed that one individual can make a difference in the world,” Rwamuningi says. “Anything to do with children, education or animals – my sister was always happy to help.”