When it comes to being a successful entrepreneur, curiosity is key; it drives you into the unknown areas where opportunities live. Hannes Kovac asks a lot of questions and wants to see just what makes people, and businesses, tick to ferret out those opportunities. Over the years, many of these answers have become part of his business philosophy as he’s built up his company and his team. While chatting with a manager at the Four Seasons, Kovac asked how the organization maintains such incredible service and friendly staff, and while the team is well trained, the manager revealed that the hotel uses an online assessment tool that helps zero in on a specific kind of person. The rest of the resume doesn’t matter as much.
“I can teach you to be successful in our real estate company in three months, but I can’t change your personality, the person that you are. I accepted that as a fact many years ago. Once we vet a person’s resume, I want to meet them and talk to them and that’s how I hire people,” says Hannes Kovac, president and CEO of OPUS Corporation.
It has served him well. He has an amazing team of 14 in the office, six building operators, with another few dozen contractors offsite, and together they have created a wildly successful full-service integrated real estate firm. And just as he focuses on the person over the resume to build his team, so too did his predecessor. Kovac had no real estate training, experience or education when he started at OPUS. He moved from Austria to Canada seeking adventure and opportunity in the 1990s armed with a post-graduate law degree and an eclectic collection of entrepreneurial experiences that ranged from beer breweries to windsurfing.
Kovac got his Canadian brokers’ license but that job wasn’t a good fit; he didn’t like that whether you gave good or bad advice, you’d still get paid. He found OPUS, which has been around since 1983, and became a contractor in Vancouver before moving to Calgary to become a full-time employee in 1997. He loved the spirit and handshake quality of the city and over the years has given back through chairing the Calgary Economic Development’s Real Estate Sector Advisory Committee and sitting on various other boards including the Calgary Film Centre. And in keeping with Calgary’s entrepreneurial spirit, he worked hard and was rewarded.
“My first job was assistant to the president at the time, and I worked my way up from there to become president and CEO, become a shareholder and then ultimately after the financial crisis in 2008 to become the sole owner,” says Kovac.
Kovac was clear-minded in what needed to happen at OPUS to make it sustainably successful. As sole owner, he started implementing changes to herald in the next chapter of the company. A new office space that was comfortable and homey as well as functional was high on the to-do list. As the team worked long days, he wanted to create an atmosphere that they would enjoy being part of, so he focused on the details, from a kitchen space that encouraged everyone to come together for meals and personal and professional celebrations to an onsite gym to make it easier for staff to stay healthy. He is invested in his team and in return they are invested in the company and its success.
“We are a big company in terms of what we do but we’re a small company with respect to atmosphere,” he says.
That atmosphere is one of family and collaboration. The design encourages different departments to mingle over coffee and these interactions create cross-pollination; each division has a good understanding of all the others and incorporates the things that make their colleagues’ jobs easier. With such a productive space, the team set out to revamp OPUS’ business model away from owning real estate assets and toward a single source delivery method. Kovac’s firm would offer a la carte services depending on the client’s needs, from finding the right piece of land to popping champagne when construction is finished to managing the day-to-day operations.
“It’s really the full spectrum of the real estate transaction, from napkin idea to grand opening party and throughout the life cycle of the project,” he says.
OPUS can find a piece of land that meets specific criteria and outline the risks and investment needed for the client to make the dream a reality. Then the team can secure financing, handle all aspects of development from permits to execution, lease the space upon completion and manage the property. OPUS wears many hats as it has expertise in taking on any combination of the roles of developer, contractor, property manager and asset manager.
This integration of services allows clients to get all components of their project under one roof and the OPUS team makes the process seamless. No matter the project, be it multi-family, office, industrial, retail or institutional, the OPUS team prides itself on working closely with all stakeholders to deliver high quality service on time and on budget. The key to success is making the client happy, and OPUS has a 40-year history of doing just that. As is his nature, Kovac asks a lot of questions to get a good understanding of what clients want and then it’s just a matter of drawing on the wealth of experience at OPUS to execute.
“Because of the calibre of company and the size of projects we’ve done and the reputation we’ve garnered, that becomes part of your risk assessment. Do you want to hire that guy or OPUS? You can look back 40 years and say there should be some intellectual capital and some unique processes and some learnings that that company went through to safeguard my dollars. Because at the end of the day, real estate is nothing but an investment decision,” he says.
With big money on the line, clients have complete trust in OPUS to protect and grow that investment and many will never make a decision on future investments without consulting the team first. It’s a true partnership, and solid relationships form the foundation on which OPUS was built. For a project to be successful, relationships with not only clients but also consultants, trade partners and OPUS employees need to be nurtured. The stronger the relationships, the better the outcome. This philosophy is paying off, as OPUS enjoys a long list of repeat customers from across the country and to date has successfully delivered more than 30 million square feet of attractive, functional buildings. Despite this amazing achievement over an illustrious 40-year tenure, Hannes Kovac’s OPUS Corporation is just getting started.