While the past year-and-a-half has posed challenges for Alberta businesses the likes of which they’ve never seen before, it has, at the same time, provided an opportunity for those same businesses to flex their many strengths: adaptability, resiliency, ingenuity and a renewed approach to opportunity. They have shown what they’re made of, and like the province in which they reside, are not easily knocked down.
All the more reason to celebrate Alberta businesses and their esteemed leaders. For the 17th year, Junior Achievement (JA) of Southern Alberta is inducting four new individuals into the ranks of the Alberta Business Hall of Fame – Southern Alberta. Chosen for their business acumen, entrepreneurialism and generosity of spirit, these leaders have shaped this province through their business acumen.
“We are excited to celebrate these individuals as role models and inspiration for the youth we serve – our future leaders in business and community,” says Melissa From, president and CEO JA Southern Alberta. “They are exceptional leaders in business, and in life.”
This year’s inductees are: Ron Mannix, a third generation family businessman and founder of Coril Holdings Ltd.; Ken Stephenson, the lead sponsor of the Stephenson Cardiac Imaging Centre who was also involved in over 35 companies; Michael Tims, vice chairman of Matco Investments who previously spent 33 years at Peters & Co.; and Sam Switzer, a self-taught entrepreneur whose ventures included construction, a car dealership, The Summit Hotel and the Elbow River Casino.
Working in 120 communities with 27 school boards, JA Southern Alberta equips young people with the employment and entrepreneurial skillsets and mindsets they need to succeed. “By building abilities and nurturing self-belief, JA prepares youth for the future of work, ensures they have the tools to be financially capable adults and teaches them to think entrepreneurially,” From explains. “Supported by volunteers from the community, and reaching more than 30,000 students each year, JA is one of few organizations with the scale, experience and passion to build a brighter future for the next generation of global innovators, entrepreneurs, makers and managers.”
“JA is hugely important for three main reasons,” Mannix notes. “First, financial literacy. Everybody – it doesn’t matter who you are, how young or old you are – needs good financial literacy. Second, it teaches entrepreneurship and how to build a business, whatever it may be. And that entrepreneurial activity leads to the third and by far most important aspect of our entire society, and that is the importance of business itself. The most important aspect of our society today is the ability for people to keep building and doing business.”
“Once business is established, then all the different stakeholders and components grab their piece of the business,” Mannix continues, “whether that’s taxes for the government, wages fo the employee, payment to suppliers or the product or service for the customer.”
While the pandemic posed challenges for JA in administering its programs, the organization was able to adapt quickly. It offered online learning solutions through a nationwide JA campus (www.JAcampus.org), provided educators with the use of materials for teacher-led programs, and utilized online video conferencing software platforms to connect volunteers from the community with students.
“These are all things we will continue post-pandemic,” From says. “The demand for JA programs has not wavered through the pandemic and our overall student reach for the 2020/21 school year was similar to pre-COVID levels. We are poised to serve even more students for 2021/22 as we embark on our most ambitious year yet.”
The 2021 Business Hall of Fame Gala and Induction Ceremony will take place the evening of Wednesday, November 17, 2021 at the Hyatt Regency in Calgary. A live streaming option will also be offered.
For Ron Mannix, being inducted into the Alberta Business Hall of Fame is a great honour for a few different reasons: to be recognized among the many other accomplished people in the community doing wonderful things; to be joining his father, Frederick Charles Mannix, who, in addition to being part of Alberta’s Business Hall of Fame, was in 1978 one of the first two living laureates inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame; and, to be associated with JA Southern Alberta.
“There is nothing junior about Junior Achievement,” Mannix says. “It is absolutely one of the most important organizations in all of the world and especially right here in Alberta. Unfortunately our society has lost the connection, the real education and understanding of how important business is. The work that Junior Achievement does is imperative in helping youth understand the value of business.”
The third generation family businessman grew up on a farm outside of Calgary, and made the decision at 18 years old to join the family business. He started in construction and then moved into coal mining. “I was very fortunate to have a very diverse career and at the same time I got pushed along very fast at a young age,” he reflects. “I had wonderful mentors. Exceptional business people around me that were great team players. I accept the induction on behalf of all the other people that got our organization to where it is.”
Today his Coril Holdings Ltd. employs over 2,500 people in a number of different companies globally, including rail track maintenance and machinery services, commercial real estate, integrative health services and a retreat centre.
He notes with pride that the family business – which dates back to 1898 and has included heavy construction, engineering, coal mining, oil and gas production and pipelining, railroad construction, maintenance and equipment manufacturing, real estate, ranching and venture capital activities – has survived all these years. “Family business is the best business there is if it’s done right,” he offers. “It’s the worse if it’s done wrong, because you can destroy both the family and the business. Fortunately, with a lot of education, communication, good governance and directors’ advice, great management support and a total team effort, we’ve been able to continue our family business and survive.”
Mannix and his family business have been very philanthropically active, from building the National Music Centre, bringing the Max Bell Foundation back to Calgary, creating the Norlien Foundation, to being a founder member of the Business Council of Alberta. “As a family, we were all taught the importance of giving back to the community,” he says. “There are many different stakeholders for any business and the community connection and involvement is very important.”
He adds that from a business perspective, the best way to teach the next generation is through philanthropy: “Through volunteerism you can teach how to manage a company, how to invest in markets and people, how to have good corporate governance. And if you give money away and make mistakes, it isn’t too big of a problem.”
For the younger generation just starting out, he has three pieces of advice: “Have a positive attitude, create your personal mission statement, and think in threes,” he says. “It is entirely what you put your mind to and what you want to do to try and build something on a longer term basis.”
“We here in Alberta have some of the greatest opportunity of any place in the world,” he continues. “If we’re smart, and we work hard, we can create some of the greatest centres of excellence in the world around agriculture, energy, forestry, technology, as well as in music, healing and the arts.”
A Saskatchewan boy through and through, Ken Stephenson lived and breathed the challenge of the next deal; the chance to hone his leadership skills and creative mind in taking a risk. It’s these attributes which led to his direct involvement in over 35 companies throughout his career. Self-taught in numerous fields, this ability was the most powerful secret to his success.
“He was an eternal optimist,” says daughter Wendy Paul, “and most of the time it worked out just fine. He was high energy and hungry for success. He loved business and it loved him back.”
After graduating from the University of Saskatchewan with a Civil Engineering degree in 1955, Ken worked for the Saskatchewan Department of Highways for six years before joining Redi Mix Ltd., a concrete producer in Moose Jaw. “Ken was involved in the operation as it grew from Moose Jaw to Regina to Saskatoon,” says Maurice McCaig, son of Jack McCaig, founder of Redi Mix. “It grew to be the largest concrete producer in Saskatchewan, thanks to Ken’s great contributions.”
The venture sparked Stephenson’s entrepreneurial interest and he would go on to become involved with companies in a range of industries including oil and gas, contract drilling and camp and catering, real estate development, farming, automotive retail, cattle breeding, pipeline construction, heavy construction, manufacturing, mining and cardiovascular imaging.
Towards the end of his career, Ken was heavily involved with a Texas-based steel railway tie manufacturing company, and was instrumental in the change from wood or concrete to steel ties. The transition took off around 2014.
In 2005, he was the lead sponsor of the Stephenson Cardiac Imaging Centre, a leading institute in the world for cardiac diagnostics, research and training, at Foothills Medical Centre. “Many years earlier, my father underwent open heart surgery and he promised the Good Lord that if he came through that he would give back,” Paul explains. “He kept this to himself, and when he was approached to be a part of founding and supporting the centre, he knew it was his opportunity to keep his word. My father’s heart was saved and he has contributed to other hearts being saved. The centre was near and dear to his heart.”
He gave much to other organizations and initiatives including the Libin Cardiovascular Institute of Alberta, Chata Technologies Inc., CDL-Rockies, Circle Cardiovascular Imaging Inc. and the City of Calgary’s Green Line LRT Project. “He generously gave advice and went the extra mile to impact the success of young men and women, who too were hungry for success and a sense of accomplishment,” Wendy Paul says. “He was an encourager and his optimism was contagious. He directed them to believe in themselves and never give up the good fight.”
While the warmth he held towards Saskatchewan never waned, Kens second home – Alberta – was close to his heart, and, Wendy Paul says, he saw unlimited opportunity here: “His advice to young people would be: ‘The world is your oyster. Follow your passions, then it is never work. The character and culture of Alberta is rich soil for planting seeds to reap a harvest and prosper.’”
After 40 years spent investing in Alberta’s oilpatch, Mike Tims has seen it all. The big ups, the big downs, and everything in between. Through it all he has remained steady: a calm, easy-going leader with a keen intellect and a dedication to the job. It has earned him the well-deserved reputation of being a solid leader willing to mentor anyone – old or young.
Born in Calgary, Tims’ academic prowess was evident from an early age. He graduated from the University of Calgary with a Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1976 (with Distinction), as the Gold Medalist. He then went on to graduate from Harvard with an MBA degree at the age of 23.
“Attending Harvard was a life-changing experience,” he reflects. “It opened my eyes to a whole bunch of other things: exceptional professors, great students, a terrific curriculum. It was a wonderful experience.”
After graduation, he took a job (one of many offers) with Wood Gundy Limited in Toronto, then the leading independent investment bank in Canada. “The deciding factor was that I could learn the most there,” he explains, “because I’d have exposure to the broadest range of deals, current thinking, all that.”
Within a year and a half, he was transferred to the Calgary office. Then, in October 1980, he got a call from some senior partners at Peters & Co. Limited, then a small investment firm. “They wanted to start an investment banking side,” he says, “and needed someone to head up that group. That ended up being me!”
Six years later, he was appointed COO of the firm, and four years after that, at the age of 36, he became president. Over the course of his 33 years at the firm, Peters & Co. grew to become a leading independent, fully integrated investment dealer specializing in the Canadian energy sector. “But I want to emphasize the fact that what was achieved at Peters & Co., the growth that we managed to create for the firm, was very much a collective effort,” Tims notes. “I’m proud of my part of it, but I’m always careful to say that it was a whole team of us.”
Tims retired from Peters & Co. in 2013, but keeps very busy. He took a position at long-time friend and colleague Ron Mathison’s MATCO Investments as vice-chairman. “It’s worked out extraordinarily well,” he smiles. “I enjoy working with Ron and the team. It’s given me an excellent range of activity, without being quite as intense as my 33 years at Peters & Co.!”
The change has also freed up more time to devote to the many charitable causes Tims supports. Over the years he has been involved with numerous organizations, and has served as Chair of: the National Gallery of Canada, the United Way of Calgary & Area, West Island College (Alberta), the Investment Dealers Association of Canada and the Canadian Investor Protection Fund. He has also had long-term involvements with the University of Calgary.
His advice to those just starting out, including the students participating in JASA programs? “Effort counts for a lot. If you combine effort with whatever intelligence you’ve been given, you’re much more likely to do well in school, which creates more opportunities, more scholarships, and more future.”
“Many of the most important attributes in business are those attributes of good people,” he continues. “Being able to work well on teams, being kind to others, having empathy, being able to see the other person’s point of view – these are key in business and in life.”
Sam Switzer was born into humble beginnings, in an era of global depression. His life embodied hard work, dedication and faith, sprinkled with a bit of good luck. The imaginative go-getter, with a penchant to not only see the glass half-full but also how to fill it up, met no obstacle too large, no idea too far-fetched; a natural entrepreneur, he was “wired to work,” seizing opportunities everywhere he went.
This would translate into many successful business ventures, including a construction company that built 64 apartment buildings in Calgary, building and running the iconic round-shaped Summit Hotel in downtown Calgary, and building the Elbow River Casino. It also meant a deep connection to his family and Jewish faith.
The youngest and only son of Jewish immigrants from Poland, Switzer was adored by his four older sisters from the moment he came home from the Calgary General Hospital in February 1926. “The importance of women in his life should not be put lightly,” says his daughter Darlene Switzer-Foster. “Women adored him. And he was most successful when those supporting him – his managers – were women. He recognized the talents that women brought.”
Eager to help support his struggling family, Switzer’s first job was at age 5, as his neighbourhood’s ice supplier. Using the wagon he had received for his birthday, he could gather pieces of ice dropped from train cars at the Inglewood railroad tracks. He’d then sell the ice to the ladies in his neighbourhood for five cents a load.
Switzer would later recount the lesson he learned from that first venture: control your costs. Because they were zero in that case, it was a very successful business! Another lesson he lived by: location, location, location – a motto instrumental to all of his businesses.
He finished school at grade nine in order to help the family, and embarked on various ventures including delivering prescription drugs by bicycle when he was 13, working in the family’s convenience store, playing poker in the back of the store, and making sandwiches to sell on the street.
Later ventures included a car dealership on Macleod Trail in the 1960s, a construction company, three hotels (The Summit Hotel and two in Florida), and three casinos.
“He lived by common sense rules and the lessons of the Bible,” she continues. “He lived by the 10 commandments. And he was very proud of the fact that he was Jewish. He was never afraid to tell people that.”
Indeed, Switzer was an enthusiastic supporter of many philanthropic initiatives. These included bursaries for single mothers at Mount Royal University, Fresh Start Recovery, cancer research at the Alberta Children’s Hospital, the Canadian Museum for Human Rights, Heritage Park’s “Little Synagogue”, Calgary Jewish Family Services, Habitat for Humanity, the Weizmann Institute of Science and the Jewish National Fund.
A devoted family man (father and stepfather to nine), Switzer developed a love for ranching later in life with his second wife Betty, spending much time on his ranch in Bragg Creek. “He’d call it ‘God’s country’,” Switzer-Foster recalls. “He had a love of horses, animals and the land.”
Though he’d received many accolades over the years (including Calgary’s White Hatter of the Year and an Honorary Business Degree from Mount Royal University), Switzer-Foster believes her dad would be humbled to be inducted in the Business Hall of Fame. He’d also be happy to share his advice with the many JASA students. “‘Nothing in life is a mistake’ he’d say,” recounts Switzer-Foster. “‘You lose your job, don’t look at that as a mistake or a negative – it’s something you’ll learn from and it makes for a new beginning.”