How long have you worked at Westbank and what do you do?
I think it’s been seven years. I’m the utility guy. I do a bit of everything land acquisitions, city approvals, project management. But everyone does different things, from all different angles and backgrounds here. We have architects, interior designers, people with legal backgrounds, CA’s etc.
How did you end up working here?
I was living and working in San Francisco, but Vancouver is home and I always wanted to come back. Ian came to San Francisco looking at a project and we met while I was working there.
I had been researching companies that I was interested in working with in Vancouver and at the time Westbank was an entrepreneurial company doing exciting projects and had just gotten approval to build the highest building in the city. Westbank was one of the only developers in Vancouver that’s not a family-based company. Most of the big developers are family-based, like BOSA. In those companies there are other people in the business that are not family, but it’s harder to get in because family members dominate the top of the company. The Westbank aesthetic also had a big appeal for me and at the time the company was quite small, especially for the projects that they were doing.
Originally, I was hired by Westbank to pursue projects in California and San Francisco, but I joined up full-time when Westbank started building Shangri-La. I felt that Westbank had a great future and we’ve just grown from there.
Well I see us expanding geographically which is quite a big step. Maybe into China, deﬁnitely into Ontario, probably into Calgary and maybe down to the States. I think it will be hardest for Ian because he is a very hands-on owner, so it’s going to be a transition for him for sure. He’s going to be farther away from the projects than he’s used to, simply because of geography. Growth should open up opportunities for the team, in a similar way as when we were building three major Vancouver projects concurrently recently (Woodward’s, Fairmont, Shangri-La Vancouver). Ian was less involved in Woodward’s than he was in Shangri-La Vancouver for example, and for Dave (Leung) and I, that was an opportunity for us to grow.
How would you deﬁne the Westbank brand today?
The funny thing is, a lot of people, even in Vancouver, don’t know who or what Westbank is.
People know the projects, but they don’t necessarily know Westbank. Most people in the real estate industry know us, but not all of them. They know Shangri-La, Woodward’s and Fairmont, but they’re usually quite shocked to learn that one developer did them all. Maybe it’s our branding. We’re really downtown focussed. We do big projects, but as far as a volume goes, a lot of developers do more volume that we do. We do 200 or 300 units and they might be doing 3000 units.
In the industry does Westbank push the envelope?
Not monetarily or legally, but we take risks in design and risks in the types of projects we take on. That’s why we’re doing such complicated mixed-use projects.
Ian is deﬁnitely an entrepreneur and not afraid of risk in many, many, different ways. Even socially we take risks, such as building 60 W Cordova with very little parking and pushing the affordable housing envelope in a different direction. Every project, he pushes the envelope on something. It’s not necessarily height, not necessarily monetary risk, but it’s something.
Right now the risk we’re taking is geographic. We’re going outside of our typical comfort zone, outside of our relationships with the City of Vancouver and our bankers here. We’re going into other markets we are less familiar with. In Toronto, we didn’t know the condo market there or how to sell in that marketplace but we made the leap and that extends to working with the City of Toronto as well.
Risk deﬁnitely drives the team. It challenges everyone on the team to do some things that they’re not used to doing. That’s one of the appeals of the company for people here to be challenged. It’s a very intense environment. Developers generally do work hard, but compared to the typical, we drive pretty hard. We’re a small company. For the projects that we do, we could be twice the size. So that generally means we have to work quicker and maybe a little longer.