Back to Dialogue

As his coach, Ian credits you for introducing him to “a world of possibilities”. Can you explain?

As a coach of athletes at an age at which I’m involved, you are blind to the potential impact your interactions may have on them. It’s only after the passage of time that you can see what, if any, impact you’ve had.

As a student at UBC, Ian was part of the 4 x 800 metre relay team called the Kajaks and they went to New York a few times to compete at Madison Square Gardens in what was then the largest indoor track meet in the world. It’s a big city and I can imagine it was Ian’s first exposure to what we now see is his artistic taste. He has such a strong aesthetic value and has a real passion about results. He doesn’t want to just make money, he wants to make art. And so he still has the desire to aspire to the top.

What has competitive sport added to Ian’s approach to business?

The one thing about sport is that it is totally unpredictable. As an athlete, he did well, but he became very limited with his lower leg injury called anterior compartment syndrome, which couldn’t be overcome readily. This is an example of how sport is really a metaphor for life. There’s nothing inherently good or bad about sport, but it’s a place for young people to learn about themselves, learn about how to win and how to lose; learn how to come back and fight again, even despite the odds. That is exactly the way life is; it’s not a straight line. Sport provides the possibility for young people to see their capacity to succeed and also their capacity to become great. Experiences give athletes a sense of independence and the ability to succeed as an individual, which I think retrospectively you can see, Ian has done. He’s a very strong team builder, but there’s no question that he’s the leader.

I would guess retrospectively that Ian sees the circumstances that occurred during his time as an athlete and interactions within the group and with myself as situations which he can continue to refer to and say, “If I was back in that situation I would do this and I would do that.” That’s how mentorship works. He’s doing everything on his own, but some of his past experiences are helping to inform the decisions he’s making now.

What traits did Ian have as an athlete that you see in him now, as an entrepreneur?

Ian is very disciplined person and he was like that as an athlete. He’s got a very quiet demeanour in some situations which belies a determined passion to succeed. Someone could, if they didn’t know him, underestimate him because he’s not looking for the limelight and he does not need to be acknowledged. Ian has high standards and he wants those standards to be met and he’ll get them there but he doesn’t have a real concern about what other people think.

Development is a very very difficult game to succeed in. I have no experience that would match his but I do appreciate enough of the nature of development to realize how strewn it is with hazards. When I see the hazards of the game he plays, it is a massive problem solving experience, but when you see the end results you have to say, wow.

Can you give an example of an end result?

The analogy I would use is this hotel, Fairmont Pacific Rim. This is as good as it gets and would be comparable to a top hotel in New York City. I think the early exposure of young people from a small area of the West Coast going to New York City and challenging the very best world athletes in a two-mile relay might make you feel like, “Hey, we can compete anywhere, we can do it.”

In track and field, when you succeed in world competitions you suddenly say, “Wow, there’s no limit here.” Particularly when you surround yourself in a group of world class athletes, Olympiads, etc. That experience kind of transposes into everything. Suddenly there’s no reason why you can’t be world class too. I think Ian has succeeded in being a world class developer of strongly aesthetic and artistic buildings, that are not just good looking, but they work.

I can remember around the time Ian was doing his MBA, he said, “By the time I’m thirty, I want to be a millionaire.” What I believe he meant was that he wanted to be successful, because at no time have I had the impression that dollars and cents really mean anything to him. I think he keeps score by the value of things aesthetically.