You’ve been working with Ian since 1998. What has it been like, being Westbank’s banker?
In the early days the relationship between the bank and Ian was modest, probably in the mid-six ﬁgures. At that juncture he was working with some partners and those partnerships were ﬁnancial in nature. He was the proponent, the guy who was pulling it all together and he would partner with someone who had the ﬁnancial chops, or the site, or what have you.
Ian has not always been the easiest guy to bank. When he started there wasn’t a lot there. But we have a very good rapport and we trust each other. He adds a lot of value to the relationship. When you are working with Westbank, you’re working with Ian and that sets Westbank apart. Not to take anything away from the people that he’s got, because they’re all very good. But Ian is very hands on. He partners very well and he brings an energy and ambition that a lot of others don’t. To be blunt, he’s more than proven himself and his skills and success beget more success and opportunities.
Where does that motivation come from?
I don’t think it’s ever been about the money with Ian, I think he wants to change the skyline. I hesitate to use the word iconic but certainly there are a few buildings on the landscape that are iconic and Westbank has been responsible for them. Consider the Shaw Tower building or Fairmont Paciﬁc Rim or Shangri-La – those brands, that quality and style are part and parcel of the building’s program. Westbank has certainly shown that the margins support the extra cost. It’s hard to sell a ﬁve-star hotel if you have a three-star building envelope for example. It’s hard to garner premium rents on an inferior location, whereas a building like the Shaw has a wonderful location and premium design. It’s one of the ﬁrst and most successful mixed-use buildings (in the city) of that sort.
If Ian’s allowed to push the envelope he will. I don’t think Ian will ever want to build base products. He wants to contribute to the development, whether it’s to the skyline or design, or a Woodward’s project. Woodward’s was as complex a development as I’ve seen, with a lot of moving pieces and a lot of vested stakeholders. I’m not sure if there are many groups that could pull that off and keep so many people happy and at the table. Ian partners well.
You specialize in ﬁnancing real estate. Any insights into Westbank’s success?
One of the secrets of this business is buying well. If you buy poorly, rarely will a project pay off. Westbank has been able to tie up sites over long periods of time, rezone them and add material value where maybe others couldn’t do it. I think that also speaks to the team’s skill in managing the City process.
Ian has a healthy ego and I say that carefully because the connotation is that it’s a negative. But nobody I deal with in the business has a fragile ego. None of them are a ﬂy-on-the-wall type of person, mostly because they drink their own KoolAid – I mean they truly believe they can execute a building better than anyone else.
The development community in Vancouver is as sophisticated as they come. Our top twenty developers, particularly in the residential sector, will hold their own in New York, London, Toronto or anywhere else. They’re very good at what they do and I think a healthy ego is a pre-requisite to being successful.
Whenever we do a deal you can be sure Ian will say, “It’s the best site in Vancouver!”
And I will respond, “Again?”