The Helm would like to introduce you to Kevin McKee, in the latest installment of The Helmsmen series. Kevin is a community enthusiast, a University of Alberta alumni and Founder and CEO of Pangman Development Corporation.
We sat down with Kevin while visiting his office located in the newly developed 550,000 sq. ft. Enbridge Centre (formerly known as the Kelly Ramsey building).
Kevin is very active in his community, he was the Chair of the 2013 CN Canadian Women’s Open which raised over $2.7 million for the Stollery Children’s Hospital Foundation. Other previous community involvement includes acting as the past President of the Kinsmen Club of Edmonton and a former member of the United Way Campaign Cabinet.
In this interview, we had the opportunity to learn more about Kevin and why he chose Edmonton as the city in which to raise his family and build his career. We also discussed how he balances a busy work-life schedule, who influenced and mentored him throughout his career and what his vision for our city is. Oh, and we also discussed some of his wardrobe staples.
CH - You take pride in referring to yourself as a lifelong Edmontonian. What does this truly mean to you?
KM - Although I wasn't born in Edmonton I was raised here. I went to school and university here, I played sports here and I have effectively lived here all my life. Fairly early in my business career I made the conscious decision that I was going to stay and build my career in Edmonton.
I take great pride in being an Edmontonian and having the opportunity to be a part of an industry within a city that's a good size. Edmonton is big enough so it has most of what you want in a large city, but when it needs to be it can also have that small town feel.
CH - Agreed. A big city feel, but with the family atmosphere as well.
KM - Exactly, you can make an impact here, but it's not like we don't have a Walmart.
We have a world-class art gallery, museum, arena, and downtown core. Not to mention a world-class education and healthcare system. If you have a sick kid or a bad heart we have the best facilities that can take care of you. The Edmontonian doesn't need to beat their chest and say they're better than everyone, but I think we should be very proud and take pride in the fact that we can compete on a worldwide scale.
But, convincing somebody to move here in January is not easy… (laughs).
SS - To follow up on that question, do you find that you are ever comparing yourself to others in different cities? Asking questions like "what if I was doing this in a bigger metropolitan city like Toronto or Vancouver?"
KM - Where I tried to spend my time is instead of saying "what could have been..." or "what if...", I try to ask "why not me? Why not us?" Like, "Why can't we have a world-class hospital?"
I've been very blessed to have met people in different industries that ask the same question: "Why not us? Where is it written that Edmonton can't have the best hospitals? Let's do it!" Let's be somewhat proud in the fact that we do have world-class facilities here. The city is small enough that more people have an opportunity to get involved. Of course that can be done in other markets, but it is far more difficult in a market of five, eight, or ten million other people.
CH - There can be a negative outlook on Edmonton from time to time, but when Edmontonians are introduced to anything that will put our city ahead of most, the community seems to get behind it.
KM - ...and they didn't always. There’s a certain amount of risk involved when there is little empirical data showing that the market is ready for a new business. Some brands that did take that leap of faith by investing in top-notch, quality products and services are now being rewarded for that risk.
You guys at the Helm are not the biggest, but it's personal. You're locally-owned and best in class compared to what you can get in other markets.
CH - Thank you and you're right. If you look at what Daniel Costa is doing on Jasper Ave; new buildings like the Enbridge Centre and what's happening with the Ice District, people are demonstrating major appreciation for these things.
KM - High quality things are not cheap. If I feel like I'm getting value, I'm prepared to pay for it. The definition of value has shifted and evolved over the last 10 or 15 years. There was a time when I first started working here where commercial real estate traded on price. Now, price is a determining factor, but it's not the only thing. What do I get in exchange for what I'm spending? It shouldn't just be a roof over my head—in terms of real estate—but what do I get for service and amenities?
I know I can call you at the Helm after just blowing through my tuxedo pants and within an hour someone will figure out a solution. I don't know what exactly it will be, but you'll figure it out. In exchange for this convenience and respect for my time I understand that I have to support you and treat you with respect.
SS - Students are being educated and nurtured at world-class schools like the University of Alberta and Grant MacEwan University. Yet after graduating, some want to leave to the bigger metropolitan cities of Toronto and Vancouver. What steps can the city take to address the brain-drain of talent that the city is experiencing?
KM - I think we will make incremental progress in answering that question. The best way to do it, in my opinion, is to make sure that Edmonton provides the amenities that they can get in a larger city. For example, do they leave for better quality dining, better quality sports and entertainment, or just a better quality of life? There are things we are starting to do better and we have to consistently raise the bar whether that be architecturally, in the services, or the overall culture that's provided here in the city. It primarily comes down to making it more attractive to stay here versus going somewhere else, no matter what it is they want out of the city they choose to reside.
CH - How do you balance a busy work schedule with your personal life? Spear heading major projects like the 550,000 sq. ft. Kelly Ramsey building, staying active in your community, all while being a family man as well?
"Giving back to the community is a part of who I am, and who I strive to be. This city has been exceptionally good to me and my family. I think it's my responsibility, and the responsibility of my peers, to acknowledge and spend part of my day doing non-business related items that continue to assist the city to grow and flourish."
Giving back to the community is a part of who I am, and who I strive to be. This city has been exceptionally good to me and I think it's my responsibility, and the responsibility of my peers, to acknowledge and spend part of our day doing non-business related initiatives that continue to assist the city to grow and flourish.
CH - What are some wardrobe staples that help you intersect form and function for your day-to-day work.
KM - You know the answer to this question way better than I do.
My strategy with my wardrobe is to have some very classic staples that I can build around. I really enjoy wearing blues and greys and having them be the building blocks for the rest of my wardrobe. By keeping my suits more classic I can augment and get more playful with my shirts and ties.
CH - In my opinion, your classic wardrobe is very refined, clean and simple, but you're never under-dressed to the point where you can't walk into a room and be ready for business.
KM - It's important to me that on any given day, what I wear will be acceptable to the president of a bank or to a manager of accounting at a large pipeline company. The reality is on any given day, each of those scenarios can happen.
SS - Are there certain commercial real-estate icons or businessmen, that have shaped you into who you are today? If so, who and how have they impacted you as a person and your career?
KM - I've been very blessed to have two mentors that have had a tremendous impact on me professionally. After my parents and my wife, they have influenced me more than anyone else.
The first one is Graeme Young. He's one of the founding partners of a company called Avison Young. They are one of the dominant commercial real estate brokerage companies in North America. I started my career in real estate by working as one of Graeme's assistants and I ultimately became Graeme's partner.
He taught me the value of discipline, hard work, knowledge and integrity. Those are things that whether you're digging a ditch or you're the president of the largest company in a city you need to posses those attributes to be successful. He instilled those principles in me very early and they're things that I still rely on to this day.
The other person that has had a very significant impact on my work life is John Day. John has a bold vision for the city and isn’t afraid of trying new things. Great projects that John has done in the past have not necessarily been done in the city before. He's a profound visionary and one of the things that he’ll never say is "this can't be done." Instead his mindset is "let's figure out how to do it."
He's been instrumental in helping to mold me in terms of "what we can do?” Instead of “why we can't do it?" Another thing that people don't know about John is he has been instrumental in the transformation of Marmot Basin. Their group has owned Marmot for the last 10 years and they have fully changed that ski hill. They plan to do the same thing with the Tram in Jasper (Skytrax) and their hotel group has made a big influence there.
John's influence goes beyond real estate. He's the past chair of MacEwan University and the Royal Alexandra Hospital Foundation. He's had significant influence in different areas of our city and has helped both those organizations flourish here.
SS - What do you suggest some of the early steps that young professionals can take to create mentor/mentee relationships similar to those?
KM - There's not a lot of magic to it. It's about working hard, being open to new ideas, asking questions, being transparent, respectful, and principled. If that is part of who you are, people that are good at what they do will want you on their team. When you get an opportunity to spend time with people that are great at what they do, they want to share and they want to mentor. However, a mentee has got to work hard and be okay with being pushed. Unfortunately, that's not everyone's cup of tea. It comes down to being comfortable with being uncomfortable.
SS - What do you envision the future of urban planning and real estate to look like especially given that technology is really going to impact the way we work and we live?
In the short term, Edmonton will continue to see significant growth in the downtown core. The pursuit of different forms of transportation whether that be self-driving cars, public transit, and bicycles will need to be balanced. However we should be realistic and not turn our back on the automobile. For example, let's not try and be New York since we do not have the same geographic constraints as they do.
Let's find comparable cities around the world, borrow the things that have worked for them really well and write our own script for urban planning. Best in class for Miami, Florida doesn't work in Edmonton, Alberta.
CH - We need to be realistic of the vastness of our geographic footprint and our climate.
KM - Edmonton is a very, very severe place. You can't build a building in Edmonton the same as a building in Phoenix, Arizona. The approximate temperature swing in Phoenix is 40 degrees; the swing in Edmonton is near 80 degrees. Just in terms of material you can't build a similar product.
SS - You can't turn the River Valley into Miami Beach.
KM - Not unless we put a bubble over it.
SS - What is a piece of advice you’d give to an aspiring young professional?
My career path has given me the opportunity to try a few different things in commercial real estate and I was able to grow into a part of our business that I am very passionate about: development and change of use. This for me is very fulfilling and gets me excited in the morning.
If a young person is fortunate enough to find a career that they're passionate about and they set upon a path to become the best they can possibly be in that career, then wealth as they define it will follow. So my piece of advice would be to find what you love, be the absolute best at it and wealth will follow.
CH - So as we're sitting here on the 23rd floor of your newest building Enbridge Centre, what is your design philosophy and how much involvement do you have in this process when creating new properties?
John Day articulated very early that we would consciously and consistently try and do the right thing. Even if this means the right thing in terms of design wasn't the easy or the cheapest thing to do. If we consistently applied that principle over time, the market would decide whether we should be compensated for making those decisions.
Overall, the market will ultimately decide whether we can be trusted to deliver on those decisions. It's a very long term strategy, but if we do the right thing for real estate, then all of those small decisions should lead to a great outcome.
We attempted to do that with Enbridge Centre in terms of the team we put together and the design decisions we made. The result is a great building that we're all extremely proud of. The tenants that have leased space from us are ecstatic to be there as well. By most measures it's one of the better buildings, if not the best building, in the city.
It's an opportunity for us to say to the market that it can be done - and the buyer or user of our product will value the decisions that we have made. As our former Mayor, Stephen Mandel would say: "it's time to stop with the crap architecture."
When you have the right people in place and a city that is willing to support that vision, great things happen.