New home technology foundation of future

If you want proof of Ryan Ockey’s deep roots in the home-building business, just ask him for a business card. The proof is there in black and white.

The business card depicts a black-and-white photograph in which a silhouetted 11-year-old Ockey has his arms draped around a two-by-four that is bracing a wall of one of the first homes built by his father Del Ockey, who founded the company in 1973 and left his job as a schoolteacher.

Today, Ryan Ockey (pronounced Oh-Key) is still holding up walls as president of the family-owned Cardel Custom Homes.

Since assuming the reins of the company from his father in 1995, Ockey has spearheaded a growth spurt in which the company’s annual revenue has ramped up almost six-fold to about $200 million.

David Lazarowych, Business Edge
Cardel Custom Homes president Ryan Ockey began his career as a labourer.

Not bad for a kid who once had his heart set on being a doctor. 1. What are your boyhood memories of working for your father in business?

“I enjoyed learning the skills in home building. Even today, my wife (Shauna) is happy because I’m a handyman because of that experience. If anything goes wrong around our home, I can fix it. But I didn’t always appreciate working on weekends, especially as a teenager when I wanted more free time. My dad paid me 50 cents an hour back then. For a 14- or 15-year-old kid, that was pretty good money.”

2. Did you aspire to follow in your father’s footsteps?

“No, I didn’t. Since I was a little kid, I wanted to be a doctor. I was even accepted to the U of C medical school. While I was at the U of C, I met a woman who would become my wife. We got engaged and we talked about the kind of life we’d like to have as a couple. Having a family and spending a lot of time as a family meant a lot to both of us. She was working as a registered nurse at the Children’s Hospital and she said: ‘All the doctors that I know don’t have much of a life.’ It just happened at the same time that Cardel was getting bigger, so I talked to dad and asked him if I could come to work for him. He said: ‘Yeah, I could use you.’ So I went to work full time for him.”

3. So what was it like when you first started working for your dad?

“I thought it was going to be more of a nine-to-five kind of thing. Well, it wasn’t quite like that. I did a lot of grunt jobs and at times I was wondering if I should be back at medical school. I was a sidewalk block layer first class, and I cleaned all the job sites. I was the labourer. But at the same time, I was learning a lot about the industry. Eventually, I did more skilled trades like installing ceramic tile, finishing and painting. Then, I became a supervisor, looking after 15 to 20 houses. Then, I moved into the office and ran the whole office, doing drafting, trade estimating and prices, and working with customers. So through all of this, I learned everything from soup to nuts and I think that is why our company is so successful and growing so rapidly today. I know the industry. I know how a house gets built. I understand all the problems everybody has. So if a supervisor or my construction manager comes to me and asks me a question, I can answer it because I’ve been there and done it.”

4. Do you think your father had you initially working as a labourer to prepare you for your current job?

“I think he did. He told me about four or five years ago when he retired and stepped back: ‘I was hard on you intentionally because I wanted you to understand the business and I wanted you to go through all of that so you would understand and appreciate what it takes to be successful.’ So when I took over the company, it wasn’t difficult at all. I still get my dad’s input on some things, though, because he’s a smart guy and has a lot of experience.”

5. So how did you change the direction of the company?

“We were really a local builder and I was the one who expanded the company to Ottawa and Tampa. I ran those ideas by my dad first because I value his opinion.”

6. How do you think your business philosophy differs from your father’s?

“I think the big difference is in terms of delegation and reliance on other people. Because my dad was running the company when it was smaller, he had his fingers on everything and controlled everything. Now that it’s bigger, I can’t do that. So I have to trust that I’ve hired and trained good people to make decisions. When I worked for my dad, I was always asking him to let me do things. I was this impetuous kid trying to make all these changes. So, because of that experience, it’s easier for me now to let people around me do that. They make some mistakes, but I think they learn from it.”

7. What’s the most important lesson your father taught you?

“Integrity. Do what you say you’re going to do. If you promise a customer you’ll have something fixed by Friday, you’d better darn well have it done by then. My dad also taught me about hard work – that might even be more important than integrity.”

8. What do you want to learn in the future that will make you a better leader?

“My weakness is that I get caught up in doing the things that are important to me and I forget about the things around me. For example, I’ll come here in the morning, go straight to my office and get right to work rather than being the mentor or cheerleader for people. I should be popping my head into some people’s offices and saying: ‘How’s it going this morning?’ I need to be more visible to the staff and get a little involved personally that way. I tend to be a real workaholic, focusing on what needs to be done to grow the company. I tend to lose sight of the human side.”

9. So you’re a workaholic?

“My wife tells me I am. It’s not as bad now, because I just finished doing my MBA (at Queen’s University). It was ugly during those two years. Now, it feels like I have a lot of time. But I’m not an eight-to-five type of guy. So we have a flexible schedule for the staff. I don’t get to the office until 8:30 or 9 and I go home by 5:30 or 6. I make sure I have dinner with my family and drive them to their horseback riding, piano lessons or hockey. Then, about 9 or 9:30 in the evening, I’m back in my den working until about 11 or 12 or 1 a.m. Because it’s quiet then, I find I’m most productive during that time. So I put in seven to eight hours at the office and about two or three hours in the evening.”

10. What does your company do to motivate employees?

“We have an employee rewards system. I believe people need to feel like they’re a part of something. So to have the company just simply owned by the Ockeys may not accomplish that objective. Let’s face it, if in five years from now we have $500 million in sales and in 20 years $1 billion in sales, how much money is enough? So you feel you should be sharing that, and we’re at that point now where we’re sharing it (with employees).”

11. How many homes will Cardel build this year and what’s your projected revenue?

“We’ll build about 800 homes this year and our revenue will be about $200 million (both company records).”

12. What’s your vision for Cardel?

“In five years, we’ll be doing $500 million (revenue) and we’ll be in one other U.S. location and possibly two (U.S. locations). We’ve had an invitation to go into North Carolina and we also have an invitation to go into Denver. Those are opportunities we’re looking at. There may also be an opportunity in California.”

13. Why haven’t you tapped into the Edmonton market?

“I went to the (University of Alberta) for a year and I don’t like Edmonton. I’m not interested in going into Edmonton. I don’t like the city. I don’t like it as a market. I don’t like anything about it. Spoken like a true Calgarian, eh? I did like the university there. In fact, I like the University of Alberta better than the U of C.”

14. Do you lose sleep over what other home builders are doing?

“No. I don’t really keep track of what they do. We want to be the leader and we have been the leader. We’ve done a lot of firsts. For instance, we were the first builder to go to completely maintenance-free exteriors. It’s a standard feature on every house we build. The only thing you have to paint is your front door and your garage door. We’re trying to be the leader in products and in the way customers are treated.”

15. What do you foresee as the most revolutionary change in home building in the future?

“I think technology is going to become even more influential and very affordable. We have a demonstration of (home communications) technology in our Canmore showhome. Very inexpensively, you could be in Hawaii, pull out your laptop, call up a website and you can look at (real-time) video of all parts of your home. If your kids are having a party while you’re away, you could dial your home on your cellphone, hit the pound key, which mutes the music, and you talk to your kids on the speakers in the home. You say: ‘Hey, turn that music down.’ Someone rings your doorbell and your cellphone rings. You answer, but they don’t know you’re lying on a beach in Hawaii. That kind of technology is just available now and it’s $3,500 for the main module. That’s just the tip of the iceberg of what can be done.”

16. How do you expect environmental issues and regulations to change the landscape of home building in the future?

“The hoops that we’re going to have to jump through and the regulatory issues we’re going to have to deal with are getting tremendously complicated and expensive. Unless there are some changes down the road, I can see housing becoming more and more expensive because the cities and municipalities are downloading much of the costs of infrastructure and all that to developers and builders.”

17. How important is money to you?

“Money, I think, is the means to accomplishing things. So money is important, but it wouldn’t be the most important thing to me. Money is more important, I guess, not just for yourself but for you to be able to give back to other people. Another thing my dad taught me was charity. He’s very generous and he did it without the need for recognition for that. I didn’t even know he was doing it.

“Our company’s the same way. We help a lot of people through the success that we’ve had. You don’t see us presenting a lot of big cheques, because we don’t feel we
need to do that. We like to give back in a quiet way. We donate 10 per cent of our company’s profits back into the community into charities. Money has also allowed our family to do things we
probably couldn’t have done before. We all take off and go skiing for a weekend, which is expensive. We probably
wouldn’t be able to do that if I’d been a schoolteacher."

18. What does your passion for mountain biking do for you?

“That’s a real stress relief. That’s one of the reasons why I live in Evergreen (a community developed by Cardel), because it’s on Fish Creek Park. I’m able to do the extreme mountain biking there. I broke my collarbone and my shoulder last year going off a 12-foot jump. To me, if I’m stressed out when I get home from work, I get on my bike and ride for half an hour before dinner. And life is great again. Staying in shape is real important to me.”

19. How long do you
want to remain president of Cardel Custom Homes?

“I’d think I’d like to remain at least another 15 years. I want to be here when we hit that billion (in annual sales) and then I can retire. I think we will have other things that we do besides building homes. I think we’ll probably expand our interior design company, for example, and spin off a mortgage, brokerage or real estate company.”

20. Beyond business, what’s your greatest life ambition?

“It’s to make a difference in terms of changing people’s lives for the better, whether it’s helping the people I work with in personal issues, in building someone’s self-esteem, in helping somebody financially or helping someone by just being a friend. I’d like to leave a legacy of being a caring individual and someone who has made a difference in people’s lives. And I see money as a tool that can help me, my family and my organization in being a force for good. How much is a person’s soul or happiness worth? To me, that’s a priceless thing. So if I can help financially, physically, spiritually or be a friend or mentor to someone, that’s what is most important to me.”

IN PROFILE: Ryan Ockey
* Born/raised/age: Calgary, 40.
* Title: President/CEO, Cardel Homes.
* Education: Queen’s University (Kingston), Master of Business Administration; University of Calgary, Bachelor of Science.
* Family: Wife Shauna, children Tanner, 7, Jeremy, 12 and Carissa, 15.
* Career: Ockey has spent his entire career with Cardel Homes and was appointed president of the family-owned business in 1995.
* Community/business ties: Ockey is on the customer advisory council for Masco Corporation, vice-president of Ultima Development Corporation, a director of the N. Eldon Tanner Society, a director of the Calgary French and International School Foundation, a director of the Presidents Advisory Board for Brigham Young University and a venture leader for Scouts Canada.
* Favourite toy: BMW M3 Convertible.
* Passions: Extreme mountain biking, skiing, snowboarding, golf, architecture and home design.

THE COMPANY: Cardel Custom Homes
* Brass: Ryan Ockey, president.
* Profile: Cardel, founded in 1973 by Del Ockey, is a developer and builder of single and multi-family residences in Calgary, Canmore, Ottawa, Tampa and Apollo Beach, Fla. The Cardel Group of Companies is also involved in commercial development.
* Projected 2002 Revenue: $200 million.
* Awards: Cardel has won 22 Calgary Home Builders Association awards for home design and marketing, including best architectural design and builder of the year.
* Web site:
* Address: 6010 12th St. S.E. Calgary, T2H 2X2.
* Phone/Fax: 403-258-1511, 493-252-3376.