Few Calgarians are as passionate about the city and its people as Georgine Ulmer.
And that’s a good thing.
As chief executive of Calgary Inc., Ulmer, a dynamic business leader with a diverse background in Canadian industry and commerce, gets to do what she would be doing anyway — promoting Calgary.
And the native of Medicine Hat does it while bursting with pride over her home city.
|Dave Olecko, Business Edge|
|Calgary Inc. president and CEO Georgine Ulmer, with deep roots in Alberta, likes the life in can-do Calgary.|
1. Can you talk about your early years in Medicine Hat?
“I can remember spending long, wonderful summers just playing with friends and getting to know the history of the lands. My grandparents had been early pioneers of the area, so we had farms and ranches to go to. It was a great way to really connect with the history of the area. Because we had several generations of the family there, you could really understand the meaningfulness of life at that point and of the hard work they had done to build the ranches to where they are now.”
2. Who were the people that had an impact on your life?
“My parents. My mother, particularly, was a very strong, capable woman who came through a lot of adversity in her life. She was a wonderful role model for me. I’m always concerned about living up to those standards that she set. My grandfather worked very, very hard and instilled strong values in the family.”
3. Is there one piece of advice from your mother that stands out?
“Always be true to yourself.”
4. Your home is on fire. You have time to take three possessions. Which three?
“My photo albums, the jewelry my mother and grandmother left me and, of course, my cats.”
5. Describe your business philosophy?
“To be prepared, to undertake as much careful analysis as you possibly can around an issue, being decisive at the right times and learning from others, taking advice from many quarters of influence.”
6. What’s the biggest obstacle you’ve had to overcome in business?
“In many cases, it was in being a female in a largely male-dominated environment. This should not at all sound like it’s a complaint, but you just have to work differently. You’re often misunderstood in terms of the different approaches men and women have to decision making. So one has to work harder to get the point across in that type of environment.”
7. How has that environment changed in the past couple of decades?
“Ten or 20 years ago, I was often the only female in many circumstances where now there are a great many more women in positions like this. That’s created, I think, a real difference in terms of understanding and in many ways the way we do business as well. There also were lots of times when being a female worked to my advantage as well.”
8. The best advice you can give women in business?
“I think one has to persevere, certainly. I think I would strongly suggest that they not in any way give up.”
9. What’s the best thing about living in Calgary?
“Oh, the people. We have the most dynamic, wonderful people in the entire country. I also like the can-do attitude. There’s an energy in the city that is palpable. And I really appreciate it.”
10. How much would I have to pay you to move to Edmonton?
“(Laughter) Well, I can’t even name you a price. I must say, though, that Edmonton is a great city in its own right. While I’ve enjoyed the time I’ve spent in Edmonton, my preference is to live in Calgary. The two cities are quite different. I think the pace is different. Edmonton just doesn’t have that same strong energy and I don’t sense the same positiveness there that I get here.”
11. If you could do one thing to make Calgary a better place to live, what would that be?
“I certainly think I would try to solve some of the infrastructure issues. I think we have tremendous commitment and will on the part of the community, but I think there are some issues that are beginning to overtake us, things like just solving some of the infrastructure issues so that we can continue to be a community with a high standard of living.”
12. Are you concerned about the long-term future of the Flames in Calgary?
“Teams like the Flames and Stampeders are important and they give us a sense of pride, but also help to promote the city. To have the word Calgary showcased by the Flames in cities like Philadelphia is very important. To lose a team like the Flames would certainly have an emotional impact on the community. The Flames have been a terrific asset to the city.”
13. Do you think the City of Calgary can do more in terms of helping ensure the Flames’ long-term survival?
“I can’t respond to that.”
14. In a few words, how would you promote Calgary?
“It’s a dynamic city that blends a quality of life with a strong economic growth perspective and a diversifying economy in many ways.”
15. Who are the entrepreneurs you admire most?
“Certainly, locally, I truly admire Ron Southern and the Southern family. I very much appreciate the contribution they make to this community. And Jack Welch (retiring CEO of General Electric). He’s been a very interesting business leader overall.”
16. How do you see Calgary’s business environment changing in the next few years?
“I think that we will have a continued strong environment, but I think we have to continue to work on building a strong diversified economy and that’s where our emphasis will be. We still have a very strong reliance on the energy sector and the energy sector is a very important part of who we are. But, as you know, everything goes up and down. So we really have to strengthen other sectors such as the technology sector. We have really good strength in the transportation, warehousing and distribution areas and I’d like to see that continue. I’d also like to see our financial sector grow here. That provides a very strong basis for the future.”
17. What are the priorities in terms of sustaining the growth of technology?
“I think one of our opportunities is to help the young and small technology companies, help them grow and retain them within Calgary. Some of these companies have wonderful innovative technologies so we want to help create the right environment so they can flourish.”
18. How do you create the right environment?
“I think you provide the right fertilizer, if I could use that term, in terms of support. It isn’t always just dollars but it is regulatory support, helping with management issues, making sure the workforce is available and a well-educated workforce. We live in a province that has tremendous advantages in terms of its tax base, et cetera, so we’ll continue to work with the provincial government to ensure that continues.”
19. Can the educational offerings be improved?
“We already have the youngest workforce and the most well-educated workforce in the country, so we have to make sure we retain that. And we’ll also be working with the educational institutions to ensure they are providing the right kind of educational offerings required by these technology companies. I think we really have to develop a creative and learning society. That will really help us develop this economy into the future. We are essentially moving into a knowledge-based economy.”
20. What do you see in your life’s crystal ball?
“We’ve got a five-year strategy and I certainly want to fulfil that. At this stage, what I’m focusing on is undertaking a lot of the work that we had set forth in our strategy and now making that strategy live. What I do after that I’m not absolutely certain. At some point, I’d like to get some time to read those books that have been stacking up.”
IN PROFILE: Georgine Ulmer
* Born/raised: Medicine Hat.
* Title: CEO/president, Calgary Inc. (since June 1999), also serves on boards of Calgary Technologies Inc., the Alberta Film Commission, the Calgary Science Centre, the Bethany Care Society and the Mount Royal College marketing management advisory committee.
* Family: Husband Glen Moyer.
* Career: Previously, Ulmer was president and CEO of the Calgary Economic Development Authority and, prior to that, spent eight years as general manager of the Calgary office of Industry Canada. She has also worked for Statistics Canada, the former Department of Industry, Trade and Commerce and as a departmental assistant to four cabinet ministers.
* Passions: Golf, gardening, antiques, Western Canada folk art, reading.
* Community involvement: Rotary Club, Adult Literacy, Spruce Meadows, the Chickwagon, Esther Honens Calgary International Piano Competition.
THE COMPANY: Calgary Inc.
* Profile: Calgary Inc. is a city-funded organization that provides the overall vision and direction for economic and community development; and fosters, supports and promotes sustainable prosperity for the city.
* Goal: To develop a strategy that achieves a balance between economic prosperity and quality of life.
* Web site: www.calgary-promote.com
* Address: #800, 615 Macleod Trail S.E., Calgary T2G 4T8.
* Phone/Fax: 221-7831, 221-7828.