Frank King is best known as the driving force behind the 1988 Calgary Olympics that were dubbed the ‘best Winter Games ever.’
Yet the proud Calgarian has never been content to rest on his laurels.
Although King has maintained a low profile since the spectacular show of ’88, he has been quietly showcasing his leadership skills in numerous business ventures and community service.
At 66, the former CEO of the Olympic Winter Games Organizing Committee is still on the run – literally.
|David Lazarowych photos, Business Edge|
|As CEO of the 1988 Winter Olympics in Calgary, Frank King’s team-building style ensured the Games were the best ever. Today, the tireless entrepreneur still reaches for excellence as he works to improve the health-care system. |
On meeting the writer, the turbo-charged entrepreneur refuses the elevator and dashes up a flight of stairs to his office at Networc Health, one of his major investments.
The one-time president of Turbo Resources remains a key player on the Canadian business landscape as an investor and board member of several organizations in a diverse range of sectors.
King was also recently a director of the successful Vancouver/Whistler 2010 Olympic Bid Committee. 1. What was your boyhood dream growing up in Redcliff and Calgary?
“I was always interested in sports. I never really thought that I’d be a professional athlete, because I’m not sure I even knew what that was. I never met a sport that I didn’t like. I never became good at any of them, but I tried a lot of them. Our house was always full of activities. We were always playing some kind of a game. We’d have two ping pong bats and a ball and see how long we could keep the ball alive while there was a whole crowd cheering. It was 398, 399 . . . 400! We had that kind of enthusiastic family gamesmanship because there weren’t the distractions then that there are today.”
2. Where did you get your entrepreneurial spirit?
“My father (Walter King) was quite entrepreneurial, even though that may seem odd because he was a school principal. His school was a beehive of activity. He had cadet shows and sporting events of all kinds. He was a very active organizer.
I remember thinking that my dad was pretty special when he arranged to have Joe Louis (former world heavyweight boxing champion) come to Medicine Hat to speak to the armed forces. I think my dad had quite an entrepreneurial head and maybe that’s where I got it from. Unfortunately, I lost my dad when I was 14.”
3. After a successful career in the petrochemical and oil and gas industries, was it an easy decision for you to dedicate yourself to Calgary’s Olympic bid in 1981 and carry it through the ’88 Olympics as CEO of the Games Committee?
“No. It was hard because I had enjoyed my entrepreneurial ventures. I think what interested me about the Olympics was that it is so infrequently in your life that you have a chance to do something that is viewed as world class. That’s not to diminish or demean the work that millions of people do or the work I was doing. But when that chance comes along, you think it may never come along again . . . I was a volunteer until the last year when the board insisted that I take a salary, because there was a little argument over the role that Bill Pratt (president) was playing. The board said the problem is that when you’re a volunteer, no one believes you’re the boss. Would I do it again? I would scramble to get a chance to do that again at the age that I was then.”
4. How do you reflect now on the experience of what the International Olympic Committee declared as the best Winter Olympics?
“The most gratifying part now is having people still come up to me and say: ‘You don’t know me, but I know you because you spoke to the volunteers.’ It’s amazing that people continuously remind me of what I said 15 or 20 years ago when I’ve forgotten it myself, things like a graduation speech at a high school where I implored young people to keep an eye on the future and make sure they made the most of it with the talents that they have.”
5. What was the most important lesson you learned from the Olympic experience?
“I learned that psychic pay is more valuable than financial pay. People will do amazing things if enough credit is given to them and if the things are truly important. That’s really an expression about the volunteer effort that was here. It still, today, blows me away when I understand the amazing things that volunteers did for us.
One of the things we did is put a volunteer in charge of every important aspect of the Games, and then we hired somebody to work with them. The layers in our organization did not go up and down. They went sideways so that the building was lying on its side and the people could be well scrambled. There was always a leader in the mix, but you didn’t necessarily go to the top of the building to find the leader. It’s hard for people to imagine volunteers doing the most important jobs, but I simply said then and I’ll say it again, some of the best people you can get are not available for hire.”
6. You were a director of Vancouver/Whistler’s successful 2010 Olympic bid. Will you play a role with those Olympics?
“The whole board got fired the day after Vancouver won the bid, which was one of the recommendations that I supported. I’ve told them that I would prefer not to have an official role because I don’t want to go to more meetings. I don’t have more meeting time. I believe that if you take a role, you should be attending the meetings. I’ve told them that I’m there at the end of the telephone whenever they need me. I’m just a friend of the Games. They’re way ahead of where we were in terms of organization. They’ve spent a lot more money and professional time to prepare. They’re going to make a good job out there, I think.”
7. Do you miss the spotlight?
“No, not the Olympic spotlight. I don’t shun publicity, but I don’t seek it either. I would prefer to just work on my own projects. The Olympic spotlight is hard on a family. Your family watches TV every night and almost holds their breath, wondering what they’re going to say about you or the Games. After 10 years of that, we were glad to get our personal life back again.”
8. What is the nature of your family business, Metropolitan Investment Management?
“It’s not the kind of thing where we play the stock market or invest other people’s money. We invest in companies in which I might have a personal interest, either in participating or being invited to help in one way or another. It’s an investment company that basically buys and holds.”
9. How did you get involved with Networc Health as its chairman?
“Dr. Steve Miller, the chief of orthopedics at Foothills Hospital, and Tom Saunders, the company president, founded the company and were friends of mine who I met through another mutual friend. I got involved about seven or eight years ago when they asked for my help on an interesting business situation.
“The help was appreciated and we decided to form a partnership and the three of us are now the major shareholders of the company. The main challenge we have created for ourselves in the company is to reduce the cost of medical absenteeism. In other words, it’s about getting people back to work. We also operate under another name, Columbia Health, and we operate the Health Resort Centre, the well-documented ‘first Canadian private hospital,’ as it is described by the media. We operate the 37-bed hospital largely for third-party payers, which would be Workers Compensation. Our major clientele are injured workers and we hope the public system will access our facilities. That’s coming along slowly, but surely.”
10. What leadership style has served you best in your career in business?
“It’s very much this non- layered approach. I don’t believe in almighty power at the top. I think you find people with different talents and you apply them together as a sports team would. You have big guys, you have fast guys, you have scorers, you have goalies and you have coaches, who really are not the bosses. They’re the directors of the play. What I consider good management to be is one that does not assume almighty power in all the things going on in a company, but one that understands talent and can motivate people to bring those talents into play.”
11. Your book on your Olympic experience is titled It’s How You Play the Game. So winning isn’t everything to you?
“No, winning is only part of the game. If you can’t ever win, then games may not have a point. But the only objective should not be to win. For example, I play golf all the time and I practically never win. There’s usually a golfer in the foursome who is better than me. But I enjoy that very much and, to me, winning is more within, rather than outside. It’s assessing what your talents really are and bringing them into play. To me, it’s a big win if I can find places where I’m needed.”
12. Who are the business leaders you most admire?
“I like those that have had a combination of success in business and success in making a contribution to their city or country. From the business point of view, I think someone like (Calgary entrepreneur) Murray Edwards comes to mind and he also quietly does quite a bit in the community as well. From a contribution-to-the-country point of view, it would probably be somebody like (lawyer) Bill Warren, the chancellor of the (University of Calgary) and a past president of the Canadian Olympic Committee. Another one would be (Calgary entrepreneur) Dick Haskayne.”
13. How do you view the high-profile corporate governance scandals of recent years?
“I think what happens is that the world operates in cycles. Whenever significant money is at stake, you’re going to find people breaking the rules in an attempt to feather their own nest. Those rules need to be evaluated and brought into proper perspective from time to time. The recent scandals have brought an unbelievable amount of focus on corporate governance and an appropriate amount, lest my comments be misunderstood. We might be implementing more constraints than we need, but we need them because of how far outside propriety they went.
“I’m delighted with the response and I’m saddened that the need for it developed. I think Canada was not as far offside (as the U.S.). We did have fairly good governance in Canada, but that’s not to suggest we were perfect. In the States, as always, they went bigger and further offside. I think it’s temporary and it’s over. We’re back in good shape.”
14. How do you treat your role as a director of four public companies? “I try to follow the rules and I wouldn’t be sitting on boards of companies where I didn’t think their practices were as close to perfect as you can get.”
15. What’s your best advice for a young entrepreneur?
“It would be to make sure you understand the risks that are involved, but don’t be frightened away because of them. Deal with them.”
16. How do you characterize the current investing environment in Alberta, and what sectors do you anticipate to be the best investments over the next decade?
“I think it’s still an environment where yield is king, because growth has not yet returned to the economy. I think Canada trails the United States a little bit, so I’m looking for them (U.S.) to show some strength before the end of the year and then I think we (Canada) will start to come back in the middle or latter part of next year. Believe it or not, I think high tech is a very important place to be, because it is that kind of society where speed and access is so important to people. People go crazy if they don’t have their cellphone these days. I think the best is yet to come in technology. I think health care in Canada is also a huge opportunity because there’s such a huge need. Canadians have been led to believe that they have one of the world’s best health-care systems, but only Canadians believe that. We can improve our system enormously and I obviously believe that in a country that is a free-enterprise country like Canada, when you lock out the competitive value of business and its talent from the health-care system, you’re locking out something that is important.”
17. What’s your vision for Canada’s health-care system?
“I believe that 10 years from now, you will see a system where the health-care services are shared, because the public system can no longer bear the burden of ensuring all of the procedures for all the people all of the time and guaranteeing quick access. It’s almost a definition of an impossible health-care system. Currently, what’s suffering the most is access. We have wonderful hospitals, great doctors, great procedures and great technology, but there just isn’t enough to go around. That’s partly because it’s free. When something is free, it’s going to be used to excess.”
18. On a more personal note, can you talk about the way you were inspired by your late daughter, Diane Stuemer, whose courage inspired so many people with her family’s four-year voyage around the world? (Stuemer died of cancer in March).
“We were lucky enough to have an amazing woman, as it turned out, for our daughter. She found a way of taking an opportunity. She had a melanoma on her calf and she thought: ‘What if I should die and not have accomplished the things I really wanted to accomplish?’ With the prospect of not having the length of time that most of us might think we have, especially when you’re in your 30s, she sold her company, which was doing quite well, they bought a boat, took the kids out of school and sailed around the world. So, the first thought about her is, ‘what courage’. To sail around the world for four years, you know you’re going to be running into 40-foot waves and gales. When she sailed around the world, she realized that we were members of a very privileged class of people that had access to food and shelter on an understood basis. She determined that she would help less-fortunate people, and her husband just returned from a month in Africa where they rebuilt a school and they have 50 people on scholarships of $350 a year to go through junior and senior high school. When she had her final bout with cancer, people from all over the world wrote her and told her that she changed their lives. She was able to reach out and touch people very easily. She was beginning to become a public speaker and she would spend hours with people with problems.”
19. How has your perspective on life been impacted by Diane?
“I think you have to get your agenda moving. You have to assume that you might not have as much time as you have budgeted for. There are important things in life, there are good things in life, there are not-so-important things in life and not-so-good things in life. You’ve just got to separate the not-so-good and not-so-important things and get the important, good things done.”
20. What’s on your agenda?
“Jeanette and I very much try to serve our community. The amount of good you can do in a community should be on one’s list and it certainly is on our list. We have to spend more time with family. You realize that, as Diane did, that if your time was limited, you’d probably budget it differently. There also has to be more focus on the kinds of businesses that make a difference for me, from a business point of view. An example would be the health-care business. When you can return people to full ability to work from lying in a bed and unable to work, that makes you feel good. I like running, which is about the only thing I’ve ever done well. I like to play golf and Jeanette and I want to do a little more travelling. As the grandmother said: ‘I wear purple more often and eat more ice cream.’ It’s not quite that, but it’s along that line anyway.”
IN PROFILE: Frank King
* Born/raised/age: Redcliff, Alta; Redcliff, Calgary; 66.
* Title: President, Metropolitan Investment Corporation.
* Education: University of Alberta, Bachelor of Science, chemical engineering.
* Family: Wife Jeanette, three children.
* Career: King, a chemical engineer, held various senior management positions in the petrochemical and oil and gas industries prior to 1979, when he began a decade-long stint in leading the bidding for, organizing and running the 1988 Calgary Olympics. He was CEO of the Calgary Winter Games Organizing Committee. After the Olympics, he was briefly
president of Turbo Resources until it was acquired by Shell Canada, and is currently president of Metropolitan Investment Corporation, chairman of Networc Health, a director of Acclaim Energy Trust, Agrium, Westaim and Wi-LAN, and a trustee of Rio-Can Real Estate Investment Trust. He was co-president of Canada 125, Canada’s 125th anniversary celebrations in 1992.
* Accolades: King was made an officer of the Order of Canada in 1988. Other awards include Calgary Booster Club Sportsman Of The Year (2003), Calgary Booster Club Builder Award (1988), the Canadian Olympic Order (1997), Governor General’s 125 Medal (1992), Canadian Olympic Hall of Fame membership (1991), Alberta Premier’s Order of Excellence (1981 & 1988) and the Olympic Order in Gold from the International Olympic Committee (1988).
* Passions: Running, golf, travel.