20 Questions with Brad Krizan, President of Premiere Suites Western Ltd.
- Taber, Alberta
- Married with two kids
- MBA from Royal Roads University, Bachelor of Arts degree from University of Lethbridge in Urban and Regional Studies
Just an unassuming guy from small-town southern Alberta, Brad Krizan has put together an astonishing educational and corporate C.V. within a relatively brief time frame. His university education in urban and regional studies originally piqued an interest in real estate. That growing fascination, in turn, led him to build a base of knowledge and experience in a variety of asset classes throughout Canada and the U.S.
At this particular stage of his career, he is acknowledged to be an expert in the field’s most demanding disciplines. In retrospect, Krizan regards his formative years with Oxford Properties Group as his introduction to the major leagues of commercial real estate. While with Oxford Properties, he worked on a number of important transactions, learning a great deal about contract law, high-level negotiations and the inner workings of a variety of different industries. His years with the company also enabled him to nurture several professional relationships that have stood the test of time.
Later, at OPUS Corporation, he relished the opportunity to work with a highly entrepreneurial real estate team at the height of a development boom in Calgary. He was exposed to every aspect of commercial real estate from land acquisition to financing; from the development permit and construction process to the point of sale. He continues to savour the memory of such challenging projects as Stampede Station and the Golder Building while with OPUS.
Subsequently, Krizan became director of corporate administrative services for Encana Corp. There, he became familiar with the oil & gas industry, gaining a deeper appreciation of the business and its importance within both the provincial, federal and international context. Encana provided him with his first opportunity to work cross-border on real estate and other special corporate initiatives, something he fondly recalls as a “fantastic experience. The U.S. is a much bigger, more entrepreneurial and more mature market than Canada, so I learned a great deal doing business there,” he says. “In addition, there were signature career events for me, such as leading the team that moved the company into Calgary’s BOW Tower.” Also with Encana, Krizan enjoyed the opportunity to lead corporate service functions that were new to him at the time. These included corporate travel and aviation, fleet vehicles, customs services, security, facility management in addition to exposure to corporate reporting related to areas he oversaw. Today, he says performing these duties was akin to leading a mini-conglomerate of service companies – an invaluable set of life and career experiences. Krizan also cherishes his time as a member of the board of the Calgary Telus Convention Centre, at which he enjoyed the opportunity to work closely with a number of senior business leaders in Calgary. Eventually, as board chair, he worked through a series of initial reviews to explore potential expansion of the centre in downtown Calgary.
This volunteer function provided Krizan with important exposure to the developmental opportunities that exist in public infrastructure as well as the ways in which important public facilities can be pivotal to the economic diversity and well-being of municipalities and their importance in being place-making spaces.
1. Your background includes leadership roles with a wide range of real estate organizations, including the Calgary Chapter of the National Association of Industrial and Office Properties (NAIOP), IFMA Calgary and the Calgary Community Land Trust (CCLT). What kind of an impact have those experiences had on your career?
A number of these opportunities were volunteer based, so they had a great impact from a leadership perspective. When there is no formal reporting structure or hierarchy in volunteer leadership roles, you learn firsthand what collaboration and non-authoritative leadership is really about. These were great opportunities for me to better understand people’s motivations when money is not a defining factor in their reason for being involved with an organization. With respect to my NAIOP and IFMA involvement, these are both very important industry member associations that look at real estate from the owner/ developer perspective (in the case of NAIOP), and the tenant/ user perspective (IFMA). I always wanted to develop a balanced view of the issues and opportunities in real estate, and being involved in associations touching different realms of the industry was very valuable for networking and gaining a broader perspective. In the case of CCLT, this was my first exposure to a not-for-profit group trying to provide a solution related to affordable housing. I learned a lot about the issues and the mandate they were trying to fulfill. It was my first board position and I will admit I was a bit of a meek presence during my involvement as I was soaking up concepts I didn’t fully have a grasp on at the time. Ultimately, one of the great gifts I receive by being involved with each of these organizations is the opportunity to both exert leadership and learn about leadership from a wonderful cross-section of people while rounding out my understanding of other facets of industry and corporate governance. Those experiences continue to be valuable to me in my professional and personal life.
2. What are your central duties as president of Premiere Suites Western Ltd.?
My focus is providing the strategic leadership for the company and overseeing all aspects of the business. A significant portion of my time is spent on overseeing the operational performance of the company and planning the forward direction and growth strategy for the region. Business development activities take up a sizeable amount of my time, as does providing guidance and mentorship to staff.
3. Who is the typical customer that utilizes long-term stays at Premiere Suites properties?
Our typical customers are corporate stays of 30 days or more. This would include those working on key projects with their company, executives or employees in the midst of a longer-term transfer who want a place to stay for an extended time period before committing to long-term property ownership or the leisure traveller who wants accommodations that have similar elements to staying at home that a hotel is unable to offer.
4. What percentage of your properties are owned by the corporation versus managed for third-party owners, and where would you like that percentage to be?
The majority of our suites are via third-party owners. Because of the fluid nature of our business and the ability to adjust our inventory, there is no specified percentage target I can point to at this juncture. We like to own when we can acquire suites at reasonable market pricing. We aren’t a buyer of suites during rising or “hot” markets.
5. In what areas of the country is Premiere Suites most active?
We are a national organization, so we are very active across the country. By size and revenue, Western Canada (Alberta and British Columbia), Ontario and Atlantic are our most active regions.
6. Is Premiere Suites being affected by current economic challenges such as the downturn in Alberta?
Our business is affected by the same economic challenges as other businesses. What we do find is that while some sectors like oil and gas have scaled back their business with us, other sectors continue to be active given their businesses are not tied to oil and gas. Ultimately, though, we are seeing lower occupancy of our suites than we would like.
7. What is your growth strategy for the business?
Without giving away any secret business plans, I would categorize our strategy to be one of strategic patience coupled with a desire to increase market share profitably. Ultimately, for us it will mean aligning with the right kind of real estate for our business. Having the right inventory is key. Once that is solved, the issue of filling that inventory becomes much easier.
8. I know you are a family man. How would you assess your current work-life balance?
It is as balanced as I can make it given the work commitments I have. I make it a point to attend as many school and sporting functions that my children participate in, and make sure I see my kids in the morning before I go to work. I also make it a point to be home for supper as much as possible. Sometimes networking events preclude that, but I’m selective in how many events I attend for business purposes. My view on work-life balance is that life is a balancing act no matter what, so you need to make sure the things that are truly important to you are the ones you always find ways to make time for. It’s easy to get out of balance when things that are not core priorities drift into your life.
9. Is competing in sports a nice release for you?
I’ve played a variety of sports since I was a kid and never really stopped. The great thing about sports is the combination of exercise coupled with competition being a great way to clear the mind, blow off steam and hit the reset button mentally. Plus, it’s the one area that hard work can be something other than mental, which is what makes it so great for clearing the mind.
10. You sit on a number of boards, including that of the Calgary Downtown Association, which has a business revitalization mandate. Is Calgary’s downtown being revitalized?
Calgary’s downtown has changed dramatically in the 21 years that I’ve lived here. When you consider the amount of new development coupled with continued redevelopment of areas like Eau Claire, Stephen Avenue, the CORE shopping centre and East Village, there is definitely a different level of vitality in the downtown core. We still have more opportunity for revitalization, but the downtown is morphing into a much more active place, not just for pure commerce but as a social centre outside of business hours. It is sometimes lost on people that downtown Calgary is an actual community, with long-term residents and long-term regular visitors, but that perspective is starting to change with each new condominium and hotel development that occurs.
11. There has been a lot of change on the political landscape – on the provincial and federal levels. Do you think the Alberta NDP and federal Liberals have what it takes to effectively navigate the myriad economic challenges of the day?
Governing is a tough job no matter which party is in power, and the public has high expectations. These are two new governments with a lot of new faces in critical roles. There will be a learning curve and it will be crucial for them to be pragmatic about what we are facing as a province and a nation and that the solutions for navigating current economic challenges will need collaboration and embracing ideas that may fall outside of party ideology. Time will tell if they are able to handle these challenges positively or negatively, and it is too early to know how it will play out, much to the chagrin of the public. Ultimately, responsibility lies as much with citizens and businesses to find ways to steer through and improve upon our economic challenges as they can move faster than any government can respond.
12. When you peer into your crystal ball, when will the Alberta economy emerge from this downturn?
I wish I had such a crystal ball! We are facing a structural change to what affects our economy and a clearer recognition of how much we cannot control (such as the price of oil), so there are a lot of unknowns. Being an optimist I’d like to believe that we will start to see movement, even if it is small movement, toward recovery later in 2016. The bigger question is whether we are going to be returning to boom levels of economic activity in Alberta, and I think that is going to be on hold for a number of years.
13. What would you say are the key factors in getting our economy back running on all cylinders?
In the short term, better co-ordination within Canada across a number of industries. We can do a better job of supporting business internally within Canada and creating a cost-competitive environment within our own country. Keeping borrowing costs low will also be important. In the long term, we need to spend more time looking outside of Canada to understand the context of what drives the global economy because we’ve spent far too much time as a nation telling ourselves we are important on the global stage and far too little time understanding how we can be effective and influential in the global economy.
14. Are you seeing evidence of Canadian corporations scaling back their travel budgets?
There has been scaling back, particularly in the energy sector.
15. Do you think that the cutbacks will hamper those companies’ ability to achieve and maintain profitability?
That is tough to gauge. Typically, travel is an easy area to target for reduced spending because it is a highly visible business expense. There will definitely be a focus on the activities of travelling workers and ensuring they are highly productive while on the road and not stretching their travel into a “bizcation”.
16. What can you do to help Premiere Suites be recession-proof?
Recession-proof is an interesting concept and most people don’t focus on it until a recession is upon them. For us, it is about being as nimble as possible during this downturn and adjusting our inventory to suit demand in the market.
17. What are the advantages of staying with Premiere Suites as opposed to a standard hotel?
Our type of accommodation is geared toward long-term stays because our suites have more square footage and in- suite amenities such as laundry, kitchen, cable TV and wireless Internet that really make it a home away from home. Hotels don’t offer this kind of feel or amenity mix.
18. What is the average cost difference with, say, a 30-day stay at one of your suites versus a hotel room?
We don’t gauge this based solely on the cost of the room night so much as the cost compared to the square footage our guests enjoy. Our suites have 30% to 40% more square footage coupled with our ability to be up to 25% cheaper, so it is important to keep in context that there is a value proposition linked to the size of our suites, not just the pricing.
19. Where do your customers see the improved price points?
Our cost advantage is in the 30-day-plus stays. For shorter-term stays, we hold our pricing more in line with hotel rates as our business model is not built around short- term stays.
20. Do you have a good team behind you?
I am fortunate to have a dedicated team behind me and great partners to work with nationally within our organization.