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The Ampersand October 2018 – Not Easily Messmerized

October 2, 2018

Dear Friends & Colleagues,


Some time in about 2003, roughly two years into my recruitment career at Robert Half International, where I first cut my teeth in the shark infested waters of contingent recruitment, I had occasion to be in Menlo Park, California with a group of top producers from around the globe, of which I, rather incredibly, was one.


As a prairie boy from Canada in a room full of hyper-competitive American sales people I felt like a beaver out of water.  As I politely nudged my way into a gaggle of particularly motivated go-getters, I noticed they were hanging on the every word, nodding fawningly like so many seals at the aquarium, guffawing in unison at each utterance of one rather tall person in the centre of their universe: Max Messmer, the CEO of the $8.7 billion company.


Against its will, the circle reluctantly expanded to allow me a spot in the worship ring.  The herd momentarily stopped suckling at the teat of his Maxness and looked judgingly upon me for I was not one of them.  A point I amply demonstrated mere moments later when Mr. Messmer turned to me and asked:


“Who are you?”

“Adam Pekarsky, from Calgary.  Canada. I work in the legal recruitment division.”

“Ah, you a lawyer?”

“Yes, in fact, I practiced for four years” I said.

“You don’t say!” obliged Mr. Messmer, “I practiced for eight years!  Now, what do you make of that?” he asked, to the adoring laughter of the bobbleheads.

“I’d say that makes me twice as smart as you” I replied.


Absolutely no one laughed.  Except Max Messmer.  He not only got the joke (that I escaped the grind of law twice as fast as he did) but clearly appreciated the brief reprieve from his adoring minions.  He proceeded to engage me in great conversation for the next several minutes, to the exclusion (and immense chagrin) of the flock.


Fast forward to July 2018.  I’m having lunch with the Chair of the Board of the Calgary Chamber of Commerce, Phil Roberts.  Phil was a key part of our client team during the Chamber CEO search we led last winter. I asked him about his new venture, Provision Analytics, of which he is a co-founder.  A serial entrepreneur, Phil explained to me, with the unbridled enthusiasm of a serial entrepreneur, the widget.  Basically, the company provides the food industry with asset traceability and transparency through deep data analysis, providing insight into all nodes in the supply chain.


He shared with me a story about being in Copenhagen for a month last June to incubate the company with Maersk, the largest container ship and supply vessel operator in the world.  He found himself at a crowded reception at Maersk’s offices and, it so happens, the global CEO of the company stopped by.  Phil introduced himself, offered a business card and suggested the two of them meet for a coffee.  As you do. The horrified Danes looked on. Phil was enjoying his Max Messmer moment.  The rank and file were aghast that anyone, let alone someone from Calgary Canada, would have the nodes to simply walk up to the CEO and ask him out for coffee.  You don’t just go for coffee with the CEO of the company, Phil!


Phil, nor I, upon hearing the story, saw anything wrong with the approach.  I’d venture a guess that most in these parts wouldn’t.  For we are not easily Messmerized.


You see, Calgarians are not a starry-eyed bunch who stand on ceremony or are easily impressed with authority simply by virtue of the office. “All hat, no cowboy” is an expression I’ve heard more than once. We all put our pants on one leg at a time in these parts and we are uninspired by protocol, ceremony or hierarchy. It’s why we’re not great at following the rules and tend to get easily annoyed by them. It’s why deals still get scribbled on coasters and handshakes matter. We fail at times with this approach, but we don’t see it as failure; only others do.  It’s what sets us, as Calgarians and Albertans, apart. It’s what, in its worst iteration casts us as reckless cowboys in need of a chaperone but in reality as pioneering livewires who get things done and get annoyed at others who only appear to be doing so.  Our Messmer-meter is finally tuned. We can smell b.s. a mile away. And that’s why we find our current environment so foul.


For a city of doers to be stuck in neutral is stifling and maddening and discouraging.  We’re sitting here in Alberta, perched upon millions of barrels of oil that we can’t move, unless we put them on sale like we’re running a Brick Warehouse red tag blowout sale. We are underwriting the rest of the country through an antiquated transfer payment scheme, while our federal government touts a consultation process that it itself failed to meet, but only after spending  billions on a pipeline that we all own but which doesn’t yet fully function.  We dither and consult and navel gaze. We tie ourselves in regulatory red tape to the point that, according to the World Bank Doing Business Report from October 2017, Canada ranks 34 out of 35 OECD countries in time to obtain a permit for a new general construction project, narrowly edging only the Slovak Republic.


An environment such as this makes it nearly impossible to plan, to invest, to budget, to build. We’re stalled and stuck and uncomfortably dependent on others.  It’s not a good look.


We are the people that walk up to global CEOs and make jokes and boldly ask them for coffee.  We are the edgy, aspirational ones who buck convention, speak up and stubbornly refuse a place among the nodding masses.  It is entirely antithetical to our DNA to seek, let alone wait for, approvals. Be they of the personal or pipeline variety. We are high-achievers who are typically not impressed when others from far away tell us what to do, how to do it and when we can do it.  We do not like being patronized, scrutinized, or criticized.


And we most definitely are not easily Messmerized.


Happy Thanksgiving!




p.s. as of press time, it appears we have a NAFTA deal, imminent LNG approval and some long-awaited M&A activity with Husky and MEG. We’re back, baby!!  As with Toronto Maple Leaf Stanley Cup Parades, I’d simply caution they’re best planned in spring, not fall.