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Pekarsky & Co. April 2016 Newsletter – Views from the Six

April 22, 2016

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


In mid-October of last year, sitting with the partners in Adam’s office, Ranju opened my quarterly review by asking the simplest of questions: “So, how are you?” My response, “Do you mean how am I? Or how am I?”, fast-tracked us away from regular business and launched a discussion from which Pekarsky & Co. Toronto was born. By the end of January, a mere two and half months later, Adam and I set off on a whirlwind three-day BD blitz to all corners of the 6ix where we connected with old clients and new clients and friends of the firm and friends of friends of the firm, all with the goal of getting the word out to the good folks of Bay Street and beyond that our little firm was about to adopt a 416 area code. Though met with a fantastic reception across the board, we also found ourselves confronting a few raised eyebrows and a few pointed questions about how we planned to find success in Toronto when we didn’t really know Toronto. The subtext seemed to me to suggest that, in the eyes of some, we didn’t realize just how close to the Sun we might be flying.



That our move to Toronto might be considered audacious, however, had never actually occurred to me. Of our humble staff of nine, I am the only one to have actually lived in all three centres that our firm calls home (Vancouver is the one place we’re lacking bricks and mortar, but maybe when that happens I’ll finally have reason to set up shop closer to the infamous Grouse Grind). The one thing I can say, now that I’ve got claim to setting down roots in Edmonton, Calgary, and Toronto, is that despite each city’s idiosyncrasies, people seem willing to give you time when you show up, work hard, and make a point of learning what matters to them. So, audacity just doesn’t sit well as the descriptor-of-choice for our foray into the GTA. It’s too easy to say that opening doors and bringing our brand east, especially in a markedly shaky economic moment, was unthinkably bold or just plain plucky . Likewise, I don’t believe it to be the equivalent of me throwing my hands up and walking away from Alberta just because things aren’t as bustling as when I landed from Montréal two years ago to start with the firm.


If audacity has anything to do with it, then I like the way Cheryl Chung, partner in BlueRun Ventures (the VC group behind tech transformers like PayPal) frames things: “the key to audacity is that it has to be timed perfectly. You can say, ‘I’m going to send people to space and vacation on Mars,’ but if it’s outside the realm of possibility, it’s not really audacious.” And really, by her definition, the only truly audacious aspect of what we’ve done with our new office at 56 Temperance Street is get the timing and the potential right. I asked for the opportunity because I knew that Toronto, as a city, was the best possible fit for my professional ambitions and my personal life and also because I knew, from experience, that our approach to search would serve Toronto just as successfully as it has managed to serve Edmonton, Calgary, and Vancouver for the past seven years (had I proposed Hong Kong or Berlin, I highly doubt I’d be penning this newsletter). The firm simply had the good sense to agree with me…


So, how do I prefer to describe what we’re undertaking in Toronto, if not as pure chutzpah? Well, it’s really been an exercise in saying “why not?!?”, a belief in the Pekarsky & Co. formula to bringing in top talent and the desire to determine if I have what it takes to do something I’ve never done before. For the record, I don’t mean recruiting, I’ve done heaps of recruiting. I mean moving out of what has been my professional home for the past two years, moving away from the steady gaze of work parents, and moving into my own ‘place’, as it were. My days are a little more demanding now, because while I have the support of second-to-none colleagues back home, what I do not have is someone immediately down the hall to advise on the daily bumps and bruises (those, so far, are largely to my ego) that accompany trying to build up a brand in a new market. We do a brilliant job of treating the distance amongst our offices as non-existent with Skype and telephones and text, but like so many of the candidates we meet who are raring to get at a role with more responsibility and more reach, I have to tell myself, daily, “this is what you asked for.” Adam, in the same vein, often cautions senior executives desirous of change in the name of a new challenge that “the trouble with new challenges is that they’re hard.” It’s a humbling experience, and at times a bit of a sleepless endeavour, to make a jump like we’ve made without knowing how we might land. But it was a move made in good faith, knowing that the only key to success would be old-fashioned elbow grease, and moreover, that there are also many new and unexpected places for us to land in a city this size.



That in mind, I prefer to think of this move as an exercise in curiosity; less the audacious “in your face, Alberta” and more the exploratory “let’s see what happens, Toronto.” Our own curiosity about PCo. in T.O. isn’t likely to change the face of what Adam has formerly dubbed as a “heavily saturated, though somewhat under-served, market” for recruitment. I landed in Toronto on a Friday, and by Monday I was installed at my new desk, making calls to candidates and clients alike, walking precisely the same walk I had been a few days before on Stephen Avenue; our process is great as-is, and I know it, and I know how to excel at it. The PCo. way remains the same in the Big Smoke as it does in the Cities of Stampedes and Champions. Toronto, it turns out, is not Mars (though even NASA seems to think Curiosity can accomplish a lot), but I am quickly realizing that because we were curious enough to take the leap, and because we aren’t so audacious as to be telling Toronto clients what precisely we can and cannot do for them here, our enthusiasm is being reciprocated with healthy interest in our brand and in our offering. Walt Disney, as antiquated a reference point as he might be in 2016, is famously to have said about his little enterprise: “We keep moving forward, opening new doors, and doing new things, because we’re curious and curiosity keeps leading us down new paths.” It seems to me that Walt was onto something.


In fact, it’s just that sort of Disney-esque curiosity that has always been encouraged in innovative companies, and unsurprisingly, by the innovators behind them. Steve Jobs, perhaps the most oft-cited reference of an innovator in recent years, is frequently spoken about when the topic of curiosity arises. In university, it is said that Jobs took a calligraphy course for no reason other interest and like his later life adoption of a Buddhist Zen practice gave way to an iconic black turtleneck-laden wardrobe and the now unmistakable minimalist Apple aesthetic, his study in the calligraphy led to the inclusion of classic font options in the hugely successful original Mac computers. James Cameron, the filmmaker behind the number one and two grossing films of all time (Avatar and Titanic, respectively) has openly admitted that he pitched “Romeo and Juliet on the Titanic” not because he was particularly determined to make that film, but because he was curious about getting to see the actual shipwreck. His curiosity went on not only to bring him to the bottom of the ocean, but also wound up creating the most expensive movie to date at $200 million and the first film to surpass the billion-dollar mark in earnings; not a shabby by-product to the original goal of getting to the ocean floor. If you’ve watched House of Cards or Orange Is the New Black in the last couple of years, then perhaps you know that Reed Hastings, founder of Netflix, supposedly got the idea for the streaming service after being charged $40 for an overdue video and wondering what would come of a video-rental platform that function more like gym, with monthly membership fees, and no late charges. Jobs, Cameron, and Hastings didn’t plan strategically or painstakingly at the outset to build better computers or make better films or to change the way we indulge our watching; they had places they wanted to be and things they wanted to learn, and whatever the result might have been, it wasn’t, at least initially, the focus. Much of the same can be said for our move eastward. It was certainly not in the Pekarsky & Co. five-year strategic plan to see a Toronto office added to the roster (or so they tell me), but neither was Edmonton when it set a stake in the ground on Jasper Avenue two years ago. Not all great things are the result of meticulous planning.


The point, I suppose, is that we are not Icarus and Toronto certainly doesn’t seem to me, after a month on the ground, to resemble even remotely the Sun. We’ve got absolutely everything we need to be successful and every day that we invest in getting to know the people who make our business what it is and what it will be out here, is another day that we come closer to being able to say that (perhaps in response to some of the healthy scepticism we met in January about our plans) we really do know Toronto. Adam is set to return to Toronto for round two of our BD tour de force mid-April, and it’s inevitable that at some point toward the end of his time here we will both have to shake our heads and comment on how much we’ve been able to accomplish in Toronto, just by being curious enough to try. Until then, and every day between, I’m just exceptionally grateful that I have the opportunity to work with a group of people who believe there is benefit not only in asking “why,” but also in saying “why not?”.



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