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Pekarsky & Co. June 2017 Newsletter – The Human Touch

June 7, 2017

Dear Friends and Colleagues,


The Alberta legal community lost a good man too soon earlier this week. David Robottom, QC, served as Executive Vice President and Chief Legal Officer of Enbridge Inc.  Prior to joining Enbridge in 2006 David was a Partner of Stikeman Elliott LLP and prior to that a Partner at Fraser Milner Casgrain LLP and its various predecessor firms, including Milner Fenerty.  I regarded David as a friend, a client and, above all, a mentor.


When I was a young lawyer at Milner Fenerty, I worked very closely with David.  He drove me completely crazy on many occasions.  I was convinced the legs on his office visitor chairs were cut shorter, or perhaps it was simply how I felt in the face of his towering intellect.


In the many years after practicing law together, David epitomized the adage that “it’s lonely at the top,” always thoroughly enjoying the opportunity to grab a beer and gossip about the market.   He was a stalwart at our annual rooftop Stampede party and never declined an opportunity to assist us on any manner of mandate.


One quick story from about 1998. I was a young, freshly-minted, terrified and ill-equipped lawyer working under David on a very intense and complex transaction. It was an around-the-clock deal; the kind that fuelled and energized David while completely draining the many young charges under his watch. At the end of a very long and intense week, and with a pause in the action, I rolled the dice and snuck away to a buddy’s cabin in Fairmont with a few of my fellow associate lawyers from the firm.


After a glorious Saturday of golf, followed by a BBQ and perhaps a beverage or twelve, our gaggle decided to walk over to the Riverside golf course pub to watch a football game, partake in Karaoke night and enjoy not having to return to the office for another 12 hours.  On route, and it was only about a 200 meter stumble from my friend’s place to the golf course, we passed in front of a beautiful log cabin. “That’s Robottom’s place” offered our host, unwittingly. My blood froze, for I was in no state to bump into any senior partner of the firm and no mood to review documents for that one, in particular.


We all tried to look invisible in the fading evening sunlight as we ungracefully shuffled and loudly shhhhh’d in front of his front porch.  “Pekarsky!  Is that you?!” came a voice from the shadows. Now I’ve made lots of important decisions in my 47 years, but the one facing me at that moment was certainly among the biggest, to that point. Add to that, my buddies did not subscribe to the view that “no man gets left behind” for they suddenly succumbed to blissful deafness and marched purposefully toward the pub. I hesitated and that brief pause, that frozen silhouette in the dusk, gave me up. “Pekarsky!  Get over here!  And bring your friends!”  A voice from the pack ahead offered weakly, “we’re not his friends” as we turned away from our intended destination and sheepishly headed toward the man smoking the pipe in the rocking chair on the front porch.


Turns out, that man that evening was the most generous, charming, engaging, funny, story-telling figure you could ever want to spend a perfect summer evening with. We all sat on that porch, swapped stories, enjoyed a few more beers, not as Partner and Associate but colleague to colleague, human to human and it was really very special; something I’ve not forgotten to this day.


Our thoughts at Pekarsky & Co. are with David’s family, his former colleagues at Enbridge, Stikeman and Dentons and his friends, among whom we are fortunate to count ourselves.


There is no elegant segue to our regular June post, this month authored by Edmonton Partner Rick Vogel.  Fittingly, Rick’s piece is entitled “The Human Touch,” something I had the good fortune of seeing in David more than most.




Pekarsky & Co. June 2017 Newsletter – The Human Touch

By Rick Vogel


I survived the crash of October 19, 1987. I was a stockbroker with McLeod, Young & Weir at the time and because of the advice I provided my clients, they survived too. In the 12-18 month period after the crash, my book of business grew significantly due primarily to referrals from my clients based on the loyalty built during those dark days in the late  80s.


One of those client referrals happened to be a local Branch Manager of one of the London Life offices in Edmonton. Let’s call him Bob.


Turns out, Bob contacted me not to discuss his investments but to recruit me to London Life.


Always willing to explore a potential career change, I took the next step in their hiring process; completing a “personality/aptitude/competency” test. It was a proprietary test which was conducted in a small room with a booklet and pencil (no Internet yet).


Bob called me a week later to discuss the results of the test. He told me the test results advised him to “stay away from this candidate”  on the basis I had no people skills, could not establish meaningful relationships and could not sell anything. The test went on to state that my strengths were analytical thinking and working on individual tasks. It recommended I pursue accounting or analytical research. The test did make one accurate identification. My undergraduate degree is in Mathematics so highlighting my analytical/mathematical skills were correctly identified.  But missing the human interaction piece of my personality called into question for me the value and legitimacy of these sorts of tests.


It’s a skepticism I question to this day when it comes to the entire industry of psychometric testing as a tool to assist in the recruitment process.   Interacting with people is the food for my soul. Whether it’s coaching junior high school basketball, speaking at forums, serving on not-for-profit boards, advising clients or interviewing candidates, people are my passion. To his credit, in spite of the test results, Bob chose to exercise his prerogative as a human being to ignore the test and pursue me as a candidate. In the end, to my credit, I declined and stayed in the investment world until transitioning to search in 2006.


Today, we are seeing more and more of these psychometric testing programs being used in the search industry. In fact, many of the traditional national and global search firms have gotten into the assessment business to supplement their (in some cases shaky) search-related revenues. To us, this is a bit like the automotive industry getting into the road building business; a curious marriage of convenience more than a natural extension of one offering to another.


The thought that an online survey taken at a moment in time, filtered through the mood of the day of the test taker which instantly produces volumes of reports, graphs, charts and colour wheels explaining who you are, what you like, how you handle stress and how you problem solve should, in our view, only be used as a tool in assisting the individual’s superiors in managing that person after they’ve been hired but not as a determining factor in whom to hire in the first place.


According to Andrea Mondor, Co-Founder of BOLT Transition, a leading Edmonton based firm specializing in transforming leadership transition into a highly successful strategic enterprise event for executives, boards, and organizations, “during leadership transitions, we see value in psychometric tests for enhancing individual leaders’ and teams’ awareness of their strengths, blind spots and opportunities to work together. Assessments can contribute to broader conversations about the new leader’s and team member’s remarkable talents, capacities, stories and motivations. Personal connection, not an on-line test, and the deep insights developed by building relationships with candidates and determining their fit with your organization’s values and culture, are the most vital activities leading to hiring decision.”


Proof positive of the value of these tools as management aids, not recruitment aids, is that we recently used one such tool at a Pekarsky & Co. retreat. The results ascribed the usual labels to each team member like “Influencer” “Dominance” and “Contentious.” After sharing our personal profiles and discussing as a group, I still don’t understand how any of those labels or gradients would influence my decision on whether or not to hire any one of us but I did learn a thing or two about how to manage our existing relationships.


For instance, on almost every scale and attribute, my Partner, Adam Pekarsky, and I were a virtual match. Where we differed was our preference in communication style. Knowing this has led to improvement in how we discuss, debate and resolve the many issues that come up on a daily basis. But the fact that we have two different defaults in communication style should not be a determining factor on whether or not we should work together. If we only hired a person with a particular communication style, one of us would most likely not be here (probably me since his name is on the door).


An entire new industry is unfolding in the area of Artificial Intelligence (“A.I.”). The robots really are taking over. But just as we still board an airplane instead of settle for a video conference when the stakes truly matter, I will still rely on spending time with my client, in person, to discuss and understand what they need in a candidate for a specific leadership role and I will spend the same amount of time with the candidate to learn what truly motivates them so that I can see the whites of their eyes, not the variance of their statements on a two, five or seven-point scale. Issues around organizational challenges, team member dynamics, “feeling” the corporate culture and gauging the personalities intertwined in the team remains the single most effective way to ensure the right fit.


Rick Vogel is a Partner in the Edmonton office of Pekarsky & Co., well known across the city for his charisma, people skills and community spirit. For the record, he is considered by DISC to be a High “I”.