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Pekarsky Stein February Newsletter: It was the Best of Times, it was the Worst of Times.

February 2, 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Ahhh, January.   It was the best of times, it was the worst of times.

We experienced the high of successfully completing our EVP & General Counsel search for Encana, one of the more sought after legal jobs in recent memory, while launching another high profile search in Edmonton – the Assistant Deputy Minister, Alberta Crown Prosecution Service – and successfully closing several other challenging searches in the HR, Finance and Board space, among our usual steady diet of in-house counsel roles.  And, we hosted the official grand opening of our great new Edmonton space on the corner of Jasper Ave and 104th street, directly across the street from the old Birks Building (which once housed my grandpa Henry’s first Henry Singer location some 40 years ago).    Great food, superb turnout and a down-home Edmonton welcome, to be sure.   The party was a huge success notwithstanding the inter-office tension arising from Edmonton’s brand new space, posh white chairs, huge windows (in Associate offices, no less!) and fancy, fresh lemon water dispenser as compared to the drafty, haunted, mostly windowless, 100 year old Alberta Hotel Building which houses our Calgary operation, furnished with desks procured from my old law firm, dating back to about six mergers ago A Tale of Two Cities, indeed.


And, happily, we hired one of Edmonton’s up and comers in the person of Christine DeWitt.   Not only is Christine an actual comedian and a fellow recovering lawyer but she was recently recognized for her personal, professional and civic accomplishments when she was named one of Edmonton’s Top 40 Under 40 by Avenue Magazine.   I knew Christine would fit in here when I read the last line of her draft website bio, which will be uploaded on her first day with us later this month: “When not working or perfecting her comedic timing, Christine spends time with her husband Sean – usually trying to convince him that they need a dog. She also teaches business law as a sessional instructor at MacEwan University, and is the keeper of her grandmother’s secret gingersnap recipe.”   Keeper.

We had everything before us, we had nothing before us

January also saw the continued slide of oil prices and the resulting chill felt in the Plus 15s and Pedways of downtown Calgary and Edmonton.   While I don’t mind paying $40 to fill up the family minivan, and the shorter lines at the Bankers Hall Starbucks are nice, I do prefer Alberta in boom mode.    I wouldn’t describe it as a light switch going from On to Off as much as a dimmer switch having been installed and rather quickly slid to the ‘romantic’ setting.   I’ve had about enough romance.

I’ve also got abundant faith in our firm’s ability to not only weather the storm but thrive in it.   Over the years we have, in this space, described ourselves as Navy Seals, nimble, boutique, fleet-a-foot and you have likely whispered a few adjectives as well.    The comforting reality is that our low overhead, our unique fee structure, our attention to superlative client service and our immensely talented team permit us to view this as a unique opportunity.  An opportunity to grab market share, to hire great people, to be there for our clients and candidates, in whatever capacity they require, as a true partner.  It’s easy to be magnanimous when you’re winning and right now our province is getting its butt kicked yet we continue to work hard, do the right things and stay true to what has served us so well all these years.   As the namesake on yesterday’s Super Bowl trophy, Vince Lombardi, once said:  “The only place success comes before work is in the dictionary.”   And it’s not just the work side where we have kept our eye on the proverbial football but on the community piece, too.


For the 5th consecutive year, The Pekarsky Stein Pro Bonos will be taking to the ice in support of the Gordie Howe Alzheimer’s Pro-Am Hockey Tournament.   Since 2010, with your help, our firm has raised over $300,000 for Alzheimer’s research.   Kindly click here and donate whatever you can to this most worthy cause.   Additionally, we continue to support our friends at the Alberta Children’s Hospital Foundation.   Though we, or more precisely, our kids, have outgrown the Candy Cane Gala, which we supported as a gold level sponsor for three years running, this week we will be manning the phones as part of Radiothon, the hospital’s largest fundraising event of the year.   Please give what you can and if dollars aren’t available that usually means time is.

It was the age of wisdom, it was the age of foolishness

Debra Yedlin last week, in her piece entitled Beware the Temptation of Layoffs in the Oilpatch, wrote of the need to act prudently and avoid the mass exodus the industry experienced in the slowdown of the mid 1980s. “Losing experience and institutional memory” she wrote, “means needing to find new people and train them. That takes time and money. It doesn’t lead to efficiencies or help the cost structure.”   And although I agree with the importance of resisting a knee-jerk bloodletting of talent, there likely is some fat in the system and this downturn presents a once-in-a-cycle opportunity to assess your team and ask whether you have the very best people in every critical chair.   And if the answer is ‘no’ you then have to ask ‘what is Pekarsky Stein’s number, again?’ (answer:  403 263 4474/780 665 4965).

My friend Joel Shapiro, of Advanture Consulting, in his great article, The Cost of Employee Turnover, not only spells out the importance of having the right people on the bus but the cost of not doing so.   “Consider this,” he writes.  “The longer an employee performs poorly before he/she is moved or let go, the higher the costs of that non-performance.  The more talented the employee was, the more difficult the employee will be to replace, and the longer it will take the new hire to achieve the same high level of productivity.”  My take:  when the tide goes way out it’s way easier to pick out the pretty seashells from the ugly ones.   Or, put another way, it’s a time to act with wisdom, to high-grade and right-size, and to resist the foolish temptation to cut too deep, too fast.

It was the spring of hope, it was the winter of despair. 

Doubtless, things will get worse before they get better.   There will be pain and no one wants to see that.  But as I’ve told friends and family from outside the province who ask about the current mood in Alberta, don’t believe everything you read in the paper.  Unlike most eastern Schadenfreude-fueled coverage foretelling (yet again) of our province’s imminent and permanent return to the dark ages, the feeling on the street is one of calm concern not frantic panic.

Now, I know what you’re thinking.  I’ve gone to the well a little often on the inspirational references.  That I doth protest too much, if you will.  Dickens, Lombardi, Shakespeare…that I’m perhaps masking my true feelings by over-compensating with stirring quotes and waxy prose from famous authors and scribes and coaches.  What’s next, you’re asking?  Churchill?!    Please.  I’m not so on edge as to calm my frayed nerves by channeling perhaps the greatest wartime leader of the 20th century.  Yeesh.  Calm down, people.

As Winston Churchill said, “A pessimist sees the difficulty in every opportunity; an optimist sees the opportunity in every difficulty.”

Well, I choose to be an optimist.  Really.