Recognizing and Remembering: 45 Years of Service: Ron Reimer – Executive Vice-President, Qualico
Over the summer months, Qualico was collaborating with Ron Reimer on a feature story to recognize a milestone of service to the company. In 2022, Ron was in his 45th year of service to Qualico. Ron had been diagnosed and was battling ALS the last couple of years and had to put on a brave face as he fought this terrible disease.
In light of the most recent and saddening news of Ron’s passing on August 31, 2022, Qualico has made the decision to release this feature story recognizing Ron’s career as it was originally drafted. Of course, in reading these words Ron shared just a few weeks ago and hearing the comments from the company’s leadership, this article takes on a whole new meaning. A private celebration of Ron's life was held with family and close personal friends on September 10, 2022.
While there are hundreds of employees across Qualico who have not met Qualico’s Executive Vice-President, Ron Reimer, there are hundreds more who have had their careers cross paths with him over his 45 years of service to Qualico.
Forty-five years of a career might signal a sunset, the grand final chapter of a colourful and accomplished career. To know Ron is to be confident that retirement as a concept isn’t on the table. He’s a man who continues to get a thrill out of doing his job. Yes. Still.
Four and a half decades into his career and he hasn’t changed his workstyle – and we say that in the best and most appreciative way. He continues to be hands-on, responsive, accessible, sharp as a tack, disciplined and fair. His humbleness would have us truncate that list, but the adjectives of brilliant and wise must also be added.
Ron refers to himself as a coach, not a player. He’s perfectly happy being behind the scenes and avoiding the limelight. He respects the Qualico business model of setting up business units to run with their own success. He avoids interference; he’s a macro-manager, not a micro-manager. This is precisely why some of you reading this will be hearing about this man in any level of detail for the first time.
“Brian and I worked together closely with Ron, travelling to the branches monthly, and spent many hours in meetings together,” shared Ruth Hastings. “We admire him for his calm demeanor and continued dedication and hard work through challenging times in the market.”
Brian Hastings builds on Ruth’s sentiments about Ron.
“Ron both challenges and motivates people. He is a balancing genius. He’s also kind and caring to the people he works with. We would like to thank Ron for the past 45 years,” said Brian.
For years, Ron has been the living and breathing archive of all things Qualico. If you want to know the square footage and address of a property in which we invested in 1983, he will tell you. And he’ll remember who we did the deal with, what percentage each partner owned and where that person is now in their career.
Ron at Company Golf Tournaments, 1990s
If there was a jar for collecting loonies each time someone said, “Ask Ron,” it’d be full.
So, join us now, looking back on a leader in Qualico who’s one of our guiding stars and a person who’s committed to continue looking forward, without ever forgetting how to leverage past experiences.
Picture it: Winnipeg – 1977
To set the landscape, let’s appreciate 1977 in all its glory: Post-it notes appeared as the latest office stationery product, the first generation of Apple computers were for sale, Star Wars hit theatres, Elvis had died, and Underoos allowed kids to be superheroes in their underpants. And in that same year, a young law student, Ron Reimer, was participating in articling interviews, as he was graduating from the School of Law at the University of Manitoba in the spring.
As a quick history reminder for employees, Dr. David Friesen had a law office in addition to Quality Construction back in the 1950s.
When Ron interviewed with Dr. Friesen, it was first at the School of Law alongside other classmates. He was then asked to come for a second interview at Dr. Friesen’s law office.
In some documentary footage captured for Qualico back in the early 2000s, Ron spoke of his impressions of Dr. Friesen during his interview and first years working with him. He recalled how Dr. Friesen was passionate and full of ideas. He had a relentless approach and if he believed in an idea, he pursued it until he accomplished it.
Ron recalled his interview was intriguing and he accepted the offer to join the law practice as an articling law student. This was May 15, 1977. Ron was called to the Bar in 1978 and he continued working at the law firm for another two years. This role gave Ron an interesting view into Qualico’s operations, as the company was the law firm’s main client.
Ron with Calgary Management Team, 2005
“My time at the law firm gave me good experience in real estate conveyancing and mortgages,” said Ron. “By 1980, I’d been at the firm for three years, and being early on in my career, I was ready for a change. An opportunity for an in-house lawyer at Qualico emerged in May of 1980 and I jumped on it. I met with Qualico’s CFO several times and I landed myself the job.”
The CFO who hired Ron was Frank Borsi, a well-respected industry man who, for seven years, mentored Ron.
“I learned a lot at head office in my early years at Qualico, but also from division management,” shared Ron. “Every time I spoke to someone in operations, I took it as an opportunity to learn.”
When Frank left Qualico in the late 1980s, this provided another opportunity for Ron. As the CFO position was open, Ron’s qualifications and 10 years at the company set him up to be successfully appointed as the Vice-President of Finance, a title that Ron held until 2017, when he was named Executive Vice-President and Kevin Kameda was appointed CFO.
Kevin Van, President & CEO of Qualico, has worked alongside Ron for his entire career.
“I’ve learned so much from Ron,” said Kevin. “Knowing that he is at the table gives us such confidence, with his incredible wealth of knowledge. Whether he’s appraising a deal or providing advice to others on how to move forward in various market conditions – he’s seen it all. He carries so much respect in the industry. From business partners, bankers, leaders abound – you name it.”
Kevin Kameda, CFO of Qualico, has also worked alongside Ron for his entire career at Qualico.
“Qualico is a diverse company that is both geographically diversified, along with having multiple divisions that have many talented employees/operators pursuing their specific agendas. This requires a bridge or conduit between themselves and ownership to keep both sides comfortable and in balance – this would be Ron,” explained Kevin.
He continued, “Ron was the conduit to ensure there was critical oversight on operations, deals and cashflow, all while maintaining an eye on the future to ensure long-term growth and sustainability through cycles and challenges. He is respected both inside and outside the company, and perhaps most admirable is that he has remained one of the most approachable, kind and respectful leaders and person to all coworkers, regardless of their position on the org chart.”
The Art and Science of Making Deals
When we say that Ron continues to enjoy his career, the part of his day-to-day that still gets his adrenaline pumping is a ‘good deal’.
Many of the deals reviewed by Ron and the executive team come up from the business units in the regions. We asked Ron what his approach is to assessing deals and how he can discern something that has high potential.
“I often offer advice and a path to deal approval,” he said. “My comfort level in approaching potential deals starts usually with the quality of the location. Next is the competitive position of the end product, and thirdly is the risk adjusted returns. Product design is of course always important, but in most cases our business units do a good job and I have nothing additional to offer.”
This is the discipline admired of Ron. A professional who checks his ego at the door and maintains the tone and decorum of how to respect what everyone’s role is on the team.
While his title was related to finance, Ron was Qualico’s leader in the corporate office who, alongside commercial managers out in Alberta and at the head office, built up the company’s asset portfolio and commercial development business.
Hermitage Square Site Plan and Street View, Edmonton Alberta, 1995
One of the earliest deals Ron recalls being involved in was Hermitage Square in Edmonton. By applying his principles of how to assess the deal, Ron looked past some of the immediate red flags: the listing was a bank foreclosure, it was a large project (73,000 sq. ft., in fact), and it had lost both of its anchor tenants. The site also needed some costly remediation work. It was 1995, and cashflow was tight in the company back then after surviving the financial crisis in the 1980s.
But Qualico is a company that will find a way if there’s a deal to be made that can advance the company. As usual, boots on the ground experts in their field and region were part of the assessment of the deals, and through a review of the opportunity, cash was raised to capitalize on it. And as a case study of how some of the best deals come to fruition and conclusion, Hermitage Square was a successful commercial property for over 20 years. The opportunity then came to sell off this asset, which helped build the next cycle of properties and growth for the company.
You can see now when asked what keeps him coming back to work day after day, Ron says, “I get an adrenaline rush from strong sales, deals being concluded and problems being solved. Anything that advances the business.”
Over the past 15 years, Ron has been involved in many of Qualico’s US-based merchant-building projects. Taking the US to CDN dollar exchange rate into account, the returns Qualico has seen on the sale of a handful of apartment building projects has been a lucrative program for Qualico, and has fueled Qualico’s growth and expansion in Texas.
“I’m continually impressed with the lens that Ron can look at a deal through,” said Kevin Van. “You can see the gears moving in his head. He’s assessing the ROI, the risks, and how quick we can turn a deal over. It’s 100% proficiency that he delivers.”
Kevin Kameda added this observation of Ron from the field as well.
“A senior banker once described Ron as a ‘financial engineer’ – someone who can very quickly distill complex business challenges to the salient points of focus, which after the fact seem so obvious, and these points direct those who are unsure of how to proceed. As a witness to this more times than I can count, I consider it a huge privilege to have worked so closely with Ron over my career with Qualico,” he said.
His Advice to Others
In a book created for one of the annual leaders’ meetings back in 2015, leaders across Qualico were asked to share some of the best advice they ever received, what mistake they’d learned from in their careers, and some other commentary.
Ron shared this advice: “Doing something because someone else is doing it doesn’t mean it’s right.”
Ron is one of only a handful of people who can say they worked under all three generations of leadership in Qualico. He shares that how he’s seen the leadership lead in this company has continued to give Qualico its staying power.
“I have had the good fortune to work through three generations of shareholder leadership,” shared Ron. “In terms of personality, they have all been different. But how they viewed the company has been consistent. No generation of leadership has been micro-managers. If regional management was achieving good results, they were given a great deal of independence. Over the three generations, there was only long-term thinking: How can we grow the company and make it better and more sustainable?”
When asked what advice he’d provide to young leaders and new employees at Qualico, Ron offered the following:
“In terms of new employees, every path is different; but for those looking to advance, I would point out that most senior positions are filled internally. My advice would be to take every opportunity to broaden your skill set. Don’t get too comfortable doing one thing. Look for new roles.”
Leading by example, it’s noted that while Ron was trained as a lawyer, he taught himself to be astonishingly competent not only in corporate aspects, such as finance, accounting and tax, but also operational aspects of the business, such as construction and service.
Embracing Change With Eyes to the Future
Ron reflected on some of the most significant technological advances he’s witnessed in his career and how they’ve allowed business to progress.
“The changes in conducting business that affected me the most were the fax machine, the smartphone and virtual meeting technology,” said Ron. “Before the fax machine, we had to use an overnight courier to advance any negotiation, and the smartphone has allowed me to deal with business issues from anywhere. Before cell phones, I remember calling my wife from payphones in airports. And finally, virtual meetings of course have promoted easy communication and meetings from anywhere.”
Listening to how effortlessly Ron can assign a positive to each introduction of technology, showcased through a lens of how it propels business and personal communication forward, proves how after 45 years of service to Qualico, he continues to be an important and influential voice at the table.
“My father recognized the amazing potential in Ron when he asked him to join the business 45 years ago,” said Ruth. “We know that as a company we would not have solved many of our challenges or recognized and stretched to meet the opportunities that have helped grow Qualico to be the successful company we are today.”
Thank you, Ron, for your humble efforts and commitment to this company.
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