2017 BC CEO Awards: David Podmore

Big thinker: Developer has had a hand in major projects that have helped shaped B.C. 
David Podmore co-founded real estate giant Concert Real Estate Corp. in 1989 and has increased its capitalization to $5 billion | Chung Chow 

David Podmore sits in a small office at Concert’s headquarters on Hornby Street and reveals his excitement about travelling to Africa.

It’s a late-summer day, and Podmore is days away from a trip to Nigeria, Tanzania and South Africa.

“You should go to Africa,” he encourages his guest. “It’s a beautiful continent.”

Podmore has a lot more time now to consider world travel as well as to spend time on hobbies such as carpentry, fishing, golf and skiing.

In June, Podmore left his role as CEO of Concert Real Estate Corp., although he will stay on as chairman.

Three of his four children have children of their own, and the 68-year-old Podmore wants to spend more time in the role of grandfather. It’s a satisfying shift for a man who has been involved in many of the largest projects in B.C. history.

Despite being involved in making Expo 86 a success, helping Vancouver win the bid to host the 2010 Olympic Games and overseeing work on the expanded convention centre and a new roof for BC Place stadium, his proudest accomplishment has been building Concert into a real estate conglomerate with $5 billion in assets after helping found the company in 1989 with the late Jack Poole, when its capitalization was $27 million.

His biggest life lesson for others is to recognize opportunities when they appear and to act fast before circumstances change. 

His partnership with Poole almost never happened, which is partly why Podmore believes it is so important to act fast when opportunity presents itself, lest that good fortune be pulled away.

Back in October 1986, Podmore was out of a job.  He had been CEO of BC Pavilion Corp. (PavCo) for two years and was concurrently vice-president of planning, design and engineering at BC Place Ltd., but the close of the Expo 86 world’s fair meant both jobs would be ending.

“I’m not an operator,” Podmore explained. “I’m not the guy to run a stadium or a convention centre, and that’s what the job of CEO of PavCo would be.”

Canaccord founder Peter Brown, who chaired Expo 86 Crown Corp. and knew Podmore, suggested that Podmore call Poole.

Podmore was a bit shy.

“I didn’t phone Jack because he was kind of an icon, and I had never met him,” Podmore told Business in Vancouver.

“Then, three months later I get this phone call out of the blue from Jack Poole and he said, ‘I’ve been waiting for your phone call. You were supposed to phone me because I hear we should be working together.’”

Brown told BIV that he wanted to acquaint Podmore and Poole because they would make a good team: “They’re both honest. They both know what they’re doing and they both have a common interest in development.”

Podmore did not pass up a similar opportunity when it was presented six years earlier, in 1980, when he was the director of planning at the City of Edmonton.

Again Podmore got a phone call from out of the blue. This time it was Alvin Narod, the man appointed by the B.C. government to make BC Place stadium a reality.

Podmore had approved some projects for Narod’s construction company in Edmonton but did not know him. Narod urged Podmore to visit him in Vancouver on a Friday, two days after the phone call.

Podmore dropped everything and met Narod at his Vancouver home. Narod told Podmore he wanted him to be a vice-president in charge of the design, development and engineering of the upcoming world’s fair, which was then dubbed Transpo 86. Narod wanted Podmore to start work two weeks later. Podmore and his wife, Janice, quickly sold their Edmonton home and moved back to the coast within Narod’s timetable.

Podmore’s reputation grew with the success of Expo 86 and Concert to the degree that he would frequently be asked to help with community initiatives.

He was chairman of the 2003 plebiscite in which 64% of Vancouverites voted to support hosting the 2010 Olympics. He also helped draft the bid book that helped Vancouver four months later win its bid to host the Games.

“I insisted that my compensation be $1 a year for [overseeing construction on] the convention centre and for the stadium roof,” he said. 

“I look at that as community service.”

Podmore credits Poole for being his biggest mentor and praised Poole for being a master at delegating tasks and motivating people by giving them authority over their work.

“David Podmore is an institution in our city,” said Ivor Luk, a partner at Deloitte. 

“From founding Concert Properties to being instrumental in bringing the Winter Olympics to Vancouver, David’s legacy and impact on this community has been synonymous with courage, passion, humility and integrity.”

In addition to having a vision for the company and hiring bright people, Podmore said he believes that the main role for a CEO is to motivate and retain those people by respecting their judgment and giving them opportunities for advancement.

– Deloitte contributed to this story.

Join us to celebrate this year’s honourees at the 2017 BC CEO Awards November 8, 2017, hosted at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For tickets and event info, visit www.biv.com/ceo.

Q&A

What sort of leadership style does a CEO have to cultivate in the 21st century?
A CEO should be inclusive, open, caring and responsive. It is important for the CEO to create opportunities for employees to advance.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?
Family. Contributions to the betterment of the community. I was involved helping Vancouver get the 2010 Olympic Games and have also been chairman of the BC Children’s Hospital Foundation board.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?
Professionally, it was coming in partway through the construction of the Vancouver Convention Centre and having to put together a budget that was not 10 years out of date. Personally, it has been balancing competing interests.

What career decisions would you make differently were you starting out today?

None. I have been very fortunate.

What is the one business lesson you’d like to pass on to others?
Foster a supportive team environment and give people authority. Delegate and then get out of the way.
 

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