Posted on July 01, 2011

Ryan Beedie, Young Gun

Ryan Beedie’s mid-November lunch with Kevin Falcon at Vancouver’s Fairmont Waterfront hotel had been scheduled weeks in advance. For years, the two former SFU classmates had been getting together to catch up on their respective worlds of business and politics.?

But this lunch had taken on a different hue, thanks to the surprise resignation of Premier Gordon Campbell the morning of November 3, 2010. Falcon’s name was on every pundit’s list of likely successors. He was viewed very much as a Campbell protege, the potential candidate most likely to honour the Liberal premier’s pro-business agenda.?

It didn’t take long before Beedie and Falcon’s lunch-hour conversation turned to the leadership. Falcon was seriously considering a run but was unsure what Carole Taylor was doing. If he was convinced she wasn’t interested, then he was in. And if he was in, he wanted to know if he could count on Beedie’s support.?

The stylish young president of The Beedie Group Developments Ltd. had been impressed with Falcon from the moment he’d first met him in an economics class at SFU’s downtown campus in September 1986. At the time, Falcon was a few years older than most of the other students. He seemed more confident and mature. When Falcon spoke in class, Beedie was struck by how articulate and intelligent he was. The two would soon become friends and Beedie would discover that they shared an admiration for the great conservative standard-bearers of the day: Ronald Reagan and Margaret Thatcher.?

Beedie convinced Falcon to run for the presidency of the Young Socreds, the youth Social Credit Party organization at SFU. He was a natural politician – just like another young SFU undergrad attending university with them, Christy Clark, although she was not someone who shared Beedie and Falcon’s passion for neo-conservatism.?

“She was a big federal Liberal,” Beedie recalls today. “But she was a dynamo. I remember she was running for a spot on council and she came into our political science class before it began. It was in a lecture hall and there might have been 100 students in it. She came in, gave her stump speech, and left. And she absolutely nailed it. And I remember thinking, ‘Wow. That was impressive. That is not an easy thing to do.’ She had a real presence, even back then. She was a lot of fun too. I think she even gave me a ride home from the pub in her VW Bug one night after I’d had a few too many.”?

Few could have imagined at the time that 25 years later, politics would bring the three SFU undergrads together again.

Over their lunch at the Fairmont, Falcon asked Beedie if he’d help him raise money if he ran. Beedie didn’t hesitate. He’d made the promise years earlier; that’s how much he believed in Falcon’s leadership. When lunch concluded, the two friends sealed their agreement with a handshake.?

On Tuesday, Nov. 30, Falcon would announce his candidacy. The next month, Beedie was holding fundraising dinners at his West Vancouver home. In the weeks that followed, his behind-the-scenes position in the campaign would become more visible. A political junkie from a young age, he had no qualms about assuming the kind of public role often shunned by other high-profile business leaders.?

Ryan Beedie & the New Vancouver

Along the way it became clear that at the relatively young age of 42, Ryan Beedie was already a highly influential force within the Vancouver establishment. His bold business gambits and generous philanthropic endeavours had, in some ways, made him the poster boy of a new generation of business leaders taking its place atop the hierarchy of Vancouver’s power structure.?

The difference between Ryan Beedie and his 85-year-old father Keith, founder of The Beedie Group, can be spotted before you even walk through the front doors of the company’s Burnaby headquarters.

In the staff parking lot you will find Ryan’s sleek, charcoal grey 2010 Audi R8 V10, with its 525 horsepower and promise to go from zero to 60 mph in 3.9 seconds. Price tag: about $170,000. Ten stalls to the right, you come across a more modestly priced silver Mercedes SL500, which belongs to Keith. It has rarely gone above the speed limit.?

But then Keith Beedie has never been in the same hurry his son has to get places and do things. With speed comes risk, and in building his company Keith Beedie never took the same gambles his son would in turning The Beedie Group into an industrial real estate behemoth.?

The company’s rise has gained national attention in the last few years, although it has been around since 1954. Keith Beedie started out building homes and gradually expanded into general contracting of commercial and industrial buildings. The senior Beedie would eventually strike upon the formula that has accounted for so much of the company’s success: he became both developer and builder.

“This was my father’s genius,” Ryan Beedie says. “The vertically integrated model he created formed the foundation for everything that came after. He would buy a site, build whatever the tenant wanted and preserve ownership. That way my father maintained total control of the process.”?

This allowed his costs to be lower than those of competitors, who usually contracted out construction and the future administration of the buildings they were putting up for industrial clients. Because Keith Beedie’s business blueprint included managing the property he leased, there was also a continued income stream, which helped the company go after other land. It was on this front that Ryan Beedie and his high-octane personality really revved things up.?

Ryan Beedie joined the family firm in 1993, pretty much fresh off completing his MBA at UBC. At the time, the company owned and managed about two million square feet of industrial space, mostly in Greater Vancouver. Since Ryan assumed responsibility for new project development in the mid-’90s, that number has exploded to eight million square feet. Revenues over that period, meantime, have increased almost 600 per cent.?

When Beedie joined the company, the market value of its assets was $160 million. Today, 10 years after he was named president, assets are north of $1 billion.?

Sitting in the company’s gleaming, ascetic boardroom, Ryan Beedie talks at Lamborghini-like speed. His thoughts seemingly go from zero to 100 in 3.5 seconds. He apologizes in advance for sometimes-circuitous answers to the most straightforward questions. “I can be a bit ADD, so feel free to stop me at any time,” he says with a laugh. And in the course of a three-hour conversation, he will stop more than once and say, “I’m sorry; what was the question again?”?

At a slim six-foot-three, Beedie doesn’t sit in his chair so much as he unfolds himself limb by limb. There doesn’t seem to be an ounce of fat on the man, thanks at least in part to a metabolism that’s likely racing as fast as his formidable mind. Beedie can rhyme off the square-acreage of every piece of property in The Beedie Group’s portfolio. He can tell you what the company paid for it and what it would likely go for now. He can list the clients housed in each of the company’s industrial parks.

And he will tell you that he owes much of his success to the man in the corner office adjacent to his.?

“My dad was wonderful,” says Beedie. “First of all, he never ever put any pressure on me at a young age to take over from him. I think he was hoping it might happen, but if it hadn’t he wouldn’t have been destroyed by it or anything. But when I did decide to join and get involved he really let me call the shots. I didn’t need to get him to rubber-stamp every move I made. He allowed me to take risks and if there were mistakes to be made they were going to be mine. But that was huge in terms of my development. It also allowed me to work up a real enthusiasm for what I was doing. The more responsibility I took on, the more excited I got about building and developing.”?

And it was evident early on that Ryan Beedie was going to push the company along at a far faster clip than it had known under his father.?

The achievements of second-generation entrepreneurs are often discounted because their success is partly owed to a parent who started the business. Ryan Beedie admits that thought became a motivator for him. He was determined to prove to people that it wasn’t fair to put an asterisk beside his success just because he had a running start.?

“I’d say it’s less of a factor now than it was when I was younger, but there’s no question that played a role in some of my ambition,” Beedie concedes, carefully brushing back a couple of shiny black curls from his forehead. “I think second-generation business people often try to overcome that slant or bias and do something great that can’t be ignored. It’s like, ‘Yes, I may have had a jump on others but look what I did with it.’ I think that was at play with me.”?

The breadth of Beedie's influence

Ryan Beedie is one of a number of prominent young Vancouver business leaders who have assumed the reins of their family businesses in recent years.?

Jason McLean, the 37-year-old president of The McLean Group of Companies, has taken over day-to-day operations of his family’s real estate empire. Kyle Washington, 40, has inherited increasing responsibility for the day-to-day operations of Seaspan Marine Corp., formerly the Washington Marine Group. Tom Gaglardi, Beedie’s erstwhile partner in a bid to buy the Vancouver Canucks, now runs his family’s billion-dollar hotel and restaurant kingdom. Francesco Aquilini, 50, and his two 40-something brothers, Roberto and Paulo, have now taken over most of the decision-making at The Aquilini Group. Colin Bosa, 37, has taken over the helm of his family’s property development business.?

Of that group, however, it is Beedie who arguably boasts the greatest influence among his peers.?

“I don’t think there is any doubt that Ryan has emerged as a true leader of this generation that is taking over now,” says Peter Brown, 70, the Cannacord Financial Inc. chair who wields enormous clout in the city. “You don’t just become a leader by building a successful company; you become a leader by becoming involved in the community, by doing good things, raising money for good causes. Those are the winners. Ryan is a winner in every respect. People like him and that’s why people will do things for him.”?

This was never more evident than in Beedie’s efforts on behalf of Kevin Falcon. Initially, Beedie thought his involvement in the campaign would be restricted to holding some fundraisers. But Falcon organizer Ray Castelli believed the campaign could take advantage of Beedie’s vast network of business associates to not only raise cash but also sign up new members.?

And soon was born Falcon 20/20, a group of business people who were backing the candidate because they believed in his experience and vision. The name was a deliberate echo of the group of corporate leaders known as The Top 20 that backed the Social Credit Party during the Bill Bennett era. But while the identities of the Top 20 members were kept secret for most of that group’s existence, the names of those backing Falcon became a matter of public record.?

Most, if not all, were personal friends of Beedie. Besides Tom Gaglardi and Kyle Washington, the group included several of Beedie’s 40-something business associates, such as Jeff Fuller (Joey Restaurants), Richard Jaffray (Cactus Club Restaurants), Roger Hardy (Clearly Contacts), Eric Carlson (Anthem Properties) and Paolo Kalaw (Frontier Dental labs). Eventually, the list would grow to include more than 150 people.?

Among the names on the list was that of Nettwerk Music Group founder Terry McBride, who says he was awed by Beedie’s ability to rally the business community around a candidate who few believed had any chance of winning.?

“I think it speaks to the influence he wields and the respect people have for him, but also his passion,” says McBride. “One thing about Ryan: he either does something full-out or doesn’t do it. If he’s behind something, you know he’s 100 per cent behind it – nothing less.”?

While McBride concurs that Beedie represents the vanguard of a new generation of business leaders in Vancouver, he adds that there is something old school about the way he does business.?

“He has a lot of his dad’s characteristics,” says McBride. “His dad used to do deals by handshakes. And Ryan is a handshake-deal guy. And also like his dad, he’s very intuitive. He has an innate sense of when he can trust someone. When you do a deal with Ryan, and you shake hands, you never have to worry about whether he’s going to pull out at the last minute. It’s done. That’s why he’s so highly respected by so many.”?

Beedie admits that he became obsessed with trying to get Falcon elected leader. For more than two months, business at The Beedie Group took a backseat to the business of politics. Near the end of it, even Beedie’s wife, Cindy, barely recognized her husband of 19 years.?

“She kept saying, ‘When am I going to get my husband back?’” Beedie recalls with a laugh. “I put everything I had into it. I was sending out dozens and dozens of emails every day and making calls. Sure, I was disappointed we didn’t win, but I knew I had done everything I could.”?

It would be tempting to say Ryan Beedie’s impact on the family company has been felt mostly through critical land purchases he’s been behind or lucrative tenant contracts he’s pulled together. But he’s also been an innovator and dice-roller.?

Typically, buildings in industrial parks range from 20,000 square feet to 100,000 square feet; also common are strata projects that offer units of 1,000 to 2,000 square feet. Beedie thought there was a market for 10,000 to 20,000-square-foot strata units with loading docks. This had never been done before on any scale. And so, about four years ago, he decided to test his theory on a pie-shaped piece of property the company had purchased in South Burnaby.

“This is an example where my dad didn’t get my strategy,” Beedie recalls. “I remember vividly him pointing to the three units at the back of the project and saying, ‘No one will buy those.’ As it turns out, they were the first three to be sold. Well, we sold the building out before construction even started. By margin, the project is the most profitable we’ve ever done. We ended up buying the site for about $700,000 an acre and we were getting $140 a square foot from the strata units. Our margin on the development, once you backed out the land, was over 50 per cent.”?

Until a couple of years ago, the company had never built anything bigger than 200,000 square feet. Three years ago, the company built a 460,000-square-foot facility for Brewers Distributor Ltd. in Port Coquitlam. Then, last year, it put up a 420,000-square-foot structure for Home Depot in Delta. This spring, Beedie was putting the finishing touches on a contract for the biggest building the company has ever constructed: 500,000 square feet in New Westminster for the paper giant Kruger Co.

The Beedie Group also has moved into Alberta, developing a 200-acre industrial park north of Calgary in Airdrie. Beedie has his eye on Calgary, a city he’d like to expand into if he can find the right deal. He can see going farther east, but not beyond the Ontario border, where there are already well-established competitors.?

Beedie's return to residential construction

The biggest news Ryan Beedie has generated recently has been for his company’s return to residential construction, which was the company’s bread and butter during its early years. The Beedie Group has received zoning approval for a massive 88-acre development along the banks of the Fraser in Coquitlam. Fraser Mills, as it’s known, will eventually include 3,700 residential units and more than 500,000 square feet of commercial and industrial development. The company also has land zoned for residential development in Vancouver, Richmond and Burnaby.?

So is residential housing development the future of The Beedie Group? “We’re the dominant player on the industrial side, and we’re not going to lose that by virtue of our land holdings,” Beedie says, leaning back in his chair. “I look at our capital structure, our assets, the income, debt – the whole package – and whatever the industrial market can throw at us, we can handle. In fact there is more cash inflow than outflow at the moment.”?

And there are limited opportunities to buy land suitable for industrial development in Greater Vancouver. So Beedie’s choice is to sit back, collect the rent and invest his money in treasury bills or branch out into residential development and start other businesses.?

To that end, Beedie recently founded a private equity company called Beedie Capital Partners that’s now run by his friend Randy Garg. It will be a mezzanine lender to smaller high-tech companies. Beedie also has a 50 per cent interest in Terry McBride’s Nettwerk Music Publishing, which provides an advance to the songwriter in exchange for an income split.

“The industrial side of the real estate business will always be the core of our operations,” says Beedie. “But you can never be happy standing still. You always have to be looking out for the next great opportunity.”?

There was a time not so long ago when Ryan Beedie couldn’t see beyond the next deal, the next trip to Vegas with his buddies, the next hot car he was going to buy. His success was coming fast and furious. He lived in a stunning mansion in West Vancouver. He had a beautiful, brainy wife and three wonderful children. He had the means to buy virtually anything he wanted.?

But it would take a U2 song to awaken him to the fact that, while on the surface he seemed to have it all, money alone couldn’t give life meaning. “Gone” explores the intrinsic conflicts of being a rich rock star: “You’re taking steps that make you feel dizzy / Then you learn to like the way it feels / You hurt yourself, you hurt your lover / Then you discover / What you thought was freedom is just greed.”?

“I heard this song,” says Beedie, a slight smile breaking across his face, “and this one line in it just screamed out at me: ‘What you thought was freedom is just greed.’ And I thought, ‘Wow, that is so right.’ And it really was this sort of epiphany. I thought, ‘What am I doing?’ I didn’t like what I was doing with my life at the time. I was feeling a little bit invincible.”?

“Gone” didn’t compel Beedie to seek out a confessional, nor did it stop him from making regular treks to his second home at the Bellagio hotel in Vegas. But it did get him thinking about doing something more with all he had been given.?

Last summer, Beedie came across an article in Canadian Business written by Toronto business icon and philanthropist Seymour Schulich. In it, Schulich was lamenting how wealthy Canadians are not as giving as their American counterparts. He noted that rich Canadians give 44 per cent less, per capita, than rich Americans. A billionaire himself, Schulich has given away tens of millions of dollars, universities being a favourite beneficiary of his generosity. ?

The article hit home with Beedie. It wasn’t like the Beedies had been charity slackers. Keith and his wife Betty had helped many worthy causes through a family foundation. Ryan had helped the Lions Gate Hospital Foundation raise $750,000 to build a hospice. He’d donated $250,000 to the UBC Sauder School of Business. But Schulich’s article made him realize he could do more.?

“That’s when I got this idea of doing something for SFU,” Beedie says. “I thought it would be neat if we could do something significant that had a bit of a legacy. There was the Sauder School of Business so why not the Beedie School of Business at SFU? Well, when I first mentioned it to my dad, he nearly had a heart attack. He thought it was a lot of money. He said, ‘Why don’t you wait until I’m dead?’ I thought, ‘No, the opposite actually.’ I wanted this to happen while he was very much alive.”?

Beedie had also been having conversations with a mentor of his, Joe Segal. One of Vancouver’s most prominent philanthropists, Segal had helped Beedie understand the philosophy behind his charitable activities.

“If you don’t need it and someone else can use it, then give it away,” Segal explains. “That applies to everything in life. Charity is really charity when you give it and you’re going to miss it. Not too many people give anything they’re going to miss. Ryan understands that at a very young age. He has a good heart.”?

On February 9, 2011, Beedie drove up to his alma mater one more time. On this occasion, it was to announce his family’s $22-million donation to establish the Beedie School of Business at SFU.

“The response to that donation has been amazing,” Beedie says today. “I still have people coming up to me and thanking our family for what we did. It’s been really touching. I don’t think I’ve been prouder.”?

When Joe Segal looks at Ryan Beedie he likely sees a bit of himself. “To be a leader you have to be involved, you have to be a giver,” says Segal. “Lots of people are successful without the heart. Some people have heart, but no means. Ryan has both.”

He pauses for a second. “He is going to be a major leader in this community for a long, long time. In some ways he’s just getting started.”