Three months ago, sitting in the offices of his new employer Credit Suisse Securities (Canada), Brian Felesky suddenly lost the use of his voice and hands.
"I had quite a large stroke," says Mr. Felesky, 67, who until joining Credit Suisse this year had been an elite Calgary lawyer - the go-to guy for complex corporate tax transactions.
The stroke added unwelcome drama to what was already a pivotal moment in his life. He had just left the boutique law firm he co-founded 33 years ago, Felesky Flynn, to become the Swiss banking giant's relationship-builder in the Alberta oil patch.
Mr. Felesky is a strong voice for the Canadian West as an economic and political force, but his value for Credit Suisse extends beyond this country's borders. A global player in private and investment banking, it wants to deepen and broaden its presence in a city that is not just Canada's oil-and-gas capital but an indispensable link in a global energy chain that extends from Houston to Shanghai to Kuala Lumpur.
Mr. Felesky's well-being is essential to that strategy. Fortunately, thanks to medical intervention, his hand movement came back within hours of the stroke and his speech recovered gradually over the next few days. He is now working to regain the quick-study capability that made him, over the past 40 years, one of the country's canniest tax lawyers.
On this day, he exudes health and engagement - in his blue suit with a brilliant purple tie that catches the mauve stripes in his shirt - as he enjoys a light lunch at the Petroleum Club in Calgary.
The stroke was all the more confounding because, prior to the attack, he was deemed by doctors to be in top physical shape. Still, the setback has not shaken his resolve to master his new full-time job as vice-chairman, investment banking and a managing director for Credit Suisse in Canada.
He feels lucky that the stroke happened after he joined the Swiss bank. If it had been earlier, he might not have embarked on this new adventure in building the investment banking subsidiary's Calgary presence.
Our lunch takes place not in the busy buffet room on the Pete Club's ground floor but in the small, wood-panelled Montney Room upstairs. The name has great resonance because the Montney Formation, on both sides of the B.C.-Alberta border, is rich in shale gas and one of the red-hot plays in the energy industry. On the day we meet, June 2, the Malaysian state oil company is announcing a $1-billion investment in the Montney.
The action in the Montney is one of the reasons investment banking firms have been flocking to Calgary like bears to honey - not just for quick fly-ins as in past years, but to set up offices in the country's energy capital. The expanding roster ranges from JPMorgan to Goldman Sachs to Deutsche Bank - and, six months ago, Credit Suisse.
It was, therefore, an alignment of interests when a headhunter for Credit Suisse put out a feeler to Mr. Felesky. The offer came as the lawyer felt he was losing his ability to absorb every new twist and turn in Canadian tax law.
"In the tax world, I was past my best-before date," Mr. Felesky admits. "It is a very technical field, and I found I had grown out of my technical acuity before I grew out of my relationships." Even though he was still the first choice of many companies looking for tax solutions, he "was feeling a bit of executive fraud."
So why not retire? That word is not in Mr. Felesky's lexicon. He still yearns to play a big part in Calgary's rise as a world player, and continue his prominent role in volunteerism and philanthropy - as part of a power couple with wife Stephanie, also a corporate director and donor.
His community role would be diminished if he were not a name-brand business player, he felt. "If you stay in the game, your card allows you to stand taller and make a contribution."
His appetite for change coincided with Credit Suisse Securities' plans for a new oil-and-gas office in Calgary that would be more engaged and visible.
Tom Greenberg, the functional head of oil-and-gas activities for the Canadian investment bank, had been flying back and forth from Toronto as a self-described carpetbagger for more than a decade. He moved six months ago to run the Calgary office, with its dozen or so banking people so far - with more likely to come.
Mr. Felesky already knew Ron Lloyd, the chairman of Credit Suisse Securities (Canada) - they had met years before at communications czar JR Shaw's Pacific island fishing camp, and both had done work for Shaw Communications.