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.
It felt good for Mr. Felesky to join a global banking organization whose latest annual report devoted 30 pages to corporate social responsibility, and which shared the Feleskys' commitment to youth and education.
His vast oil patch relationships are a big drawing card for the investment bank, but Mr. Felesky bristles when he is called a rainmaker. "I think the word rainmaker is so pejorative," he says. Rather, he sees himself as someone with knowledge and substance who can assist clients through the entire banking relationship.
Whereas, in the case of a rainmaker, "You get clients in the door, and you're like that waiter - you're off."
Our waiter is, in fact, very attentive as Mr. Felesky orders the chilled seafood salad - a choice that would be appreciated by his daughter, a dietitian. In his new healthier lifestyle, he is determined to avoid meat as much as possible, drinks lots of water, and has been spending more time meditating.
Mr. Greenberg, who has joined us and ordered the halibut, explains that successful lawyers like Mr. Felesky are masters at managing relationships. "And Brian has all this great experience on boards, in how organizations think and solve problems."
From its Toronto base, Credit Suisse had done well in its Canadian deal book, using its global network to reach investors worldwide. But Mr. Greenberg says the new Calgary office reflects how the business world has shifted.
"With globalization of the economy, the rise of the BRIC countries [Brazil, Russia, India and China]and growing commodities demand, it is incredible to see the amount of traffic in this town that is not just inter-Canada but connects to the rest of the world.
"I make more trips to Asia than to Houston, and I have no need to be in Toronto or New York, unless I have a client who is visiting investors."
But should I, as a Torontonian, be worried about how this shift affects property values in Canada's largest city, I ask? "Think of it as a balancing thing and it is good for the country," Mr. Felesky says.
In a speech to open the new Calgary office, Mr. Felesky pointed out that "on its own, Western Canada could already claim G20 status."
A prominent Calgary Tory, he would like to see more political rebalancing in Canada to mirror economic and business changes. He feels the recent federal election victory by a Conservative Party with a Calgary leader does not reflect any momentous change.
In the future, he hopes to see the West organize as a political movement, and sees promise in the trade and economic pact that broke down barriers between British Columbia and Alberta, and is now extended to Saskatchewan. "As long as we are fractionalized, it is going to be too easy to take us for granted."
It's nice to see investment banks come west, but he has a bigger game in mind. In conversations with top energy managers in Calgary, he hears them say they would shift considerable business to any chartered bank that moves its head office to their city.
"They say, 'We will choose them over any other national bank if they are here.' That would give [the bank]a huge leg up." He acknowledges that substantial banking operations would inevitably stay in Toronto, but "I am talking only about the head office."
As a Western business leader, Mr. Felesky would love to see all that happen, but he has other priorities now. The stroke was a reality check on solidifying his values and relationships as he moves into another older, perhaps wiser, phase of life.
"I see it as a bit of a blessing," he says. "It means getting ready for moving day so that you're prepared when that day comes."
Brian Felesky's CV
Born: Nov. 28, 1943
Bachelor of Arts, University of Alberta, 1965
Bachelor of Laws, University of Alberta, 1968
The flying Feleskys
Wife Stephanie is director of Canexus Ltd. and many non-profit boards
Son Adam founded Horizons group of exchange-traded funds in Toronto
Daughter Samara is a well-known Calgary dietitian
Son Wade is managing director, investment banking for GMP Securities, Calgary.
Called to the Alberta bar in 1969
Founded Felesky Flynn LLP with four other lawyers in 1978
Helped build today's firm of almost 40 practitioners
Has sat on public-interest boards, such as University of Calgary; Canadian Tax Foundation; Public Policy Forum, and Calgary Stampede Foundation
Veteran corporate director - until recently, on boards of Suncor and Precision Drilling
Appointed Queen's Counsel, 1987
Member of Order of Canada
Founding member of Awali, an Alberta fundraising initiative that works with Aga Khan Foundation on teacher development in East Africa.
Co-chair of HomeFront, a Calgary organization dedicated to reducing domestic violence