Anyone hunting for industrial space on B.C.'s land-starved lower mainland encounters the large footprint of Ryan Beedie. Through the Beedie Group of companies, this second-generation entrepreneur commands seven million square feet of industrial space, making him the largest such landlord in Vancouver. These days, the 41-year-old Mr. Beedie is moving into residential development and into Alberta, driving the family business beyond the vision of his father, Keith Beedie, 84. About the only arena where Ryan Beedie's ambition has been stifled is hockey, having lost his bid to buy the Vancouver Canucks. That followed a marathon legal battle involving some of B.C.'s powerful business families, pitting the Aquilinis (who won the Canucks) against the Beedies and Gaglardis (who lost.). The Beedies offer a rare glimpse into their dynamics on Sept. 22, in an event hosted by the Business Families Centre, at the Sauder School, University of British Columbia.
How have you coped with family business succession?
We have done it well. The company just gets better and stronger. Had I not come along, it would have been a lot smaller than it is now. I was given a huge head start, a great foundation and my father has done so many things, but I just ramped it up. Also, in our model we have an inherent competitive advantage because we are vertically integrated.
What do you mean?
If a tenant wants to come into Vancouver, and they need a 100,000-square-foot new building, we have the land because we have invested heavily [in property] We design the buildings ourselves, and we build them with our own crews. We build for owner-users or for lease. Clients are dealing with the same people all through the process, unlike when some pension fund owns the building. In that [pension fund]case, you don't know who your manager is going to be or who built it. And our cost structure is more favourable.
How have you dealt with generational issues?
It's amazing for someone with a strong personality but my father gradually gave up control and I took it._ I kind of forced it a little bit. He thought when I joined that I would be more entirely active on the leasing side, which back then [in the mid-1990s]was two million square feet of space. But I wanted to get involved right away in new development.
I was thinking, 'Look we have this great model, let's go out and buy tracts of land.' We made purchases in Delta and Langley and I pushed him a bit outside his comfort zone.
In fairness, he gave me that latitude. He stopped being involved in new building projects in 1994. I was 25-26 years old, and I was doing these big deals.
Was it good for the company?
In my 16 to 17 years here, revenue, profits and assets are up 600 per cent. The assets of the company are just north of a billion dollars. When I joined they were probably around $150-million.
Were you groomed to run this business?
I never felt the pressure, but I always had the expectation in my mind that this is where I would end up. My father said, 'After high school, you are going to go to university and you will get a business degree.' He always stressed the education and he didn't really have one. It was important to him.
You're big in Vancouver but what about the rest of the country?
We ventured into the Alberta market, just north of Calgary. We'd always thought about doing it but part of me wondered if our structure was going to work in that market.
But we went in and bought relatively inexpensive land, so that if we have to carry it for 15 to 20 years, there is no pressure. It gives us the opportunity to build some things and show the market what we can do. Also, we sold some land to reduce the financial risk.
We've gone head to head with Calgary developers and we've won the business. So we're starting to make inroads.
Is that your first foray outside the lower mainland?
It is. My dad was very uncomfortable with this, but I said 'What is the downside? What's the worse thing that can happen?' We need to expand our horizons and try some things. We learn a bit and it's good for the organization.
We're sort of past the father-son thing and are more partners. I pick my battles with him. If it means a lot to me, I'll stand my ground, and if I see something really important to him but not to me, I'll back off.
What is the significance of this proposed Fraser Mills development in Coquitlam?
There is a limit to what we can do on the industrial side - the market is only so big - and we have tremendous cash flow from the properties. But unless we continue to invest more and more in land, which we can't really find, we're going to really need to invest in other ways to grow.
There is a natural segue into other kinds of development, because we have the people, the construction expertise and the recognized name. Fraser Mills is a site we bought for industrial development but we spent four years working on rezoning. There will be 20 acres industrial, but also offices and 3,700 residential units. We now have a vice-president for residential development. We can now take advantage of opportunities as they come up.
What makes the Vancouver economy tick?
You don't have many head offices here or a huge manufacturing base - although there is a lot of distribution and a lot of goods coming through here. Population growth drives it, and people continue to move here.
Going for a run yesterday around Stanley Park, I looked back at the city and I was in compete awe. But there is a potential risk in that if your economy is totally based on people coming here and buying second homes, it becomes a resort kind of town.
We have [video games company]Electronic Arts and the film industry but film is so heavily subsidized. Still, more and more people are living here, which leads to more distribution space and more goods movement - and with what's happening in Asia, there is opportunity on the trade side. But a society ends up making money by actually making things - you have to be producing something.
So what's the future of a place which thrives on being the most beautiful urban site in the world?
It doesn't sustain your wealth and so you need to create a business climate, and this provincial government has done that - a climate that doesn't penalize people for success. When the NDP was in power, the top marginal tax rate got to 54 per cent. I was thinking about leaving. I could go live in Alberta for however long it takes to get the lower tax rate. So you can't do that to people. That [tax rate]was based on a class-warfare, anti-business, anti-success mantra.
Will you continue to move into new markets?
I'd be curious to look at Washington state and maybe the odd thing in Saskatchewan, but I don't see entering the Ontario market where there are already big established players. You do a cost-benefit analysis. You could grow your business more, but spend less time with friends and family. Sorry, but it's the quality of life that's so important and not just growth at all costs. It's not just the almighty dollar.
For me much of the motivation to make money is to give it away. Dad has a foundation but I think it should be much larger and we should do way more.
Do you still want to own a hockey team?
The reason we got involved was because my dad was such a huge fan. And it was a great opportunity at the time because, going into the NHL lockout, they are going to get the cost structure in order - and there is a great market here.
The sad thing is I've lost my love for the game. I used to be an avid fan but now I'm indifferent. I wish I cared but psychologically something's happened to me and it left a bad taste.
But I'm glad in a way that it didn't happen because it would have been very difficult for my family and for our business in terms of the potential distraction That's what I tell myself, anyway.
Ryan Beedie, President, Beedie Group, Burnaby, B.C.
Born: Vancouver, 41 years old
Bachelor in business, Simon Fraser University
MBA, Sauder School of Business, UBC
1954: Industrial development company was incorporated by his father Keith Beedie.
1992: Ryan worked for Ernst & Young for five months before joining family company.
1993: Took on his first big project in Delta, B.C.
2001: Promoted to president