Young exec: Tyrel Kenmore, president, Kenmore Holdings
History: Kenmore and his father, Ferron, developed a two-step process that separates drilling mud from water and significantly reduces the volume of waste heading to landfills.
Senior exec: George Gosbee, president and CEO of Calgary-based investment company AltaCorp Capital, vice-chair of AIMCo and an owner of the Arizona Coyotes
History: Gosbee’s career spans 20 years in corporate finance, investment banking and global capital markets.
Tyrel Kenmore got started in business in Medicine Hat when he was 13 years old. “My father was the first guy to recycle frack sand in southern Alberta," he says. “Two guys didn’t show up for work and I said, ‘Dad, I could do that.’ He drove me out with a cellphone, kicked me out on a lease and said, ‘I’ll be back in 12 hours.’ From there, the evolution happened."
He did briefly detour into academia, applying for and accepting a spot in a business program at Mount Royal University before, after half a day in the classroom, quitting. “I left and started a business," he says. “I’m learning on the fly and enjoying every minute of it." But then “on the fly" triggers another thought. “It’s a lot of travel," he says. “I’m sick of the plane rides." Gosbee comes through with a little advice: comfortable clothes and a good pair of headphones can take some of the stress out of flying.
“I was on 157 flights last year," he says, comparing himself to George Clooney’s character in Up in the Air.
But despite his lengthy first-hand experience in business, Kenmore says he still feels overwhelmed at the thought of raising capital. He has raised some through a person with extensive experience in waste management who liked what Kenmore Holdings was doing. “He knew the industry, was well-connected and well-financed," Kenmore says. “And his motivations at this stage in his life aren’t in line with me – he was looking to slow down a bit and I can bring that youthful enthusiasm and fresh new ideas to a stagnant part of the industry."
But his overall discomfort with the steps necessary to raise capital propels him to ask for George Gosbee as a lunch companion. Gosbee is as close as it gets to a household name in Alberta’s financial industry, with a long and successful track record. But, as the two settle in for lunch at Calgary’s Rush Ocean Prime, Gosbee says he can relate to Kenmore’s hesitation, having spent a great deal of his own career adapting to steep learning curves himself. “It looks so bleak at times, but eventually you look back on those times and think the best part of any business is the learning experience in the beginning, and the growing you do."
Gosbee says he began to develop his skills at a young age, by learning to do whatever needed to be done on his own (his favourite novels, he says, are Ayn Rand’s The Fountainhead and Atlas Shrugged). “If you want to teach someone to swim, just push them in the deep end," he says. “You’re going to make mistakes, but an individual is going to learn better if he can overcome his mistakes. I’ve had that philosophy my whole career."
When it comes to raising capital, Gosbee says too many people look at it like it’s just a numbers game. “They don’t look at the element of who that capital belongs to," he says. He advises Kenmore to look more for a partner than strictly for cash. “An investor’s thought process is, ‘I’m giving you money, you’re going to give me a return, or I’m going to get mad at you,’ while a partner is a situation where you look out for each other," he says. “It’s a big difference, and how you approach that is fundamental from the very beginning."
He states what he considers to be the three pillars of a successful business: capital, smart ideas, and smart business plans with good structures. “You can get the capital but you should spend time to get the right capital."
Gosbee says his sink or swim philosophy has carried over well as he has made his various investments in companies. “I’ll say, ‘I’m here for you, I’ll help develop relationships, I can introduce ideas, but you’re really going to have to carry a lot of it on your own. You’re going to make some mistakes." He says one common piece of advice he gives them is to ask questions.
Kenmore explains that his company is in growth mode. It has a production facility is in the U.S. and is developing a distribution network covering Texas, North Dakota and Pennsylvania. Kenmore says he’s also in talks to partner with a Calgary company with the intention of developing six distribution facilities across North America by next year. But while Kenmore Holdings is looking for geographic expansion, Kenmore says as far as products go, he wants to stick to what he knows: “drilling, mud, production mud, and oil and gas basics," he says. “My endgame is to build a solid entity, learning as I go, making some money, and surrounding myself with people who I consider more intelligent and on the ball than me, to try to extract every ounce of wisdom I can out of them."
Kenmore, a father of two boys with another child on the way, asks Gosbee about how he balances his personal and work life, with his own family of five. “Luckily I have a very supportive wife," Gosbee says. “We have a rule where we always wait for dinner, for the last person to come home. It’s usually one of the boys playing hockey or my daughter at ballet, and then we sit down together."
As the meal winds down, Kenmore reflects back on what he’s heard. He says has a habit of making notes of action items before heading into any meeting, to increase productivity. “I say if you have less than three or more than five action items, you should either break it into two meetings or not have it at all," he says. “I had three for this, and we’ve checked them all off."