1998: “There was a new risk that law firms, particularly leading law firms, like ours, faced. You’ve got the best people and everybody wants the best people, so they’re coming after them.” – Martin Lambert

By the time Martin Lambert was named Alberta’s Business Person of the Year in 1998, the economy had taken a turn for the worse. The Asian financial crisis had taken a bite out of the global economy, the Canadian dollar was in free fall, Alberta’s economic growth was down to 3.6 per cent (from 7.2 a year earlier) and unemployment was up to 6.4 per cent from 5.7. But as Lambert, CEO of the then-76-year-old Calgary legal institution Bennett Jones, says, “lawyers are busy when things are bad, lawyers are busy when things are good, and lawyers are busy in the time between. The firm and its revenues grew materially [in 1998] and the years that immediately followed. It made for happy times.” Bennet had joined the company in 1979 and served as its CEO from 1996 to 2001. He recalls the time as one of increasing mobility for lawyers. “Back in the old days, lawyers tended to stay in the same firm for their entire career. In the late 1990s, lawyers were moving to other law firms, which used to be frowned upon but it was becoming more common.” On top of that, the big accounting firms had decided they wanted to get more legal business and were actively recruiting lawyers. The key for Lambert was to ensure Bennett Jones’s people were motivated and wanted to stay. “I had to ensure that our people were properly and fully engaged and were feeling valued and challenged and having their career goals and personal goals met,” he says. Lambert retired as CEO in 2001. He stayed on as a part-time partner until 2007, but in that time also founded and ran Matco Capital, a successful private capital firm. He acted as CEO of a number of firms, including Swan Hills Synfuels, from which he retired in 2014. He remains on a couple of corporate boards, but is enjoying retirement. “My wife and I have a passion for the mountains and for running so we do a lot of that together,” he says. “I celebrated my 60th birthday in October running the New York marathon. I was happy I ran for three hours and 26 minutes so I thought that was good for an old man.”

The Year that Was 1998

Alberta’s population 2.9 million

$14-billion merger of Nova Corp. and TransCanada Pipelines creates the fourth-largest gas pipeline company in North America

$1,672 fires consumed 760,000 hectares. The average for the previous five years was 671 fires and 80,000 hectares burned