Leith Wheeler’s Calgary Office Marks 10 Years of Growth

Leith Wheeler’s Calgary Office Marks 10 Years of Growth

This year marks the 10-year anniversary of the opening of Leith Wheeler’s Calgary office so we thought it would be fun to check in with the team and reflect on what’s changed over the past decade, and what remains very much the same.

The first truly remarkable thing is that in an industry fraught with relatively high levels of turnover, all of the people who were here in the beginning are still on the team. The list includes Patti Shannon and Jerry Koonar, experienced portfolio managers hired to open the office; Greg Chant, a former associate of Patti’s; and portfolio administrator Josette Blondeau who joined in early 2012.

When asked to reflect on those early days, Patti, a native Calgarian, recalls joining the firm from first an oilfield services company and then another investment manager. “For a decade I was the only woman in the room at almost every meeting,” Patti said, “so it was lovely to join a private client team where half the portfolio managers were women.”

The genesis for the idea was to start an entirely new business within the Vancouver-based firm. Leith Wheeler, being a fully independent firm since its founding in 1982, wanted to recreate that environment over the Rockies. “We were not just opening an office,” Jerry said. “It was more like making an investment.”

Springing spontaneously to life meant that Patti and Jerry were hired at the same time, which was kind of a strange process for both of them. Meeting at the Glencoe Club for the first time they said it felt a bit like an arranged marriage. “You take a leap of faith, choosing the people you want to work with,” Jerry said. “But it’s worked out really well.”

For his part, Greg, who joined a couple of months after Patti and Jerry has “fit in well.” (I stopped the chat at this point to acknowledge that Greg, who has been at the firm 10 years and started a few months behind them, is still considered the “new kid.”) Now an Associate Portfolio Manager, Greg’s arrival story evokes a surprising response from Patti: emotion. The two had worked together at a former firm and Patti was precluded by non-compete rules from reaching out to him when she joined Leith. “I just prayed he’d call and honestly I broke down and cried [with joy] when he did,” Patti said.

“The thinking is – instead of a focus on asset gathering – ‘growth will come naturally if you do the right things.’”
- Dalyce Seitz

Part of the entrepreneurial experience of running a small business-within-a-business is that everyone wears many hats. Holiday cards going out? The team is in the office licking stamps and stuffing envelopes. There’s no time for or inclination toward egos or titles. Like the city itself, Calgary’s team focuses on getting the job done.

Everything old is new again

With everyone stuck at home for the past 20 months and counting, it’s felt a bit to the team like a return to the early days when their only options were working from a temporary office in Bankers Hall measuring 10’ x 10’, or from home. Despite that similarity, though, under the surface things are in fact very different.

In 2019, eight years after opening shop, the team celebrated an important milestone: surpassing $500 million in client assets. This has since leapfrogged to well north of $600 million – all in new mandates for mainly western Canadian families, by the original small team in Calgary. And they are also shopping for new digs as they’ve outgrown their offices with the addition of administrative support and the arrival of Portfolio Manager Dalyce Seitz.

Dalyce, who joined the team two days before the pandemic sent everyone home, has been limited by the distance of virtual work but still feels she’s witnessed the Leith Wheeler culture come to life. A specific difference she appreciates is the focus on the client.

“It is so very client-centric,” she says. “The thinking is – instead of a focus on asset gathering – ‘growth will come naturally if you do the right things.’” A natural result of that perspective is a high level of collaboration. “It has been refreshing for me to see multiple people collaborating to help tell our story and bring the best of their experience to our clients. I see it all the time here.”

Like Jerry, Dalyce came to Leith Wheeler from a large, bank-owned firm. In addition to the boutique service model, the fact that the firm is owned by a broad cross-section of its employees was a big draw.

The dynamic on the team is the glue that keeps this team humming. To a person – be it Patti, Jerry, Dalyce, Greg, or Josette – the word to describe the feel of the Calgary office was “fun.” They work hard, but there’s a level of respect and cohesion that helps them succeed.

Following the success in Calgary, Leith Wheeler launched a third office in Toronto in 2016 with the same model of hitting the ground running with a team of experienced portfolio managers. It seems Calgary has proven an excellent investment, for both the firm and its clients. When you add in the fact that they’ve had fun doing it, to quote Patti one last time, “What could be better than that?”

By Mike Wallberg, CFA, MJ
Vice President, Marketing & Communications