Posted on: November 25, 2015
More than 220 people were on hand Nov. 17 in the Barber Centre in TRU’s House of Learning to hear Tom Gaglardi reflect on his 30-plus-year career in business, talk about what he’s learned and offer up what he looks for in employees. The fireside-chat was moderated by TRU’s Vice-President of Advancement, Christopher Seguin.
Gaglardi is president of Northland Properties Corporation. The company owns and operates more than 50 hotels and 140 restaurants across Canada and the U.K. and employs more than 12,000 people.
Although born and raised in Vancouver, Gaglardi has deep roots in Kamloops. His grandfather, Phil Gaglardi, was a “preacher and a politician” who served Kamloops from 1952 to 1972 as a MLA and from 1988-1990 as mayor.
Gaglardi’s father, Bob, was raised in Kamloops, but relocated to Vancouver after earning his Mechanical Engineering degree in Longview, Texas. Bob founded the family business in his early 20’s, helped by a $5,000 loan cosigned by his father.
The business began with trucking gravel and bulk fuel. A motel in the small northern community of Smithers was the family’s first foray into the hotel business.
Gaglardi learned the family business from the ground up, helping out in construction projects during the summers. From the age of 13 he worked part time as a bus boy, and later as a cook.
“You have to be the hardest worker, especially when you are in a family business,” Gaglardi said. “You have to outwork the nepotism.”
Self-described as shy at the beginning of high school, Gaglardi had an older friend who was naturally social and helped bring him out of his shell. He later met a lawyer who had a lot of skills he liked and tried to apply to himself. Gaglardi also appreciates that his father Bob was “an amazing mentor.”
Whenever he meets people who have skill sets he admires he asks himself, “How do I become more like that guy?” He cautioned, however, that mentors do not always happen naturally – you have to ask.
“You build your identity,” Gaglardi said.
There were struggles along the way to success. In the early 1980’s, with interest rates around 18 to 20 per cent, the business found itself heavily in debt and facing challenging economic times. In his fourth year at UBC, Gaglardi dropped out to help out with the business.
“When I joined, we were in trouble. [It] took us a good 10 years to improve what we had…. I spent time talking to people on the front lines, listening to people. When you are passionate about the business you should always be trying to innovate.”
Brands under Gaglardi’s Northland Properties Corporation include The Sandman and Sutton Place Hotel Group, Moxie’s Grill & Bar Restaurants, Shark Club Sports Bar, CHOP Steakhouse, Denny’s Restaurants, Revelstoke Mountain Resort, and Northland Construction. Gaglardi is also part of the ownership group of the Kamloops Blazers, and owner of the AHL Texas Stars and NHL Dallas Stars.
Northland Properties promotes from within, and looks for staff who are:
– Good communicators
– Able to relate well to others
– Able to not only identity problems, but generate solutions
– Capable and committed
– Social media-savvy
– Passionate about their work
Gaglardi said his leadership style has had to adapt with the growth of the business; with over 12,000 employees, there was no way he could micro-manage. He has learned to hire capable people, delegate to them, and trust them to do a good job. He said he likes to lead by example, always conscious of needing to be the hardest working member of the team.
He likened a good organization to a greenhouse, and as the president, Gaglardi says he is focused on providing the right environment for his employees to succeed.
Being humble and maintaining passion for your work are two points that Gaglardi stressed throughout his interview.
“If you’re not passionate about your work, you’ll probably lose out to a competitor who is.”
Seguin reminded TRU students that they should take advantage of mentoring programs offered by the Career Education department.