February 1, 2021
Latin for Agile, “Agilis” defines the everyday Executive pursuing extraordinary goals. This month, we have the privilege of sharing the Extra(ordinary) journey of Shane Wenzel, President at the Shane Homes Group of Companies. “Shane”, a renowned name in Calgary, Alberta, requires no introduction. He is easy-going, easy to connect with, and makes it easy to feel at “home” in his company. Shane engages us quickly with his friendly nature, and doesn’t shy away from our candid curiosity as we inquire about his childhood, his family, his interests, his hardships, and the journey that makes Shane the leader who is followed and admired by many. Focused on the client experience and recognizing his leadership impact, Shane’s keen emotional intelligence has helped him guide his intuition and lead with ambition, respect, and the highest consideration for others. We listen as Shane takes us through his exhilarating journey and the fortifying decisions that have helped him define success.
“I was born and raised in Calgary. My parents owned a home in northwest Calgary, and I grew up with three half-siblings: a brother who is twelve years older than me; a sister who is eleven years older than me; and another sister who is nine years older than me. In a way, I do feel like I was an only child because of the age difference.” He continues, “By the time I was a teenager, they moved on to start their own lives, so then it was just my mother, my father, and I…and a couple of dogs!” He smiles. “As you can imagine, my father and mother had two very strong Type-A personalities. They were both entrepreneurs - my mother, for the longest time, had an oil consulting company; but shortly after the crash in the ‘80’s, this business was shut down. But, she was still revered as one of the best people to consult with in that industry. As a second career, she started her own market research firm and completed work for the Alberta Government, as well as various other groups around the city and across the country. Even now, at her rightful age - which I promised her I would never mention for fear of death! - she still conducts market research. Now, she is more of an activist and cannot sit still. She will probably pass away hosting a focus group of some sort, or attending a board meeting!” This brings another smile. “My father is the same – when I was younger, he worked for a Jimmy Pattison company here in Calgary called The Neonex Shelter. They built mobile homes, so this is where a lot of his knowledge of homebuilding comes from. In 1979, he talked himself out of a job because Jimmy Pattison, being one of Canada’s few billionaires, asked a simple question: ‘Should we keep this division open?’ And my father spoke up and said, ‘No. You’re gaining market share, you’re losing margin, what’s the point?’ So, he talked himself out of a job!”
Cal Wenzel, Shane’s father, went on to create what would become a legacy. “My father, along with the sales manager and his good friend, Barry Ballsillie, then started Shane Homes in 1979. Oddly enough, my mother was their first customer!” He continues sharing, “you can imagine the conversations that would occur around the dinner table with two entrepreneurial parents. This is where my interest to pursue my education in Sales and Marketing, and overall Business, started - just sitting back, listening, and absorbing what my parents were talking about became a normal part of life and my interest.” Shane takes us through his post-secondary schooling, “I took the introduction to the MBA course at the University of Calgary, and it was their initial attempt at putting together an Executive MBA. I enjoyed it. It certainly gives you an introduction and an understanding of every module attached to a full Executive MBA. As far as being a student in school, I would say I was just average. Truthfully, I was only interested in the practical elements of what was being taught. A lot of my work experience and knowledge about construction actually comes from working hands-on here at Shane Homes.”
Shane begins sharing the support he offered at a young age to his father, “I had been involved with the company since I was fourteen years old. My father wouldn’t favor me sitting around all summer and doing what my friends and others kids were doing – play and enjoy being bored all day! So, if we weren’t going away on vacation, he had me start working on the job sites. This is what my summers consisted of as a teenager!” He laughs and continues, “If there were professional development days in school, my father would say, ‘Oh, you’ve got Friday off? Great! We need you over here, we need you to do this, we need you to do that….’ I recall a time when one of our supervisors came to pick me up at 7:30 in the morning and we drove to a job site, and he would leave with a long list of things to do – until 5:30 in the evening! I would be in bed by 6:00 each night, exhausted. And, I would repeat this all summer long. But, it was a good learning experience and really builds character. It developed my ambition and created a drive that is imperative to be successful.”
We’re curious and seek insight into Shane’s motivation to take over the family business; and, if he felt a natural gravitation to leading the group of companies instead of pursuing other interests. He continues, “My father was very honest and never pushed me toward a vision of leading his legacy. There was no pressure. And, even today, my mother remains adamant that I should have pursued a career in comic book art because I was relatively gifted at that. My interest in comic book art started when I was ten years old. In 1988, we moved to a new home and my mother set up an art table for me in the basement. After school, I would be downstairs for hours. She was disappointed for about the first ten years of my career because I didn't pursue that. She felt I was wasting a talent, but I found that I enjoyed a lot of things here at Shane Homes that allowed me to flex that creativity.”
We appreciate Shane’s good-hearted character and open communication style. He continues sharing, and reveals moments that offered him opportunities to gain courage through self-awareness, becoming vulnerable when sharing some of the more difficult times through his journey. “I was married for fourteen years. I supported my wife during that time through some very tough issues with mental health. We eventually parted ways, but I advocate and support mental health awareness today because I recognize the challenges faced by both the individuals and their partners.” He becomes quiet, and we admire his strength as he continues, “There’s a stigma around mental health. I’ve experienced it with my ex-wife, but I’ve experienced it myself as well. I didn’t get through that time without help; I would seek therapy every month when things were tough. I still pursue this on occasion. Sometimes, you just need the right person and an objective opinion to give you a different outlook; to show you all the good in your life. There shouldn’t be a stigma around this. We need to work harder to remove it.” He continues, “You know, I found myself trying out new dating apps when I ready to move on after my divorce. When you’re a single individual sitting around your own house by yourself, you want to explore new things and spend time meeting people socially. So, when I was approached by a man who was interested in taking me out on a date, I thought: ‘Well, I need to keep an open mind and honor the feelings I know I have about myself’. But, it wasn’t easy, and to be honest, it was difficult accepting that I was gay. I didn’t want to be gay. That’s what I told myself, but it wasn’t my authentic feeling. I needed to embrace who I was and what I felt. So finally, I agreed to try out a date, and it actually felt very natural. It was at that point that I thought, ‘Is this really worth fighting? Why am I fighting who I want to be, genuinely?’”
Shane is a proud supporter of LGBTQ initiatives, and admired for his authenticity and bravery in choosing to make the choice to live the life that impacted his happiness in the most positive way. “I won’t lie. It was scary. I think a lot of my courage came from meeting my partner, Matthew Dunne. He encouraged me to tell one person every month. And, at some point in time, I realized I stopped worrying about the outcomes of people’s reactions. It didn’t matter to me, it just became normal. When I think about our own diverse team here at our company, we are very inclusive without a need for a formal policy. We are hiring the best people for the job. When you can be ‘you’, you feel more comfortable. After a while, it doesn’t matter at all. For me, this was just normal; this was just another relationship; this was just me.” He continues, “One thing I learned early on in my career was not to let the little things bother me. I look at everything about ten thousand feet up, so little things don’t really affect me. But, when the big things do, it takes me about twenty-four hours to get over it. I know enough to press the reset button, and come back refreshed the next day. It’s something I had to learn to develop.”
Shane’s warm and inclusive leadership style resonates not only with his team, but clients as well. “When I started working for the company thirty-one years ago, seventy percent of our clientele were Caucasian buyers. Today, I would say this statistic is twenty-five or thirty percent, which shows how ethnically diverse Calgary has become over the last thirty years. We welcome the different challenges that a diverse group of clients bring for us to learn from. You have so many different cultures that you’re trying to accommodate when you’re selling, from multigenerational families or extended families and Asian influences of Feng Shui. We make it a priority to understand different cultures and preferences.” Shane demonstrates high emotional intelligence through the ease in which he develops relationships. He taps quickly into the solution his clients are seeking. “This was apparently proves with an EQ test we conducted at the company,” he shares proudly. “Our management team completed EQ training and I was one of only two employees here at the organization with a very high EQ. This confirmed a few things for me, so I can confidently say that I put the right people in the right roles to create the connected team we have today. This is an especially effective quality for social media, since you gain the courage to stand in front of hundreds of people and start talking. I had more confidence because I was more aware of my emotions, and the responses I was receiving from people were easier to decipher. I believe developing your EQ is important if you want people to follow you. You need to be authentic, and they need to believe in your values; they need to believe in you as a person. I learned that for a successful business, and for exceptional client relationships, you need to be open with sharing who you are, and allow people in to get to know you. It’s a culture that my father started years ago, and it’s one that I’m happy to carry on.”
We discuss the importance of humility and how failure is important for success. Shane is enthusiastic when he shares insight into mistakes that helped him develop and grow: “If you’re starting out in anything, just get in there and do it. Learn from it. No one should sit and think that they haven’t failed over the years. I have made several mistakes and continue to make them today. You learn from them, and go forward from there.” He becomes pensive as he shares a fond memory, “Years ago, I was a Junior Marketing Assistant working with my father. Back then, we used to place classifieds in the Calgary Herald under ‘Homes’. I recall I needed my father to review the advertisement before it was approved, and I couldn’t get a hold of him. I was so frustrated that I finally just signed off, not knowing if they were correct, and not knowing if I had made a mistake. And of course, when he came into the office the next morning, I was livid with him! He listened to me rant and rave for about five minutes and then said, ‘Shane, I don’t make all the right decisions, but at least I make the decision. You can only do your best and if you make a mistake, then, you can atone for it next time.’ This really resonated with me over the years because not making a decision is much worse than trusting yourself to learn from making a decision.”
Shane reflects on his role and responsibilities as a leader; which include dealing with the loss of team members that are more than friends. For Shane, they are family. “It’s tough because there will always be people who will come and go. And over the years, you become attached. The biggest feeling of loss I have had was a few years ago when we had to proceed with layoffs. We had never had to do this in the history of the company, and had always seen dips in the economy. But during this time, the economy hit us hard, and we lost twenty-six people. This really hurt because we had people who had been with us for many years, so you feel as though you are losing good friends…people you consider family. But, the business decision is what separates the business from personal. We had to recognize that this was a business, first and foremost.” He continues, “Professionally, I hate losing and not understanding why. I can even be a little obsessive trying to find the answer. This likely comes from my mother’s side of the family! I had spent time working with her in research, so I am just naturally inquisitive this way - ninety-five percent of the time I can get the answer, and five percent of the time I can’t. What I do realize is that I have to accept I may not get the answer I am looking for. Maybe it’ll come to me; maybe there will be an epiphany. But, you can’t have the answers all the time. Closure isn’t always available.”
“How do I measure success? I always set new goals each year. There are at least three or four goals that I try to achieve annually. From a business aspect, you want to achieve your business targets every year, so it’s likely kind of a stretch target. You work to achieve your margin sales, and at the same time, grow an organizational transformation. That transformation would be improving customer experience – and I don’t mean this lightly! My father had the customer at the top of our organizational chart – a transformational goal: How do we take care of a customer from start to finish? Starting from before they become a customer, to after they have been in their home for over a year? What do we do? How do we manage this? How do we talk to them? How do we deal with them? How do we make sure that throughout the entire customer experience, they have had as much fun as possible? A transformational goal.”
How does Shane manage to stay ahead of the competition? “I fear becoming irrelevant; not staying up to date on the latest and greatest trends. You have to read a lot, you have to learn a lot, you have to watch a lot, you have to listen a lot, and you have to share a lot. Authentically and transparently. You need to understand how the world is changing around you in order to understand your customer. You have to be open to change, and change with the change. For example, with COVID-19, what has changed for your company? Did it change? How did people’s needs and wants for their homes change? Why have they chosen us, and what are we doing right that they are seeking us to support their future home build, even through COVID-19? I have repeated the following statement several times when I share insight on social media: ‘If you’re not prepared to accept change, it’s time to step aside.’ Especially today, especially now. If you’re not prepared to be agile, it’s probably a good time to step aside and let someone else take hold of the mantle.”
With pride, Shane shares with us the Core Values that have helped his group of companies grow over forty-one years. The values resonate with him personally…we also see how these values speak ‘Shane’:
Honesty: Shane learned honesty through self-love, and accepting the person he was meant to become.
Integrity: Shane taught himself humility through taking steps to heal from loss, and grow through being courageous.
Courtesy: Shane values connection and conversations with people who seek his advice in entrepreneurialism.
Community: Shane commits to mental health awareness initiatives, and is vulnerable with sharing his own struggles.
Partnerships: Shane engages aspiring entrepreneurs with leading by example, and committing to mentorship.
Reputation: Shane exhibits professionalism through his personal brand, his professional brand, and his name.
Team: Shane’s energy and warm-hearted nature draws natural attention from people seeking a role model.
Profitability: Shane shows up, works hard, stays late, and earns the respect of a team he rewards his success to.
“As a leader, you always want to earn respect. Earn it, don’t expect it. I learned this at a very young age. It has taken me this long to earn the respect that I had hoped for the whole time. I had to understand that in order for me to be respected by my peers and my team, I had to show up, work hard, stay late, and lead by example. This was very important to me…because my name is ‘Shane’.”
How do you measure success?
-Written by Reena Khullar, Founder & CEO