Brett Miller Talks Expansion, Equality in the workforce with Canderel - GOSS

Brett Miller Talks Expansion, Equality in the workforce with Canderel

Speaking with Brett Miller, CEO of Canderel on development, equality in the workforce and building a team.

Canderel is one of the biggest developers in Canada. They hardly need an introduction. Jonathan Weiner founded the company almost twenty years ago to date with a vision that will last generations to come. Having stepped down succeeding Brett Miller was a choice he made to expand the brand into the future. Miller’s expertise in development leading from leasing to operations has allowed for an expansion and culture that is based on equality, a fresh outlook and generation Y in mind. We got to speak with Miller about the expansion of the brand, it’s future plans and his personal journey that brought him to manage Canderel.

Originally from a little town outside of Johannesburg called Benoni, Miller always had a passion for real estate. “My father was in real estate. I’m originally from South Africa and he had a real estate development company there,” he says.


 

Can you tell us about your real estate journey, and what brought you to leading one of the biggest real estate firms in Canada.

I went to McGill University in Montréal to study real estate and finance. During that course I met a professor who saw my passion for the industry and set out to introduce me to Jon Wiener of Canderel. I was looking for a summer job, as I had a whole backpacking trip planned – when I met Jon he told me I had a full time job but if I were to go traveling it might not be the case. I never took that trip. That’s how my career in the industry started. 

Can you tell us about your experience and the market [at the time]?

It was an incredible booming time for real estate. A lot of office buildings were going up, and the company was growing really fast. I had the advantage to get years of experience and more responsibility at such a young age. I started as a financial analyst, then doing some leasing, and development and the last project I did was a development in Nuns Island. It was such an exciting project for a young person to work on.

With the 2008 real estate crash, Miller ended up moving to France to complete his MBA. It let to explore the entrepreneurial path by launching a startup in Paris. He eventually came back to Montreal with his wife and three children, where he came in to bring up CBRE and then JLL. Eventually he found his way back to Canderel as CEO of the company.

It’s a full circle moment. Tell us about your comeback to Canderel.

It was at the end of 2018. Jon and I always had a great relationship. We’re great friends. He’s my mentor. We talk often. Through the years, we had often spoken about me coming back to Canderel. At one point, I was ready, particularly after CBRE. We had that conversation. He was committed to the company but didn’t really need to be there for the day-to-day. That’s when he decide to step down and we decided to join forces. It’s been a little over two years that I came back. 

Having worked in different companies, what advice would you give on choosing the right organization?

You don’t have the fortune of knowing everybody, but it’s really important to know the culture. You can talk to employees and ex-employees. You can feel it out when you go to company interviews. Are they respectful? Do they have good values? I think that you kind of know that intrinsically. One of the most important things is knowing if the fit is right for you. 

Now with your position as CEO of the company, where are you investing? 

We’ve gone through a transition. Canderel was a developer for its own account. We manage all our projects internally, but the big difference in what we do [now] is we really work for investors. When there are owners of real estate or capital that wants to go into real estate, we will be their real estate army. We will help them buy, build, manage, and finance. We invest it in partnerships with these funds. The funds have different expectations in terms of partners. They want to partner up with teams that have the right sustainability policy and the right diversity inclusion approaches and committees. We have to do a bit of a turn-a-round internally for doing that kind of business. Now, it’s grown a lot. The company has doubled in size. It’s national. We have diverse business lines and divisions. We’re well structured for that type of business. 

46 years in the making is quite a legacy.Where do you see it going into the future? 

Probably double the volume of assets that we manage. Holistically, I think becoming a best-in-class institutional service provider. I have great ambition with regard to what we’re doing with innovation and diversity of workforce and culture, and real initiatives in regards to carbon neutrality and affordability. We want to get to a point where we have gender-neutral senior management. People who join the company never leave. Even me, I left and I’m back. 

As a result, a lot of the senior employees or the people who were there twenty years ago are a white males. Our next generation is pretty 50/50. Maybe 60/40. It’s getting there. That’s the generation that will take over the company. Also, with much more diverse backgrounds and cultures. 

Today, we’re just in Canada. Our biggest portion of the staff is from Alberta. There are more people in Alberta than anywhere else. We’re in all the major cities in Canada. Within five years, we would start to expand into the US. 

When you’re looking at investments, you guys are doing everything? 

Yes. We do office, industrial, retail. We do condo or apartment construction. Examples of projects that we’ve done in Montreal would be the Tours de Canadienne. We’re very active in Mile X, which are conversions of multi-story textile buildings to loft offices. 

What has improved in your company by having women in your leadership positions? 

I think there has been a big impact on culture. Our ability to recruit and those who we have recruited, we have a diversity of thought in our decision making. We’re a little bit less ‘shoot from the hip,’ and more steady. We’re more balanced. 

What motivates you to keep expanding into different markets?

I really like innovation and new ideas. I like finding ways to do things better. Last week was one of my best weeks at the company since I’ve been here. The challenge that I put to the teams was “let’s re-think, from A to Z, what a condo building is.” We tried to come up with a product that is innovative in the marketplace. We had forty people working on this, with eight teams of five. Each team had to work on a particular theme. 

One team worked on parking and transport, and they came up with all these ideas of shared cars and shared bikes. Another team took the idea of flexible layouts, converting living rooms into offices and back. How do you have multigenerational suites so that you have an extra room when an elderly parent is there, which you can lease out when they’re not there. Another group thought about sustainability, where we have green roofs and gardens within the projects. All of these are ideas, and we picked a few of them and gave them awards. We’re going to do a deep dive on the winners to evolve. I just love that stuff. 

It’s ancient to think ideas come from the top-down. I don’t buy into the idea that a boss dictates what we should do. The best ideas come from the bottom-up. 

I find that people are so shy to step forward with a voice. That’s why we got this external company, Juniper, to run the exercise for us, and we wanted to hear from the junior team. My old guys didn’t shut up. That night, I wrote to all of them and wrote that they were missing it here. The next day was spectacular. All of the young people were talking and felt comfortable. I knew they had it in them. It shouldn’t take a formal process to get it out of them. If there’s one adviceI would tell a younger audience, it’s don’t be shy. You’re more in touch with future needs than we are. Speak up. 

What advice would you give yourself now looking back at your journey starting when you left Canderel for the first time, and going to get your MBA.

I think when you’re in that stage of your career, you’re so preoccupied with the short term. You have this short term anxiety about surviving in life. You just graduated. You’re no longer under your parents’ support. You have needs to put a roof over your head and maybe have a kid. It puts the blinders on you. These things tend to fix themselves you can’t really fix these things in the short term. Think about what your passions really are. It’s easy to say but it’s hard to do. 

In my late twenties, I was so focused on “the next three months.” I have noticed that the young people and the young generation that they want to flip jobs every two years. It’s not that big of a problem. You don’t need to get a promotion every six months. 

How does a CEO keep his balance as a father and a husband? 

You have to know how to delegate (he laughs). If you hire the right people, you should have no concern about delegation. I’m very connected, but I definitely carve out time for myself. I have a lot of hobbies. I’m a part-time farmer and I have a tractor. I have to spend time with my tracker. I also keep in shape by cycling and running. I’m very fortunate that my three kids all live in Montreal and they come out to the country and I’m fortunate to have them with us. I would say I’ve always been like that. Sometimes I have to tell the people at Canderel that they can’t send e-mails until Sunday at six pm.  

We learned from Miller the importance of a healthy work environment, the benefits of getting experience in different industries, and keeping a balanced like as the key to success! A true leader knows how to influence but foremost inspire his team to lead. That is what Canderel has done. 

For more information on their latest projects, visit canderel.com

Follow @CanderelGroup on social media here.


Photo Credit – Avril Franco Photography

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