Lessons Earned: How to Play Through Mistakes

By navigating a billion-dollar empire, Northland Properties CEO, Tom Gaglardi, knows the importance of perseverance and hiring the right people.

There is no shortage of lessons to be learned when your business is as varied and tenured as Northland Properties — boasting an extensive portfolio of top restaurant chains, luxury hotels, hockey teams, arenas and a ski resort, as well as operating for over five decades. The company began in 1967 when CEO, Tom Gaglardi’s father, Bob, opened the very first Sandman Hotel in Smithers, BC. From there, Northland Properties continues to grow — currently owning and/or operating over 50 hotels across Canada, the United Kingdom and the United States, six well-known restaurant chains, three hockey teams, a collection of arenas and the world-renowned Revelstoke Mountain Resort.

Reaching their incredible heights of success wasn’t easy. And learning from their mistakes along the way while focusing on the small details was crucial to the company expanding so far, so quickly.

Bouncing back and ready to thrive

The 1980s saw one of the worst recessions in North America, and Northland Properties was not immune to the fall-out. Interest rates were at historic highs, and real estate was taking a major hit. For companies focused on hospitality, it was a difficult time to be doing business.

“It took most real estate people out, including my dad,” Tom explains. “We went through a court-assisted restructuring in the mid-80s.” However, Northland Properties did what needed to be done to continue operations. “We survived mostly intact, only shedding some non-hospitality assets, says Tom. “We emerged and started again.” Since this pivot point, the company has never looked back.

In fact, some may say they are stronger than ever.

“Our greatest accomplishment is that we’ve endured over 55 years, and you can count on one hand when the business hasn’t grown year over year,” reflects Tom.

And those years that did not see growth were tied to major global events that had an impact on all economies: SARS in 2003 and the global recession in 2008, for example.

Throughout this time in business, Tom’s maxim has remained unchanged: “We endured.” This tenacity has continued to pay off for Northland Properties, both domestically and internationally.

Slow and steady, coast to coast

Growth and success can present its own unique challenges, and for Tom the rapid expansion of Northland Properties posed an interesting predicament: expansion would occur, but then there would be a limited amount of time to hire the correct people to fill the newly created roles.

“When the economy is really hot, you’re going to be opening up a lot of things,” Tom elaborates. “We learned you’re better not to do it without the proper leadership.” Slow and steady growth of Northland Properties is the aim, and this focus on the human element of business remains key. “We are more sure that we have the leadership in place before we commit to a project now,” says Tom. People are at the crux of their business.

This stable growth also allowed for Tom to achieve a personal goal while expanding his business. “The goal was to make our way across the country,” he says. “I remember being a young boy and knowing that we’d dip our toe in the Atlantic.” With the opening of the first Sandman Hotel in St. John’s, Newfoundland this year, his dream was finally realized. “For the first time, our company is truly a national company,” Tom notes.

But why stop at dipping your toes? Northland Properties not only met the Atlantic in their coast-to-cast Canadian expansion, but crossed the ocean entirely by opening two hotels in the United Kingdom as well. There are plans to expand southward, too, with one hotel in Dallas, Texas set to open and plans for five more to be developed.

Building relationships for mutual success

Banking and business are all about the relationships you create. Tom shares a connection with two of his bankers at Canadian Western Bank, both of whom he collaborated with in the past prior to their careers at CWB. These relationships enabled him to feel confident in his banking team. “It’s about the bank, but it’s more about the relationship with the people in the bank,” he explains. “That’s how these relationships grow.”

CWB aims to build rewarding, long-standing relationships with their business clients. Are you ready to partner with a business bank that’s focused on getting to know your unique needs for providing customized solutions? Speak to a CWB advisor today to see how they can help your business grow.