One of First National’s points of distinction is experience. Many members of our team have been with us 10, 15, 20 and 25 years – and in a few cases since we began operations in 1988. We salute those committed individuals who are celebrating a milestone anniversary by presenting their stories in their own words. Today, we profile Troy Barker, Assistant Vice President, Commercial Financing.
Troy, congratulations on 15 years with First National. What did you do before you joined in June 2005?
I was born and raised in Sherwood Park, Alberta, and completed post-secondary education at NAIT in Edmonton in 1988, having obtained a diploma in Business Administration with a major in Finance. My first job out of NAIT was with Alberta Treasury Branches as part of their Branch Administration Trainee program. I spent almost eight years with ATB and ended my time with them as an Assistant Manager at one of their retail branches in Calgary. During my time at ATB, I formed a number of acquaintances who were employed in the commercial real estate industry. The industry sounded appealing to me, and I was ready to make a change and embark on a new career path.
What happened next?
I decided that retail banking wasn’t going to be my calling. My thought at the time was to work for a commercial real estate brokerage firm, which would allow me to get a feel for the industry at the street level. I worked with Torode Realty for almost three years, and during that time was exposed to many commercial asset classes including retail, office, industrial and multi-family. I was able to expand my database of clients and partners and truly understand how to value these commercial real estate assets. While at Torode Realty, my interest began to lean towards the financing aspect of commercial real estate transactions. Towards the end of 1999, I was offered a position with Canada Life Mortgage Services (CLMS) as a Mortgage Officer. CLMS had a brokerage arm, and so I was also able to broker mortgage loans to other sources including banks and pension funds, in addition to lending for Canada Life. From there, I was recruited by a western Canada-based trust company, where I served as Assistant Vice President in their Calgary office.
Why did you leave?
My boss at the time was about 12 years older than me, and I realized there was limited room for advancement. I was in my mid 30s at the time and didn’t want to be the number two guy there for the next 20 years.
How did you hook up with First National?
It was around early 2005 at the time, and I was ready to make a change. I knew that Jeremy Wedgbury had joined First National in 2004. I had first met Jeremy back in the 1990s when he was at Merrill Lynch and I knew he was a smart guy who would only make that kind of move if First National was a serious company with great opportunities. I reached out to First National and told them they should open a commercial lending division in Calgary and hire me to run it. Surprisingly, they didn’t laugh. They told me to submit my resume, and within a matter of a few weeks, I was hired.
So you founded the Calgary commercial office.
That’s right, I opened the Prairie office of First National’s commercial division. At that time, we already had a residential operation here in Calgary consisting of about 25 people. But if you were a commercial borrower looking to do business in the Prairies, you were served by our offices in Vancouver and Toronto and that was tough because outsiders are at a disadvantage. This is a community that values its own and it’s important to be here to know the market and the players.
How long did it take to establish your presence?
It took time because First National wasn’t known in commercial real estate circles in the west. But because of my past experiences, I had a pretty extensive database of contacts to work with and so I reached out to spread the gospel. I hired Laura Evans as my first analyst in 2007. Laura is now a senior analyst in our B.C. operation. As things ramped up for both the residential and commercial teams, we moved offices, grew some more and about five years ago landed in the space we occupy today. The Calgary commercial team now consists of two originators – myself and Damir Jesic – along with three analysts: Michael Shegda, Lori Isaac and Mark Jewells. Penny Aynbinder serves as our funder. Together, we’re active for customers across the Prairies – Edmonton, Calgary, Saskatoon and Winnipeg and points in between – in what I call the four main food groups: apartments, industrial, office and retail. Over the past five years, we’ve become quite well known for our construction lending business.
You sound like an ambitious person. Were you able to satisfy your ambitions at First National?
Absolutely. I think everyone here is ambitious and this is the place to be for people like us. I’ve always taken the view that I need to wake up every day and figure out how to best deliver financing solutions to my clients. It’s very rewarding to have that trust and confidence with my borrowers, and it really secures and deepens the relationship.
Why you have stayed this long?
The overriding reason is I get a lot of encouragement from the people at the top. I’ve had tremendous support from Jeremey and Moray Tawse over the years. They’ve given me the ability and the tools to go out and get business done. They basically encourage us to grow our business within a business. I also like the flat organizational structure. There isn’t a lot of bureaucracy. I’m a people person and I love having face time with clients, and I really like not being held back by a lot of red tape. First National has made it easy for me to enjoy what I do for a living. I think I’ve got the best job in the country.
The Alberta economy has gone through some highs and lows. How have you dealt with this?
Through the good times and the bad, First National has always been committed to the West. We’ve worked hard to support our clients. I remember one occasion where we had a time- sensitive deal. It involved a $20 million shopping centre in Edmonton. I think I called Moray and Jeremy on a Saturday and I had a commitment letter ready to issue on the Monday. That kind of turnaround is unprecedented in our industry. Those things just can’t happen without support at the top.
Most memorable moments at First National?
There have been so many I can’t recount them all, but I will say more generally that the best ones involve getting a pat on the back by a client. When a client provides encouragement, shows confidence and faith in us over many years, it’s just a great feeling.
When you think ahead, what would like to accomplish?
For our office, I’d like to see more growth in business and with it the opportunity to hire more originators and analysts. The pie is big, and there are many potential clients out there who are unfamiliar with First National.
What about personal plans?
I want to continue to focus on my clients and maintain a work-life balance. I plan never to retire – I don’t even like the word retire – so that balance is very important to me. I just can’t see myself giving up my work so I can go play golf or garden every day. I will never work anywhere else but First National.
If you’d like to join us in congratulating Troy on his important career milestone, you can reach him at firstname.lastname@example.org