By Peter Flannigan
I’d say I’ve been a car guy since I was two years old, but only recently, after a long career in banking, did I get into the automotive business by opening a new Maaco Collision Repair and Auto Painting franchise in Airdrie, Alta. My shop quickly became profitable in the third month of operations and we are continuing to build our customer base as we approach our second year.
A mobile upbringing
My dad was a pilot with the Canadian Armed Forces. I was born during a six-month stint his squadron spent in Chicoutimi, Que., and I’m the youngest of six kids. Growing up in a very mobile family, you might say travelling for work got in my blood. We lived everywhere from Kirkland Lake and North Bay, Ont., to Colorado and Montana, where my dad worked inside mountain bases for the North American Aerospace Defense Command (NORAD) for the last 11 years of his career.
The experience of moving around and always having to make new friends helped develop my social skills from an early age. I learned how to read people and manage my expectations. It was a constant social climb, starting from square one each time we moved. I may not have many lifelong friends, but I have thousands of acquaintances!
My favourite sports included swimming, football, soccer, gymnastics and wrestling. In school, I did well with math and sciences. I’m very right-brained.
One of my early career plans was to become a pilot like my father before me, a path which could have taken me to the Royal Military College of Canada in Kingston, Ont., but my eyesight deteriorated noticeably when I was in Grade 6. I wouldn’t have stood a hope of becoming a pilot, as those were the days before the miracle of corrective eye surgery. For a while, following a few trips to SeaWorld, I wanted to become a marine biologist, but I soon realized the opportunities in that field were extremely limited.
When my dad retired after 30 years of travelling, he and my mom decided to move to Lethbridge, Alta., where she was originally from. I was 15 at the time, still in high school, when we headed there.
Falling into banking
After graduating from high school, I took a year off to search for what I would want to do next. One of the opportunities I looked into was banking. At that time, as I became aware, many financial institutions offered on-the-job training programs.
Among these was Alberta Treasury Branches (ATB) Financial, which was willing to accept a decent high school transcript and then offer branch administration training. I was successful in landing an opportunity with them. So, three weeks after my 18th birthday, I left home with a U-Haul trailer and moved to Westlock, a small town six hours away in Northern Alberta, to start my training.
I learned everything administrative in my first year and then was transferred to the northernmost branch in the network, in High Level, Alta. Subsequently, I was regularly transferred to other, increasingly larger branches every one to one-and-a-half years. The job took me to five small towns over the first six years. I didn’t mind being moved around frequently, especially as each move meant a career advancement.
It was about six-and-a-half years before I got my first management posting. For my remaining 16 years with ATB,
I spent most of my time in Calgary with six branches, including two new ones I helped open. I always had a bit of a knack for ‘startups.’
I also spent four of those years in business banking, serving as a relationship manager for small to medium-sized businesses (SMBs), and I set up a new business support centre to help ATB’s independent business and commercial sales staff move their loan processing work to a central location. Those experiences helped me appreciate the sense of pride business owners had in their operations.