Land valuator boss keeps company on crest of big-data wave

Profile: Jeff Tisdale, CEO, Landcor Data Corp.

| Rob Kruyt

Thirty years ago, veteran land trader Rudy Nielsen set up a database to manage information on the properties he was handling through Niho Land and Cattle Co. Ltd. With the rise of digital data management in the late 1990s, Nielsen combined his files with BC Assessment Authority data and launched Landcor Data Corp. in November 2000.

Landcor found a niche serving the needs of credit unions, harnessing 17 gigabytes of data to quickly estimate the values of specific properties and generate reports on inventories in specific areas. At a time when downloading a single megabyte could take minutes, this was lightning fast. Credit unions quickly embraced Landcor to gauge risk and speed up mortgage approvals.

Today, the system is overseen by Jeff Tisdale, who became CEO of Landcor last November as Nielsen, now 75, and still president of Landcor, stepped back to focus on his brokerage interests.

Since joining Landcor in 2011 as a sales manager, Tisdale has worked to find ways the company can better serve clients’ evolving needs.

“There’s just that insatiable thirst for information on demand,” Tisdale said. “With the credit unions, it’s being able to speak to them and say, ‘You’ve known us in the past as being a company that gives you this single product, but we actually have the intelligence to help you understand more complex problems.’”

While credit unions were among the first to embrace Landcor, other financial institutions are now expressing interest.

“With a lot of the bank head offices being back east it’s taken a bit of a while to stretch our brand,” Tisdale said, crediting Nielsen’s groundwork over the last 15 years with opening many doors. “We’ve reached the tipping point where banks are now starting to look at us as a reliable source to provide market insights in B.C., and specifically Vancouver.”

Overseeing a company that mines a rich deposit of data for market insights is a neat blend of Tisdale’s earlier career paths.

Born in Goderich, Ontario, in 1970, Tisdale headed west in 1975 when his father, Ted,  became Chilliwack’s chief administrative officer.

Tisdale hasn’t looked back.

He didn’t live in Ontario long enough to be a Leafs fan, he jokes, dreaming instead of playing goal for the Canucks. He stayed in Chilliwack with his wife, Tina, seeing it as a great place to raise their two children, now teenagers.

“You’re out of your door and within minutes you’re on a trail somewhere, either hiking or mountain biking,” said Tisdale, whose own recreation is running. “You’ve got all the comforts of the city, plus you’re nestled up against the outdoors.”

Studying at University College of the Fraser Valley, Tisdale originally wanted to become a geologist.

“I either wanted to work for an oil and gas company or I wanted to become a teacher like my mom and my brother,” he said. “Then I took a first-year business class and carried on from there.”

The professor was “an incredible communicator, a great teacher,” he said. “I took as many classes as he offered, and the next thing I knew I had too many credits and I couldn’t go back.”

Graduating in 1994 with a bachelor’s degree in business administration, Tisdale initially worked with BMO Financial Group. When the bank scaled back its operations in Western Canada in 2000, he joined Envision Financial (now a division of First West Credit Union) in Langley. Work in marketing and management led to his becoming an assistant branch manager, then in 2006 to a position with Prospera Credit Union. The work gave him his first taste of Landcor.

“We would use Landcor as part of the mortgage lending process,” he said. “I would manage a team of lenders that would be using Landcor products to determine the appropriate lending value. They would do that preliminary work, and then bring their file to me for approval based on the values determined by Landcor.”

Tisdale became a branch manager at Prospera but left in 2011 – a difficult decision that confronted him with the question, “What next?” When an opening as a sales manager with Landcor came up, a life beyond credit unions beckoned.

“While it was difficult at the time, I look back at that and that really set me up for the role I’m in now,” he said of his decision to leave Prospera. “It challenged me to get out of my comfort zone and do things that normally I probably would never have done if I’d stayed within the credit union system.”

His current role offers a mix of sales and administration – and the personnel work that speaks to his early desire to be a teacher.

Some of his most exciting challenges could be ahead, however, as Landcor evolves from a homegrown tech startup serving the needs of clients in B.C. to a national player with a client roster that includes some of the country’s biggest financial institutions. Tisdale’s plan for the next five years includes working with Nielsen to expand Landcor across Canada, as well as honing Landcor’s existing systems to better reflect the company’s expanding scope. The work involves addressing changes to the company – in scale, and of generations, as Nielsen steps back.

“I am used to the credit union space where there’d be shelves and shelves and shelves of policy manuals, and it tells you exactly, ‘If this, then do that,’” Tisdale said. “Here, there are no policy manuals. It’s really working with an entrepreneur, and you have to count on people to know what needs to get done.”

Getting the institutional knowledge in writing – if not to the same extent as that of a financial institution – is something Tisdale looks forward to doing so that others can learn from Nielsen’s entrepreneurial legacy.

The path may not always be smooth, but he takes inspiration from other business leaders whose lives didn’t always run smoothly. Among the people he admires is Walt Disney, whose father discouraged the young animator’s artistic pursuits.

“It’s great to know that there are people out there, successful people, who struggled and overcame and did good things,” Tisdale said. “There are forks in the road and it’s overcoming the forks to keep going forward.”