Real estate whiz finds his place at the ‘front of the room’

Profile: Don Campbell, senior analyst, Real Estate Investment Network

| Rob Kruyt photo

Growing up, Don Campbell was a horrible public speaker.

“I was scared to death to speak in front of a group of people,” said the senior analyst with the Langley-based research and consultancy firm Real Estate Investment Network. “I can remember in Grade 9 not actually passing that part of English where you had to present in front of the class because of that. And then in Grade 10 as well, and then I avoided it as long as I possibly could.”

But today, Campbell is a frequent public speaker on all things real estate and makes regular appearances on a variety of Vancouver media outlets including Business in Vancouver’s Roundhouse Radio show.

Born in 1963 in North Vancouver, Campbell credits his parents for giving him free rein to try different things. His father was a “risk mitigator” who worked his whole career for Sears Canada; Campbell’s mother was the “heart” of the family and pushed Campbell to strive for something more than an average life.

“And never to be an ass,” added Campbell about his mother’s life advice. “You can quote me on that one.”

While he was born in North Vancouver, Campbell spent his formative years out in rural Abbotsford on his parent’s farm, which he now calls home again. He said the move to the Fraser Valley gave his father, an introvert, a quiet setting in which to de-stress from his job managing hundreds of people at Sears.

Campbell said he takes after his father, and while he likes doing dealing with the press and speaking publicly, extroversion is something he’s had to work at throughout the years.

“When I go do the media and the speeches, that’s the adaptive introvert in me,” he said. “Because the best thing on the planet for me is to come home, close the gate and drive my tractor around.”

After graduating from high school in 1981, Campbell followed in his father’s footsteps, working for Sears, and becoming the youngest supervisor the company had ever had.

Campbell was just out of high school, managing 40-year-old workers. He said the experience was crucial in allowing him to learn the best way to manage people of all ages and personality types.

“That helped me understand human nature,” he said.

But a long-term career at Sears like his father’s was not in the cards.

He credits his start in the real estate business to a conversation that took place in 1983 while he was at his friend’s house watching hockey.

Between periods, Campbell’s friend’s father came down and started chatting the two up. The man was a chicken farmer, but also a landowner who had expanded into real estate investment.

“I can still remember it all so clearly, right down to the beanbag chairs,” he said. “And he just started talking to us about not hockey, but about real estate, like adults. And I have no idea why he did it, and I have no idea what the impetus was. And my dad would never talk about something like that because he didn’t understand it. It wasn’t in his realm, it was job and pension.”

Campbell couldn’t shake the conversation and its effect on him. By 1985 he’d bought his first property in Mission.

“We had a 16-and-a-quarter per cent mortgage and we had no clue what we were doing – other than the fact that my friend’s dad had done really well and ‘maybe we should do this.’”

Campbell said he eventually made money on the property.

“It got me thinking. We just kind of fell into it, and I thought, ‘What might happen if we pay attention to this when we do it?’”

Campbell then headed off on a cross-Canada road trip to Halifax with another friend. It was during the long days driving east that he got a chance to flesh out some of his more abstract ideas and life goals.

“You’re stuck in a car with another dude and you’re just driving and talking. And there are so many opportunities to go deeper into things that you don’t really get a chance to do in real life –discussing what you want to do, what does your life look like.”

Campbell came home with a fresh perspective, and began accumulating property.

Now, at 54, his portfolio includes everything from light industrial, residential and commercial to agriculture holdings across Western Canada.

He also recently celebrated a quarter-century working with the Real Estate Investment Network. However, he still had one hurdle to get over – that lingering fear of public speaking.

In 1997, just before a scheduled Real Estate Investment Network conference, one of the main speakers was forced to drop out.

The event was in serious jeopardy, and Campbell knew what he had to do: step up and take over the speaking role.

This was a turning point for him, as until then he’d primarily been in an administrative role with the company.

“I decided I could make a much bigger difference on the planet from the front of the room than the back of the room,” he recalled.

“By coming to that realization, I said, ‘I guess I have to become a compelling speaker at the front of the room.’”

Timothy Kendrick, president and chief designer for BW Global Structures Inc., an Abbotsford-based greenhouse manufacturing and design company, said Campbell blurs the lines between introvert and extrovert regarding his personality.

“Don does not have an on-stage and an off-stage persona,” said Kendrick, who has known Campbell since 2015.

“Don is Don and he calls it as it is. He looks you straight in the eye whether you’re one of one or one of a thousand, and gives it to you straight.” 

Inside Information: Don Campbell

Currently reading:

Mistakes Were Made (But Not by Me) by Carol Tavris and Elliot Aronson; The Asshole Survival Guide: How to Deal with People Who Treat You Like Dirt by Robert I. Sutton

First album bought or music downloaded:

My first “non-K-Tel” record was Goodbye Yellow Brick Road by Elton John

When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up:

A manager at Sears Canada (just like my dad)

Profession you would most like to try:

Doing it right now

Advice you would give the younger you:

Don’t be afraid of the judgment of other people. Get on with your life

What’s left to do:

So much. Following the SIMPLE philosophy: “significantly impact many people’s lives every day”