Randy Shier, president of Kelowna-based developer Mission Group Enterprises Ltd., recalls his first steps towards his future career. He was six years old, and his parents were building a new home in Vancouver’s popular Oakridge neighbourhood. Brought to open houses in the British Properties where his parents scouted the latest design trends, Shier came home and began drawing floor plans.
Shier is now putting more than 35 years’ experience in real estate to work in downtown Kelowna. Mission Group is pursuing the final phase of Central Green, a development east of downtown, and it recently launched sales of Ella, a 21-storey residential tower on Bernard Avenue slated to complete in 2020. A block north, plans are coming together for a three-tower project billed the Bernard Block.
“We’re in the early stages of a renaissance downtown,” Shier said over dinner at RauDZ, one of a number of restaurants livening up the core of the province’s third-largest metropolitan area. “It’s this wonderful little place. It’s attainable – you can buy a home here and still have money left over to enjoy your life, and not be mortgaged up to your eyeballs.”
Urban renewal in Kelowna is driven as much by economic growth, with employment rising 8% last year on the back of a booming tech sector, as by an influx of retirees and housing refugees priced out of markets like Vancouver.
“We’re seeing Vancouver people coming to Kelowna to live,” Shier said. “They’re cashing in and they’re moving to Kelowna, or they’re realizing they can’t ever afford housing in Vancouver, so they’re taking a job in Kelowna and moving here.”
Shier himself is a relatively new arrival, having left Vancouver in 2004 to join longtime friend Jonathan Friesen to launch Mission Group. The move came after 18 years as a developer in Vancouver, most recently as senior vice-president of Ledingham McAllister Ltd.
“The conversation was at Herons,” he said, referring to the old Fairmont Waterfront hotel restaurant. “I was in my mid-40s and I figured, ‘If I’m going to make a move into ownership in a development company, now is the time.’”
Ledingham McAllister president Ward McAllister said he was sorry to lose Shier, and praised his integrity and ability to see projects through.
Shier’s savvy has helped make Mission Group the pre-eminent developer in Kelowna, after navigating both the real estate boom of the last decade and the financial crisis that followed. The company laid off half its staff in six months, and Shier took a much-needed sabbatical – what he calls a “reboot” – that refocused him on his priorities.
Graduating with an architecture degree from the University of Southern California in 1982, a time of high interest rates and low job prospects, Shier lucked out with the announcement of Expo 86.
“[It] became a great job producer for the architects, the designers and the building industry,” Shier said. “I got a job with an architectural firm, I met [my wife] Sandy in 1983 and got married in 1984.”
The marriage lasted but the architecture career didn’t.
“I was so excited about designing buildings, something I’d always loved to do, and having an impact on the built environment,” he said. “I realized, very quickly, the person that really controls the built environment in the private sector is the developer, because the architect is really a tool in the hands of the developer.… You need a great client. I figured, I need to be the client.”
Shier registered as an architect in 1985 but he left the profession five months later to pursue an MBA. Work at a design-build firm taught him more than lectures, so he left school, and by 1992 he was at Ledingham McAllister.
Today, Shier is still trying to make a difference at the helm of Mission Group, which has a goal of developing one rental unit for every two to three residential units sold.
Six condo blocks with 450 units and two buildings with 170 rental units are rising adjacent to the University of British Columbia’s Okanagan campus, augmenting limited on-campus housing and providing investment income for Mission Group. The company also partners with non-profits active in providing shelter to the most vulnerable residents of Kelowna, which by some estimates has one of the highest per capita homelessness rates in the province.
“Our industry, of course, is shelter and housing, and so we want to help those non-profits that are in the same industry,” said Shier, who names his religious faith as the biggest influence on his business practices. “As a company, we’re committed to not only building homes for people that can afford to buy them but also to make a difference in the lives of those who can’t.”
While his work gives him the means to travel extensively, including cycling trips with his wife through Europe, much of the couple’s time is devoted to a downtown Kelowna church, where Sandy serves as pastor working with the city’s street population. Shier takes time to mentor those within that community.
“One of the values we both share is that all people have dignity and worth and value, whether you’re pushing a shopping cart or whether you’re living in a penthouse,” Shier said. “I don’t look down on the people in the street. I think we need to help them, as a community, as a society – and certainly as a company, that’s one of our missions in Mission Group, to make a difference.”
The company recently named vice-president Luke Turri its eighth shareholder, but Shier, who is 59, has no plans to retire.
“I’m having too much fun right now to think about retirement,” he said. •
Inside information: Randy Shier
Charles Dickens, Bleak House
First album bought or music downloaded:
The Beatles, Abbey Road
When you were a kid, what you wanted to be when you grew up:
Profession you would most like to try:
Toughest business or professional decision:
Laying off half our staff in a six-month period in 2008
Advice you would give the younger you:
It is OK to strive, achieve and strategize about the future, but don’t forget to live in the present
What’s left to do:
Complete Mission Group’s transition from being a builder and seller of condos to primarily being a builder and owner of rental buildings, with a portfolio of at least 500 rental units