Each December, an editorial panel from Saskatchewan Business Magazine singles out an exceptional Saskatchewan company on which to bestow the title of Business of the Year. It is always a distinguished company, one that has achieved considerable business success and earned the respect of its peers while continuing to give back to the community. It is also usually a business that has been quite noticeable in the media over the past year.
The 2009 Business of the Year is Saskatoon's Concorde Group.
For almost 40 years, Concorde Group has been a part of the growth and development of Saskatoon. From its early beginnings as motel operators and apartment building owners, to current development projects like BizHub, the largest industrial park in the history of the province, Concorde has left its stamp on properties and businesses throughout Saskatchewan.
Concorde began as the brainchild of Leslie and Irene Dube, the well-known philanthropists who, this past October, pledged $6.5 million to the Children's Hospital Foundation of Saskatchewan in the largest known private donation in Western Canada. The Dubes have contributed at least $13 million to various health care, educational and other causes in the past decade.
Concorde Group grew out of several other companies that Leslie and Irene started in the early 1960s. After being promoted to the head office from his job as a grocery store manager with Westfair Foods, Leslie saved some money and invested in 75 acres of land in Saskatoon. He built a motel and was able to invest in some apartment buildings and later a produce brokerage business. Never afraid of hard work, Irene operated the motels and handled the leases and accounts for all the businesses while Leslie continued in his job at the grocery chain and worked evenings and weekends on his other ventures. They also had three children during this time, Debi, Dawna, David.
"Those were different times," Irene remembers. "You just did what you needed to do."
By 1969, Leslie was ready to leave his 'day job' with Westfair Foods, who he credits for treating him "wonderfully" during his time there. Leslie and Irene hired one other employee and rented a 1,700 square-foot office to manage their various businesses. In 1972, they decided to consolidate their holdings under the Concorde Group name.
"We had a pretty good idea then that it would grow, but we did not have a vision that it would grow to where it is now," Leslie says.
In the 1970s, Concorde had over 300 apartment units in Saskatoon, providing housing for the influx of people employed in the construction of nearby potash mines at Vanscoy, Allan and Lanigan. But when construction on the mines was complete, the bubble burst and the Dubes saw over a third of their units empty out. "It was a gloomy time for awhile," Leslie recalls. Concorde had to act quickly and work hard to bring in new tenants. They called some of their suppliers and asked for extensions, and they invested in swimming pools and offered perks like the first few months free to attract renters. "Within six months to a year, everything was paid for," Leslie says. "In a couple of years, we came out pretty good."
After several years managing residential properties, the Dubes decided to focus on office, commercial and industrial properties and sold the apartments...