by Stephanie Cooper & Danielle Kinvig
“Calgary’s core has been hollowed out, and with it, the identity and purpose of many marketplace leaders.”
When gas and crude oil prices plummeted in 2014, Alberta was sent into a tailspin. Companies’ bottom line projections went deep into the red, triggering massive layoffs.
In downtown Calgary, hundreds of employees were escorted from their desks in a single day. The fortunate ones were still employed, but with uncertainty looming each day. The unfortunate ones saw their entire companies go under. No one in Calgary was untouched.
Four years into the downturn, a city which boasted one of the highest concentrations of corporate headquarters in North America now has a downtown vacancy rate of 27.4 per cent—by far the worst of any major Canadian city. 1.1 million square metres of office space remains idle and unused. Calgary’s core has been hollowed out, and with it, the identity and purpose of many marketplace leaders.
LeaderImpact, a ministry of Power to Change, has been helping marketplace leaders in Calgary—and across Canada—explore the relevance of faith in their personal and professional lives. More than 15 years of faithful ministry has positioned LeaderImpact to respond to those who have lost everything and point them towards true significance: a relationship with Jesus Christ.
In the spring of 2017, Bruce Edgelow was expecting to transition into a new senior management role with ATB Financial, a company he had been with for 14 years. In the stairwell on his way to a meeting, he felt God reach out to him with the message, “You’re about to be packaged”—industry slang for being laid off.
Minutes later, he walked into the meeting room, looked directly at the the two men waiting there for him, and said, “I’ve got to share something that just happened to me in the stairwell. God told me I’m about to be packaged.”
The men exchanged glances and replied, “You better sit down.”
Three years into what some consider the worst downturn in a generation, Bruce found himself alongside 100,000 others in the city: unemployed.
“I experienced the reality of what many in this town have gone through,” he says. “Somebody told me, ‘I don’t need you anymore, you’re done.’”
Yet, instead of shock and despair, Bruce felt peace, knowing that he was about to embark on a journey.
“My Heavenly Father told me this was going to happen. When He speaks, I listen,” Bruce explains. “I have built up enough confidence that when those things happen, I just have to get the heck out of my own way and say: ‘God, what are we doing today?’”
Over the last 15 years, Bruce’s spiritual journey has been intertwined with LeaderImpact—going back to a golf tournament with Canadian hockey icon and LeaderImpact founder, Paul Henderson.
At the event, Bruce was introduced to Tibi Ribi, Alberta Area Director for LeaderImpact. “The day I met Bruce, he had a big beard, a golf hat, and a stogie hanging out of his mouth,” Tibi recalls affectionately. “He was a very successful business guy, and a little bit intimidating.” The men connected, and were soon discussing spiritual matters.
“Bruce was in the early stages of discovering what it means to walk with the Lord,” explains Tibi. “He was starting to understand God in a more meaningful way. He was hungry spiritually, but still stuck in his old ways.”
Tibi invited Bruce to join him and other marketplace leaders in Calgary for a weekly meeting to discuss matters of faith alongside leadership principles—a group which members eventually dubbed, “Wednesday Morning Group.”
Engineer and entrepreneur Jeff Campbell joined Wednesday Morning Group in 2008, and refers to it as “Ground Zero” for LeaderImpact in Calgary.
“It’s business leaders with a common focus: learning leadership from Christian principles, but it’s also a support system and ultimately about bringing people to Christ,” he says.
At the time, Jeff ran a small oil and gas company called Rock Energy in downtown Calgary. When prices crashed in 2014, he reassured his staff that they could make it through the year. But as the downturn wore on, changes had to be made.
“The worst thing about being a leader in an industry is laying off staff,” he says. Two months after celebrating a staff member’s 10th anniversary with the company, Jeff had to let him go. “It’s tough. Being a Christian does not shelter you from worldly things. You have Christ in your life to lead, direct, and support you. You strive to do His will. But that doesn’t mean fun, games, and prosperity all of the time.”
In 2016, Jeff’s company went through a power struggle between an activist shareholder and the Board of Directors. The decision was made to sell the company.
“I remember saying, ‘We can’t sell the company, this is the worst downturn in our generation! Our stock has gone from almost eight dollars to one dollar. We can’t sell now.’ It didn’t matter. We ended up selling the company for a big loss. So, not only were we not making money because prices were down, but everybody got laid off.
“Bids were due the week oil prices reached a record low,” adds Jeff. “I look back and go, ‘Wow, it was the perfect storm.’ But you know what, God was there the whole time.”
As Jeff’s office at Rock Energy emptied out, Fern Cyr, another member from Wednesday Morning Group, made an exit of her own. However, hers was voluntary.
After 36 years as a high-level executive at ExxonMobil, Fern made the decision to retire early to seek out God’s plan for the rest of her life.
Throughout her career in the oil and financial industries, Fern forged her way in positions typically held by men. Early on in her work life, she assimilated to the male-dominated culture. However, as she matured in life and leadership, she realized she was living two different lives.
When Fern joined LeaderImpact’s Wednesday Morning Group in 2015 alongside Tibi, Bruce, and Jeff, she resonated with the ministry’s vision for integrating faith and business.
“God has created each one of us with a unique purpose, and I’ve learned that part of mine is to be a strong female leader,” she says. “I am passionate about helping people become more competent in their leadership capability.”
In the time Tibi has known Fern, he has seen her share her leadership acumen freely. “She has a great heart and passion to pass that on to younger women in the professional world,” he says. “She is able to draw near to God and that becomes contagious as she influences other people, and as she helps give direction in LeaderImpact.”
Sam Boguslavsky, President of Sable Developments —a local Calgary real estate development company— joined Wednesday Morning Group in 2008, early on in his journey as a follower of Jesus.
For most of his life, Sam didn’t have to rely on anyone but himself. “I played sports, did well in school and business, and leadership came somewhat naturally,” he says. “I worked hard on those skills, and I attributed my success to myself. I got my education and took some risks—I’ve created this. It was the ‘I’ identity.”
However, alongside challenges that arose in his business, there came a breaking point. “I was sitting on the dock with my wife Loranne at our summer house and a friend took my eight-year-old son, Markus, jet skiing. There was an accident about 150 yards away. Markus had tipped and his shorts were caught in a bar. He was struggling to stay afloat,” Sam says quietly, his voice breaking. Sam jumped in the water, but he was too far away. Miraculously, his son figured it out on his own. “I never got to him, but God was already there lifting him up. God saved him,” says Sam. “Shortly after this accident, I realized I’m not this island and this mighty guy that I think I am.”
Pastors from a local church in Calgary and his close friend Rick journeyed alongside Sam through this time. One morning, he announced to his wife that he wanted to be baptized, after she had been praying for him for over a decade.
“These 10 years have been a journey of growth and ups and downs. Sometimes I feel like I’m not everything that God wants and needs me to be,” admits Sam. “But, that’s the thing with LeaderImpact, there’s no formula. We want people to journey with God and that’s what I’m allowed to do.”
Trusted inner circle
Since the early days of Wednesday Morning Group, Bruce, Jeff, Fern, and Sam have gone on to lead several other groups of their own—some focused on young leaders, and others for the senior executive ranks in Calgary.
The economic downturn has affected group dynamics over the last four years, and LeaderImpact has shifted in response to the changing needs of marketplace leaders.
“The city’s gone through turmoil and sometimes we’re quiet about it,” says Sam. “With job loss comes loss of identity, especially for men.”
Untethered, many leaders in Calgary have sought greater purpose and a place to belong—which is exactly what LeaderImpact provides. Group numbers have surged over the last several years as individuals search for work, community, and significance.
“People came expecting a new network or access to a job, but found a family of people who supported them in personal development and shared faith experiences and challenges,” Fern says.
In Jeff’s group, 14 of the 17 members are from senior management positions in the oil industry; 10 have lost their jobs in the last four years, and five are still without full-time work.
“As you build your relationships within LeaderImpact and the core weekly groups, you build this support system,” says Jeff. “It’s your trusted inner circle.”
“We explore where we are putting our trust,” adds Bruce. “There is something more stable than the price of oil and gas and the business dynamic. Christ is the place to anchor when the wind and waves come.”
Owning the vision
There came a time when Bruce, Jeff, Fern, and Sam knew they needed to join forces to expand the ministry of LeaderImpact in Calgary.
“We had a good anchor from Wednesday Morning Group,” says Bruce. “We needed to do more in the city with respect to faith and leadership. We also needed to let Tibi spread this work to other cities in Alberta.”
Under the direction of Fern, the Calgary City Team for LeaderImpact is (not surprisingly) run like a business. Comprised of a chairperson and three coordinator positions overseeing events, groups, and training, the City Team’s vision is to have 20 groups by the year 2020. With eight groups currently, the Calgary City Team is well on its way to modelling the growth LeaderImpact wants to see across Canada.
“When people not only have a heart and vision, but also get to make decisions, they become owners,” explains Tibi.
The ownership and passion in the Calgary City Team members is visible even in conversation. “We’re a lot more than just weekly groups or events,” explains Sam. “We’re a creative bunch looking to reach all those who want to hear the message of God, understand and improve their leadership skills, and be part of something greater than themselves. Most significantly, we learn how we can achieve these things when we have a relationship with God.”
Seeing ministry go beyond the pastor or the staff member is “the fun element,” Tibi says. As he works alongside the team in Calgary, he has been able to turn his focus to building new City Teams across Alberta. The Red Deer City Team launched early in 2018, and Tibi continues to search for key leadership in Edmonton, with the hopes of expanding to Lethbridge in the near future.
After his stairwell moment with God last spring, Bruce had the opportunity to prayerfully consider his next steps. He and a business partner started their own firm, and he continues to lead a weekly LeaderImpact group, alongside several other commitments in the community.
Life is beyond busy, he admits. Yet, he’s never had so much fun. With every twist and turn that life can bring, Bruce is certain of one thing: God has a plan. Each day is an opportunity to seek the Lord’s direction, and every conversation is an opening to talk about Jesus— in business meetings, on stage in front of hundreds of industry professionals, and even with his dance group.
However, Bruce still has struggles, regrets, and pain. “Life is not perfect. And yet in all of the things we find ourselves in, God has a plan, He wants to protect us, He wants to give us guidance. This is by no means utopia… but it doesn’t matter.”
In Bruce’s corner office, overlooking the heart of downtown Calgary from the 20th floor, he has a curious item mounted on the wall above his desk: a replica of William Wallace’s broadsword depicted in the film Braveheart. On the hilt of the sword are the words, “Wild at Heart”, the title of John Eldredge’s first book. For Bruce, it represents the daily spiritual battle, and reminds him to consider his legacy and what he wants to be remembered for.
Bruce’s office itself is curious. Only two years ago, it was occupied by Jeff at Rock Energy. In this very room, the Calgary City Team sought the Lord together in prayer and made plans for the future. Just down the hall, weekly LeaderImpact groups used to meet.
“God’s faithfulness—and sense of humour—have not gone unnoticed,” laughs Bruce. “LeaderImpact has taught me that God really is very alive and well and He does want a place in my life.”
Outside of Bruce’s office, boxes filled with files and office supplies are still piled high in the empty spaces. Signs from former companies lean against the walls, and offices remain dark. There is an empty feeling that still pervades downtown Calgary.
And yet, even with the fluctuation of the market, there is the certainty of God’s presence. His Spirit is at work in Calgary, drawing people to Himself and filling the hollow places.