Dishing with DKG: Dick Haskayne is the Canadian oilpatch's powerhouse pioneer

MARCH 26 / Donna Kennedy-Glans

Dishing with DKG: This is a new conversation series by Donna Kennedy-Glans, a writer and former Alberta cabinet minister, featuring newsmakers and intriguing personalities.

This week: powerhouse oilpatch pioneer Dick Haskayne.

Oilpatch trailblazer Dick Haskayne, who the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary is named after.
Photo by Donna Kennedy-Glans

For anyone who wants to understand the DNA of Alberta’s oil-patch fraternity, 88-year-old Dick Haskayne is your guy.

The list of blue-chip companies he presided over, either as president or board chair, includes Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas, Home Oil, Interhome Energy, TransAlta Corporation, MacMillan Bloedel, TransCanada Pipelines (now TC Energy), NOVA Corporation and Fording Inc.

His office suite in downtown Calgary is stuffed to the brim with corporate memorabilia — a shrine to the days when he and others struggled to build a Canadian oil sector capable of withstanding foreign takeovers — including a life-sized plush toy tiger reclining on a bench against the Calgary skyline.

Without hesitation, I ask Dick to pose for a picture with his northern tiger and he good-naturedly complies. Reminded me of Esso’s slogan, way back when, “put a tiger in your tank.”

This man has earned respect. At a time when wealth is equated with privilege, Dick ignores the labels and keeps doing what he does best. Haskayne Legacy Park, an expansive public space on the northwest edge of Calgary, is moving forward because of him.

What I’m here to talk to him about is another announcement — the Haskayne School of Business at the University of Calgary campus opened the doors on a brand-new building, Mathison Hall.

The expansion is a gleaming, modern, tech-friendly construction, with lots of glass walls and safe places for students to learn and make friends, and there’s even a nod to Indigenous ways of thinking and talk of “inclusive” space.

All good. But how does the patriarch of this business school rationalize this scale of investment in new bricks and mortar for a business school at a time when there’s a glut of empty office buildings in downtown Calgary?

I bring along some of my home-baking to our meeting, not something I ordinarily do but Dick is the same vintage as my father and I know my father would have appreciated the gesture. Plus, I have a sense that this might be tricky. This guy is like my father, old school, and I don’t want to come off sounding ungrateful or disrespectful. But someone has to ask the question.

We sit down on either side of his large desk for the formal interview. Nancy, his longstanding assistant, serves up my cookies on a plain white plate — no silver platters here — and sets down two mugs of coffee.

Dick Haskayne with his toy tiger, which reminds him of the old Esso slogan, “put a tiger in your tank.”
Photo by Donna Kennedy-Glans

Dick has a self-deprecating, aw-shucks manner: “I don’t want to insert myself into the story,” is a line he frequently injects into his storytelling. But when it’s your name on the business school, it is about you, I think to myself, as I plunge into the mysteries of naming rights on public buildings.

It’s a sensitive topic: Institutions can’t just sell naming rights to the highest bidder. And eventually, those names get taken down or painted over; the Eric Harvie Theatre at the Banff Centre, for example, is now the Jenny Belzberg Theatre.

I start, gently: “How did U of C’s business school become the Haskayne School of Business in 2002?”

Dick is forthcoming, explaining how the idea was pitched to him by Harvey Weingarten, then president of the university, at a time when money was scarce in the province and the premier of the day, Ralph Klein, put the kibosh on post-secondary spending.

Weingarten was smart to tag a guy who could not only afford to invest big in infrastructure but whose name would reflect the shared history and values of an era. Dick’s $16-million investment in the business school — and willingness to put his name on the door — lit a fire under his peers to do the same.

And now, Mathison Hall bears the name of the lead donor, businessman Ronald Mathison, whose late father and Dick grew up together in Gleichen, Alta.

As I look past Dick, to the city skyline that rises up in the window frame behind him, the big question reasserts itself: Well over one-quarter of the office space in Calgary’s downtown core is unoccupied. Entire buildings are empty. The former headquarters of Nexen Inc., a 37-storey office tower, was vacated in 2019.

es, Dick knows the building well, recalling Calgarians’ pride in this modern, gleaming silver tower and its ground-floor atrium when its doors opened in 1982 — the headquarters of Nova Corp.

Dick turns in his chair to look at the skyline behind him. I can tell he’s anxious.

And so, I ask my burning question: Why do we continue to build new business school infrastructure on campus when there is so much unoccupied office space in the downtown core?

“That’s a really good question,” Dick answers.

Now we’re talking. But neither he nor I had an answer. Just cookies.

Link to original article: National Post