Colin Bierbaum chats about making his mark, family gatherings and the
lure of the new construction sector
Photo: Colin Bierbaum
IN APRIL, COLIN Bierbaum became president of BlueStone Properties, succeeding his father, Bernie, who continues as chair and CEO. Bierbaum, 34, joined BlueStone shortly after it was formed in 2008, as part of a division of family assets that spun off BlueStone and Summit Properties from ongoing Old Oak Properties.
Married to Libbie and father of Avery, three, and Ella, one, Bierbaum has less time for golf and skiing these days, but looks forward to teaching both to his daughters. He’s a graduate of St. Thomas Aquinas Catholic Secondary School and the University of Windsor.
From the outside, it seemed only a matter of time before you succeeded your father at BlueStone. Is that how you viewed it?
I’ve been with BlueStone for almost 10 years now, joining shortly after it was incorporated. In that time, I’ve worked in various roles within the company, most recently as vice-president of commercial operations. As a family and as a business, we have been working on a structured transition plan for a number of years, and we have gradually been implementing these changes along the way. This announcement was a significant step in our plan. Becoming the leader of our company has certainly been a long-term goal of mine, something that I’ve strived for. I’m honoured to have this opportunity, and I certainly have some big shoes to fill following in my father’s footsteps. Now it’s time for me to make my mark in the community.
You’ve been at the family company for almost 20 years, starting with landscaping and general maintenance as a teen. Did you ever consider a different career?
That’s true, I worked for the family business for many summers and even part-time during high school. I worked on the landscape crew, maintenance department and even security growing up, but both my sister and I knew that if we were ever interested in working for the family business in the future, we were expected to work outside of the business for three to five years after university.
You took a job where?
Throughout university and for a number of years after graduation, I worked for RBC Royal Bank, working my way up the ladder from a teller during the first summer into personal banking and an account management role for a number of years. I was beginning to transition into the commercial banking division when my father approached me with an opportunity to join him at BlueStone Properties in its infancy. I really enjoyed and respect the financial industry, and credit the bank with teaching me many valuable career-related skills. It was a rewarding experience working for the bank, and an opportunity I’m grateful for.
How does BlueStone interact with Old Oak and Summit Properties, if at all?
Of course, the three family businesses interact with each other at various frequencies on a corporate level. We also each provide similar services and find ourselves as friendly competitors, literally across the street from each other in a number of locations in the city. As a family, we’re as close as we’ve ever been, and we always look forward to upcoming family and holiday gatherings, where, believe it or not, conversations about business rarely ever come up.
Are there certain properties that define BlueStone for you?
The Dufferin Corporate Centre downtown is BlueStone’s headquarters, as well as the proud headquarters for many other national and government organizations. It’s the hub of a lot of activity downtown and has certainly been an iconic building in our portfolio. But more recently would be 271 Platts Lane, an eight-storey, 169-unit residential apartment building BlueStone recently built. It’s the first new residential building in our portfolio that our current BlueStone team built together. The development was a tremendous success, and it also gave me a taste of new construction and development, and now I’ve got an appetite for more!
Over the next five years, do you expect growth to come more on the residential side than commercial?
BlueStone has significant growth targets over the next 10 years, and a lot of exciting developments in the pipeline. At this point, it appears to be an even balance between commercial and residential, and also opportunities for the development of some new residential subdivisions in the south end of town. The question is which of these projects will receive the green light first. We also have plans for the expansion of Storage Worx, and even some potential acquisitions in the future. Basically, BlueStone is in a position to take full advantage of many exciting opportunities that lay ahead of us.
Are you continuing as president of Storage Worx?
Yes, I am remaining as the president of Storage Worx as well. It’s a balance between both roles, but currently Storage Worx only requires about 15 per cent of my time thanks to a great team managing the day-to-day operations.
Does BlueStone have to keep building to be successful in your mind? Or can it focus primarily on managing its current roster of buildings?
BlueStone could just sit back and continue managing our existing buildings, leveraging our existing reputation of managing quality properties and providing exceptional service, but where’s the challenge in that? We have much bigger plans. We, as a family and as a business, plan to continue in our grandfather’s legacy of building a better London and making a difference in the community.
Your father is stepping back to some degree. What is his legacy?
He may have stepped back from the presidency role and responsibility, but he’s certainly still heavily involved. Bernie has gradually shifted the responsibility of our residential and commercial operations to my sister and me over a structured period of time, as well as the other functional divisions in the company. His involvement moving forward is leading the development and growth of BlueStone, something that he excelled at over his 30 years in the industry as a VP of development and construction, who was also responsible for the construction of the majority of the buildings we own and manage today. His wisdom, experience and knowledge in the real estate development industry are absolutely invaluable to us, especially today as we are committed and structured for significant growth over the next five to 10 years. My sister, Jaclyn, and I have tremendous respect for our father, and I’m honoured to have this opportunity to work alongside him.
Is there a non-BlueStone building or development in town you particularly admire?
I’ve recently had an opportunity to tour the new Discovery Centre at Sifton’s West 5 facility and found the entire development concept to be fascinating. The idea of developing a completely sustainable community capable of generating its own energy and recycling much of its own materials and water is an ambitious concept. Most of the environmentally sustainable elements incorporated in the design are not new concepts individually. Solar panels, rainwater harvesting, green roofs and energy efficient building systems are becoming increasingly common, but incorporating all of these elements together throughout an entire community and linking them all together for greater efficiency is truly visionary and is certainly a development I admire. It’s a glimpse into the very near future of something we can all expect, and I look forward to incorporating more of these elements into our own developments. Interview by Christopher Clark