The president of Great Gulf is passionate about building intelligent communities.
Christopher Wein is a man of passion and inspiration.
His early career in Calgary as the founder of his own communications firm was focused on health care, development and public policy, particularly senior care and aging in place. They are topics he talks about passionately.
Wein, president of Great Gulf Residential, was then led into the development industry through public-private partnerships in building apartment-style condos for active adults with facilities for long-term care so that residents didn’t have to move when they started to slow down.
When I chatted with Wein, I could hear the passion he has for building better homes for a diverse group of people of all ages and lifestyles. It’s a passion he has brought to Great Gulf and it shows in the way the company does business, including the use of new technologies, sustainable eco-friendly building solutions and the ingenuity Great Gulf has brought to the development industry.
Wein, a native of Orillia, was recently elected to the board of Prostate Cancer Canada and the Design Exchange, and has been recognized with numerous awards, including Calgary Inc.’s “Top 40 Under 40.”
The Great Gulf Group was established in 1975, and includes Great Gulf, Ashton Woods Homes, First Gulf Corporation, Tucker HiRise Construction, Brockport Home Systems Ltd. and Taboo Resort Golf and Spa.
Condo Life: Tell me a bit about yourself and where you came from. I understand that you had a successful career in Western Canada before coming on board with Great Gulf.
Christopher Wein: I moved to Alberta in my early 20s and started a communications company. I did pretty much everything at first but I built it up and we provided design, advertising, marketing, digital applications and sales strategies. It was a relatively sizeable company and I had over 50 staff.
We focused on health care, the development industry and public policy. I started to get involved with developers through publicprivate partnerships in health care and senior care, with the goal of better managing aging in place. Through that we started working more with developers on projects throughout Western Canada and the U.S.
When I sold the company, I was head hunted and was offered a senior management role in a development company. Over the next several years, I held senior management positions in large development and construction companies. Two years ago, in 2013, I moved to Great Gulf as senior vice president, sales and marketing, and then was appointed president for the entire residential portfolio, spearheading the management teams for lowrise, highrise, land acquisition and development, as well as sales and marketing.
CL: Why did you leave Orillia?
CW: I wanted to see and explore the world; meet new people and expand my skills and experiences. I couldn’t afford university, I’m selfeducated, and a lot of that has to do with my travels and interactions with a diverse group of people. I’ve had a great time, and met a lot of people I would consider my mentors. I’ve learned from some of the best.
CL: Because of your history in both lowrise and highrise, you’ve seen a lot of changes in the industry over the years. What do you see as the biggest challenges facing buildings and developers today? The province’s Places to Grow policy and the Greenbelt restrictions?
CW: For certain in the GTA the access to land is the biggest obstacle for all built forms. The process, dealing with municipal and regional approvals, is very challenging. As with any industry, as time goes by, the process becomes longer and more difficult. Development charges and municipal and regional levies are a big burden for builders, who then must pass them on to their purchasers.
But there are some great places to build. Hamilton, for instance, is going through a very nice renaissance. And Ottawa offers us some real opportunities; it’s a beautiful city with great appeal. Those are really our three main pockets of development: the GTA, Hamilton and Ottawa. Smaller sites, like infill townhouses or small pockets where a few single-detached homes could be built, are typically not our focus. Due to the size of our organization, we need larger volumes to make our projects feasible.
CL: Let’s talk about housing bubbles and the chatter about a burst in the GTA market. Do you agree that housing is overvalued in Ontario?
CW: What is happening in Ontario is just a reflection of what is happening globally with the economy and oil prices and it’s having a positive effect on this province. Ontario has the largest population and consumer base and lower gas prices are good for consumers, creating more disposable income. For the manufacturing sector, the low dollar and lower gas prices are a big help and it’s adding more full-time jobs to the economy.
But the fragility of the national economy has created pressure to keep interest rates low, and they will stay low, which again means the average consumer has more disposable income. And with oil and gas prices low, it means less internal migration to Western provinces from the GTA, which means more net growth here. International migrants are also coming to Ontario. Over the next couple of years, this should be very positive for Ontario. The world sees Canada as an economic safe haven with a high standard of living. I believe that the desire to live in Canada will continue to grow.
CL: What are the biggest issues facing the GTA?
CW: Toronto is absolutely my favourite city in the world but it faces challenges because of its growth. For instance, there is a real problem with traffic and transit issues and gridlock. But these are short-term issues that will be solved over time.
Everyone sees the world is urbanizing and major cities will prosper. Toronto is an amazingly diverse and innovative city and is already set to be one of the great cities as it has put an emphasis on sustainability and the environment; it’s become more efficient and there will continue to be less reliance on the automobile.
We’re seeing a real transition to life in condos, where people can walk to schools, grocery stores, the theatre, ballet, opera, bars and restaurants. Walkability is fantastic. Think of the great cities of the world — Paris, London, Hong Kong, Rome — and Toronto is near the top in all the categories that make a great city: diversity, walkability, density. Toronto’s diversity makes it vibrant and more attractive to residents, visitors and tourism. I’m a big foodie and I love the diversity of the city, the many cultures and tastes. And millennials want that variety and crave diversity in all things; that youthful exuberance promotes diversity.
Great Gulf wants to be a part of that. We’ll always look to promote and develop in the GTA, it’s one of the most precious places on the planet.
CL: What’s the biggest challenge you have faced in your professional life?
CW: Development is such a challenge and each development is different; that’s why I enjoy Great Gulf so much. It has a really positive future and there is an incredible diversity of skills among the team, which sets us up for success.
In meeting the challenges, it’s central to have creativity and situational skills on the team to continue to build amazing projects. The world is complicated and I like critical thinkers who can be innovative. Everything comes back to people.
For instance, at Great Gulf we build creative spaces for people to live in, not just buildings. We create spaces for people to thrive and succeed. It’s one of the reasons we put so much emphasis on great design.
There are two things that are core to our principles: good design leads to better living, and that includes architecture, interiors, community and public spaces, recreational spaces and parks. Good design creates an emotional connection with the space.
The second is building sciences and engineering. One of the big advantages at Great Gulf is we’re vertically integrated. We assemble land, do the designing, selling and marketing, constructing and managing. That allows us to think about how we build and we try to do it as efficiently as possible.
CL: What do you do for fun?
CW: I come to work every day; I love my job! I love what we’re accomplishing. But on a personal note, I have a 7-year-old daughter and we love to cook together, go to the theatre, opera and symphony. My daughter is an aspiring singer/songwriter and actor, she and my wife both love the arts.
I enjoy public speaking where I can share my thoughts and philosophy with people and I also really enjoy working with youth and acting as a mentor.
Great Gulf’s GTA Portfolio
• Trafalgar Landing, Oakville
• Westfield, Brampton
• Mount Pleasant, Brampton
• Sharon Village, Sharon
• Summerylyn Village, Bradford
• Burnhamill Place, Etobicoke
• Edgewood, Niagara Falls
• Rolling Meadows, Thorold
• Brockton Commons, Toronto
• Taunton West & New Coronation, Whitby
• Louis St. Laurent Avenue & Highway 25, Milton
• Highway 50 & Countryside, Brampton
• HOT, Mississauga
• Monde, Toronto,
• One Bloor, Toronto
• Pace, Toronto
• Trafalgar Landing, Oakville
• X2, Toronto
• Yonge and Rich, Toronto
• Dundas East & Trafalgar, Oakville
• Power & Adelaide, Toronto
• King & Parliament, Toronto
• 357 King West, Toronto