For local businessman, board member, and college donor Austin Curtin, the flat, straight TransCanada highway that brought him to Medicine Hat over 30 years ago is no reflection of the journey his life has taken.
Born and raised in Ontario, Curtin enrolled in the Zellers management training program in the 1960s which resulted in 13 moves across the country over 14 years.
While running a Zellers store in northeast Calgary, he decided it was time to become his own boss and was offered a dealership with Canadian Tire in 1976. This meant another move for his young family but when he left Alberta, he vowed to find a way back.
“I can remember driving down the road to Aylmer, Ontario and seeing the mountains in the background. I was teary-eyed,” admitted Curtin.
The chance to return to Alberta came just four years later when another opportunity with Canadian Tire opened up in Medicine Hat.
At that time, his wife Marilyn informed him that they were done moving so Medicine Hat became home.
Ready to settle down but still looking to expand his business, Curtin opened additional stores in Brooks and
Cold Lake and eventually won Canadian Tire’s Award of Excellence in 1997.
“I think generating a successful business as an entrepreneur has been very rewarding,” said Curtin. “I love coming to work.”
With 32 years in the Hat behind him, Curtin has built not only a successful business but a close-knit community of employees and friends.
Over 120 people work at the store and Curtin knows each and every one by name, whether they work five days or five hours a week, said Adam Turnbull, store manager at Canadian Tire and MHC alumnus.
“It’s very much a family atmosphere here,” said Turnbull, who considers himself like a son to Curtin. “It starts at the top. Austin’s personality influences the culture of the building.”
Turnbull has been in a full-time managerial role at Canadian Tire since 2003 and completed a management degree at Medicine Hat College through Athabasca University in 2007. He noted that Curtin empowers his employees to be autonomous and is willing to develop talent from within.
Many of the employees have been with Curtin since 1980 which speaks to his reputation as an employer. “He’s very well respected here and across Canada,” said Turnbull. “People enjoy coming to work on a daily basis.”
As someone who prefers to keep a low profile, Curtin would argue that the secret to running a small business is good management and employees.
“I look for people who are smarter and more educated than I am and it doesn’t embarrass me,” admitted Curtin. “I think that’s the key to success, I really do.”
Despite never attending college or university, Curtin believes that having a post-secondary education is a shortcut to success. It was his belief in the value of education that prompted Curtin to get involved with Medicine Hat College as a donor and board member.
Based on over 10 years of past experience with two separate Canadian Tire boards, Curtin has learned that getting engaged in the conversation is essential. Student focus, relevant programming, thoughtful expansion and fiscal conservatism are issues that he hopes to address during his term which started in August 2011.
“You’ve got to ask a lot of questions, even the questions nobody likes to ask. Don’t be a shrinking violet,” advised Curtin.
The Board of Governors focuses on broad, long-term issues such as the vision and direction of the college rather than managing day-to-day operations. It closely monitors college plans, finances, and actions to ensure development of the organization is consistent with government legislation and community expectations.
Board members are nominated by Alberta Enterprise and Advanced Education to represent the interests of the public, students, and employees.
“It has been a major learning curve but through engagement, I hope I am contributing,” said Curtin.
Curtin also contributes to MHC on another level. He and his wife Marilyn have set up an endowment to help students with financial need. The bursary benefits students in the office technology program, which Curtin’s own daughter completed.
“Being a donor gives me a great sense of fulfillment. It just seems right to give back to the community you earn your living from,” said Austin. “What better way than to help others reach their education goals?”
Deanna HaysomDevelopment Officer
Tel: 403.502.8997Fax: firstname.lastname@example.org
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