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One of Calgary’s best-known businessmen aims to ‘do it right’ once again at 71

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It’s a chilly weekday morning in a quiet corner of a Calgary industrial park, the kind of place you’d find oilfield service firms, warehouses and machine shops. 

But sling open the doors of one nondescript building and you’ll discover a studio with rows of neatly ordered desks and bright yellow desk lamps. Where a corner office might be, there’s a cozy couch. There’s even a few books on the Danish art of happiness.

It might seem a bit bewildering — until you meet the man behind it all: Mogens Smed.

This is ground zero for the Calgary entrepreneur’s latest venture or, in his cheery parlance, his fourth “mulligan.”

“Where we get to spend the most fun in life is making the baby,” says Smed enthusiastically.

It’s only been a few months since Smed — one of the city’s best-known businessmen was ousted from DIRTT Environmental Solutions, the award-winning company he co-founded in 2004.

But if you thought the 71-year-old has been spending his time with his feet up, you don’t know Smed.

Rather, he’s been hustling to launch a new private company, called Falkbuilt, finding factory space and securing a bright red fire truck, of course.

“Our factory has a fire engine in it sitting right in the middle,” Smed says.

“And it’s really pointless. I can drive around in the factory and run the siren and bells if I want. But culture starts with a work ethic. This is not a country club. Everybody works their butt off, right? But we have fun doing it.”

It’s a philosophy that’s served him well.

Mogens Smed and his wife, Nicki, at the factory of his latest venture, Falkbuilt. Why the red fire engine? “It’s really pointless,” he says. (Supplied)

The son of a Danish furniture craftsman, Smed has built companies with a reputation for innovation.

He helped build both SMED International and DIRTT from local startups into international, multi-million-dollar enterprises. SMED, a modular interior and furniture company, sold for $300 million in 2000.

“The guy is a walking, talking MBA school,” says Darrin Hopkins, co-head of the private client capital markets division of Richardson GMP and a long-time observer of Smed’s work.

“It’s easy to peg him as the consummate entrepreneur, but he’s a lot more than that. He’s a lot deeper than that.”

Hopkins, a former DIRTT investor, says Smed is the kind of businessman who can build a better mousetrap but market it, too. Smed also knows how to build a team, he says.

Rosalyn Peschl uses her experience working on Smed’s team at DIRTT to teach students about entrepreneurial thinking at the University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business.

Smed allows people to make mistakes and learn from them, Peschl says. He​ is also a great storyteller, a skill that helps him motivate staff with a clear vision.  

“There is a culture … in his company that is palpable,” Peschl says.

“He’s sitting in the desk right next to you. No one has offices. No one has doors.… He has this incredible ability to get a really diverse group of people marching in the same direction.”

In launching 15 years ago, DIRTT (Doing It Right This Time) created a buzz as a designer and builder of sustainable, modular interiors, which looks cooler than it maybe sounds. Fast Company once listed the firm as a “Rock Star of the New Economy.”

The guy is a walking, talking MBA school. – Darrin  Hopkins, Richardson GMP

Early last year, Smed was bumped from CEO to executive chairman amid several changes spurred in part by its board’s desire to “improve performance, succession planning, strategy, and corporate governance.” In September, DIRTT announced Smed was leaving, saying he hadn’t “adequately performed the agreed assigned duties.”

Smed says he bears no animosity towards DIRTT and no qualms stating he was “fired.”

He says with typical frankness that he didn’t agree with the new approach to running the business and he wasn’t going to concede, pointing to the company’s history of growth.

It didn’t take him long to decide what he’d do next. After getting the fateful call, Smed’s wife turned to him and asked,  ‘What are you going to do now, Mogens?”

“I’m starting over,” was the answer.

A DIRTT Environmental Solutions commercial interior. (DIRTT Environmental Solutions)

Today, Smed appears excited to be doing exactly that. He says he also knows what mistakes they’ve made in the past. Life can be a difficult teacher, though.

In 1982, Smed and his brother lost everything when their wood manufacturing business went bankrupt. Their father later died from the stress of it all, he says.

For a while, Smed says he just felt sorry for himself. Then the impact the failure had on the families that depended on the business hit him. That feeling of responsibility has been with him since.

A few months later, he started SMED International.

Fast-forward nearly four decades, here he is again at the starting line. Not surprisingly, Smed isn’t straying far from the business where he made a name for himself.

The key to success is going from one failure to the next with absolutely no loss of enthusiasm. – Mogens Smed’s  favourite saying

Smed and his team of about 20 people are now working on the concept of what the new company will ultimately take to market. Falkbuilt aims to build interiors for a variety of sectors — from health to education to commercial — using an alternative form of construction materials fabricated off-site.

They may play in the same space as DIRTT, but Falkbuilt won’t do what DIRTT has already done, he says.

“There’s no denying how compelling their solutions are and what they’ve done,” Smed says.

“We’re going to come after the exact same market but completely in a different way.… We’re not going to beat them at their game, nor would we want to. A lot of those people are my friends.”

Smed envisions a company of about 150 people by around this time next year and that means a lot of work in the coming months.

But whatever challenges lie ahead for him and his team, Smed will come armed with his favourite saying, one often attributed to Winston Churchill.

“The key to success is going from one failure to the next with absolutely no loss of enthusiasm,” he says. “And it’s the truth.”

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Majority of Canadian workers willing to take less pay for a workplace pension plan: survey

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A majority (70 per cent) of Canadians say they’re willing to forgo a higher salary in exchange for a workplace pension plan, according to a new survey for the Healthcare of Ontario Pension Plan by Abacus Data.

The survey, which polled more than 2,000 Canadian adults in April, signals an opportunity for employers to build back the post-coronavirus pandemic working landscape better by expanding access to good retirement plans — whether they’re defined benefit, defined contribution or group registered retirement savings plans, says Steven McCormick, senior vice-president of plan operations at the HOOPP.

According to the survey, a secure retirement remains of greater concern for Canadians than concerns about their health, debt load and job security. McCormick says this has been a consistent worry the HOOPP has seen in survey results over the past couple of years. Nearly half (48 per cent) of respondents said they’re very concerned about having enough money in retirement, while 31 per cent were highly concerned about their personal debt load and 26 per cent cited their job security. Close to half of respondents expressed high concerns for their physical (43 per cent) and mental (40 per cent) health.

In addition, the pandemic has harmed the finances of more than half (52 per cent) of Canadians’ surveyed and it’s had a particularly disproportionate affect on the finances of younger adults. Adults aged 44 and younger said they’re twice as likely (25 per cent) to have had their finances greatly harmed, compared to those over the age of 60 (12 per cent).

Generally, younger adults tend to work in roles that may have been impacted most by the pandemic, says McCormick, whether in service industries that were shut down or frontline health care that have been busy but don’t always come with access to a pension plan. “Affordability is an issue, so I think their worries increased during this time.”

And while almost half (46 per cent) of Canadians surveyed said they’ve saved more money than they would have since the onset of the pandemic, among these respondents, over half (52 per cent) didn’t put any of their savings toward their retirement. Overall, most (63 per cent) Canadians surveyed haven’t set aside or saved anything for retirement in the past year, a five-point increase since 2019.

McCormick says this may be due to uncertainty or hesitancy about whether people’s immediate needs outweigh longer-term needs. And with 55 per cent of respondents noting they were very concerned about the cost of day-to-day living, he adds that rising prices have fuelled insecurity and worries so people are creating their own emergency funds right now.

While there’s a segment of the population who’ve saved more and, for them, the pandemic has created wealth, he doesn’t see this as a common narrative in the survey data. “If you don’t have access to a workplace pension or the opportunity to have things like automatic enrolment, the uncertainty of the time may have you holding onto money,” says McCormick. “In Ontario, we’re more optimistic about the pandemic than we were maybe a month ago, but there are still people worrying about whether there’ll be a fourth wave.”

In addition, more than two-thirds (67 per cent) of respondents said a retirement crisis is looming and 65 per cent said saving for retirement is prohibitively expensive. It’s a common and shared dream for many people in looking forward to a secure retirement, says McCormick, noting for many, making that dream a reality remains elusive.

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What Canadians need to know about moving to the U.S. for more affordable real estate

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Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.

Jessy BainsThu., June 24, 2021, 6:43 p.m.·9 min read

A U.S. flag decorates a for-sale sign at a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, August 21, 2012. President Barack Obama said on Monday the U.S. housing market was
Home prices have run up in the U.S. but are mostly more affordable than major Canadian markets.(REUTERS)

Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1388165660598063104&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

The situation has gotten so bad for first-time buyers that many may have given up. Ontario is home to markets with the biggest recent run-ups. A survey by Right at Home Realty found 74 per cent of younger Ontarians aged 18 to 34 say they may never be able to afford a home where they currently live.

Michelle Makos, broker-owner at Royal Heritage Realty, sells real estate for a living but doesn’t like what she’s seeing, especially after a conversation with her recently engaged daughter who wants to buy a first home.

“She made a comment that they may have to move to the United States to find something they can afford and truly I would hate to lose my children simply because they feel like the housing situation here is out of their reach,” Makos told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“Being in real estate, it just made me realize, the one thing I love doing is the one thing that could cost me my daughter, if she were to leave.”

So she took to Twitter to see if other Canadians were feeling the same way as her daughter. She conducted a Twitter poll that showed many were in the same boat.

She was flooded with messages from frustrated Canadians who were seriously considering leaving the country because of high home prices and shared many of them on Twitter. She eventually put a selection of the messages she received in a handy document for everyone to see.

Jessy BainsThu., June 24, 2021, 6:43 p.m.·9 min read

A U.S. flag decorates a for-sale sign at a home in the Capitol Hill neighborhood of Washington, August 21, 2012. President Barack Obama said on Monday the U.S. housing market was
Home prices have run up in the U.S. but are mostly more affordable than major Canadian markets.(REUTERS)

Like many real estate markets around the world, U.S. home prices have run up during the pandemic to the point of some saying it’s in bubble territory.

But the whole time and for years before, Canada has said “hold my beer” as prices rocket through the stratosphere in a number of major markets.

The discrepancy really jumps off the page in comparisons of the most recent benchmark prices and household income. As the chart below from Karl Schamotta, chief market strategist at Cambridge Global Payments, comparing Canada to the U.S. shows, a picture paints a thousand words, especially when it’s presented as an exploding gif.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-0&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1388165660598063104&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

The situation has gotten so bad for first-time buyers that many may have given up. Ontario is home to markets with the biggest recent run-ups. A survey by Right at Home Realty found 74 per cent of younger Ontarians aged 18 to 34 say they may never be able to afford a home where they currently live.

Michelle Makos, broker-owner at Royal Heritage Realty, sells real estate for a living but doesn’t like what she’s seeing, especially after a conversation with her recently engaged daughter who wants to buy a first home.

“She made a comment that they may have to move to the United States to find something they can afford and truly I would hate to lose my children simply because they feel like the housing situation here is out of their reach,” Makos told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“Being in real estate, it just made me realize, the one thing I love doing is the one thing that could cost me my daughter, if she were to leave.”

So she took to Twitter to see if other Canadians were feeling the same way as her daughter. She conducted a Twitter poll that showed many were in the same boat.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-1&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1395756831100882947&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

She was flooded with messages from frustrated Canadians who were seriously considering leaving the country because of high home prices and shared many of them on Twitter. She eventually put a selection of the messages she received in a handy document for everyone to see.https://platform.twitter.com/embed/Tweet.html?creatorScreenName=JessySBains&dnt=true&embedId=twitter-widget-2&features=eyJ0ZndfZXhwZXJpbWVudHNfY29va2llX2V4cGlyYXRpb24iOnsiYnVja2V0IjoxMjA5NjAwLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X2hvcml6b25fdHdlZXRfZW1iZWRfOTU1NSI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJodGUiLCJ2ZXJzaW9uIjpudWxsfSwidGZ3X3R3ZWV0X2VtYmVkX2NsaWNrYWJpbGl0eV8xMjEwMiI6eyJidWNrZXQiOiJjb250cm9sIiwidmVyc2lvbiI6bnVsbH19&frame=false&hideCard=false&hideThread=false&id=1397895446048169985&lang=en&origin=https%3A%2F%2Fca.finance.yahoo.com%2Fnews%2Fwhat-canadians-need-to-know-about-moving-to-the-us-for-more-affordable-real-estate-131344769.html&sessionId=06d9c3e7619ac1c3744b64cd9cc60845665a4a57&siteScreenName=Yahoo&theme=light&widgetsVersion=82e1070%3A1619632193066&width=550px

“We as a country can do better,” said Makos.

But not so fast if you’re like any of these people and thinking of moving across the border. There are a number of things to consider.

Immigration rules for moving from Canada to the U.S.

The first thing to consider is immigration laws. If you work from home, you can’t just grab your laptop and start working from the U.S.

Sara Herbek, managing partner at Global Immigration Associates, says you need a U.S. employer to sponsor you and be qualified for a TN or L-1 visa.

“If a Canadian employer has a U.S. entity, this could potentially be another option, however, it depends on the visa category,” Herbek told Yahoo Finance Canada.

It’s the same deal if you plan to work for a U.S. employer.

“Canadians are able to present TN and L-1 visa petitions at the border (now by air is recommended versus by land),” said Herbek.

“In other visa categories, the employer would need to file the visa petition with United States Citizenship and Immigration Services (USCIS) and obtain approval first.”

Herbek says it’s important to have all of the correct paperwork when entering the U.S. to avoid being turned away.

“They should ensure they have original documents when appearing at the border: approval notice, as applicable, educational documents, birth or marriage certificates,” said Herbek.

Mortgage rules for buying a home in the U.S.

Unless you’re lucky enough to be able to buy a home outright, you’ll need a mortgage and things are mostly similar to obtaining a mortgage in Canada if you’re moving to the U.S. permanently, but with some key differences.

Rob Mclister, mortgage editor at RATESDOTCA says one of them is proof of income.

“It may be harder to prove income to the U.S. lender’s satisfaction if you have already moved to the U.S. before applying for a mortgage,” Mclister told Yahoo Finance Canada.

“That’s because most mainstream U.S. lenders generally want to see at least two years of U.S. tax returns. If this is the case, find a good broker in the U.S. to advise you.”

If you plan to buy before your immigration and job situation are sorted out, Mclister says most lenders will want 20-25 per cent down instead of the 5 per cent minimum in Canada.

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Canadian Mortgage Debt Hits $1.69 Trillion, Fastest Rate of Growth Since 2010

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Canada is experiencing a real estate boom, and it’s fueled by a flood of cheap mortgage debt. Bank of Canada (BoC) data shows mortgage credit reached a record high in April. That’s no longer a surprise since it’s a regular occurrence, but the rate of growth is noteworthy. Canadians added the equivalent of 6% of GDP to mortgage debt over the past year. It’s now growing at the fastest rate in a decade, as people scramble to buy as much house as possible. 

Canadian Mortgage Debt Hits $1.69 Trillion, After Growing 6% of GDP

Canadian mortgage debt reached a record high, adding a massive amount in just a short period. The balance reached $1.69 trillion in April, up 1.06% ($17.74 billion) from the month before. The annual increase works out to 7.80% ($122.25 billion), which is just a mind-blowing number. For context, $122.25 billion is the size of ~6% of the country’s GDP. With this kind of scale, it shouldn’t be a surprise how dependent the economy is on real estate. 

Canadian Residential Mortgage Debt

The outstanding dollar amount of residential mortgage credit held by Canada’s instituional lenders.

Canadian Mortgage Debt Is Growing At The Fastest Rate Since 2010

The rate of mortgage growth isn’t just high for this period — it’s high by historical standards. The annual rate of growth is the largest seen since 2010. For the month of April, you need to go a little further back — to 2009. Usually, during a recession, it’s difficult to get households to borrow. In Canada, households ramped up the borrowing and purchases of expensive goods.

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