William Liske’s career began with tragedy. “My brother passed away when I was finishing high school, so I started university in a haze, not sure what I wanted to do with my education and very unfocused on my studies,” he recalls.
Liske wound up choosing two disciplines related to the mind and counselling—psychology and social work—and after graduating from the University of British Columbia, he worked as a social worker at a hospital for three years before he realized he’d made the wrong career choice.
“The job was emotionally draining, and I took home a lot of the difficulties the patients and their families had,” he says. “If it’s possible to be too caring, that was me.”
Looking for a career that would allow him to “care about my clients but feel that through hard work I can get things accomplished,” he began studying for law school entrance exams. However, tragedy struck again when his father passed away. “I started law school in the same sort of fog I started university,” he says.
Luckily, the second time he made the right career choice, and it led him into in-house real estate work for Losani Homes, one of the more conscientious employers in the country.
Soon after graduation, Liske began articling with Torkin Manes Cohen & Arbus LLP, a midsize, full-service Toronto law firm with a focus on civil litigation. He quickly found himself working on real estate-related disputes, and the timing could hardly have been better. Many cases were making their way through the courts from the recession of 1990, which in the land-development and homebuilding markets in Canada carried on through the early 1990s. “There was a lot of litigation, and I did a lot of work on bad loans and bad real estate deals,” Liske says.
By the Numbers
Increase in annual revenues from 2012 to 2013
Square feet of new commercial space constructed or leased from 2012 to 2013
Residential land bank/building lots under development
One of those cases ultimately led Liske in-house. “I was working for a borrower who was in a dispute with a lender, and once the dispute was resolved, in 2000, the lender approached me to be its in-house counsel,” he says.
Liske had found a niche for himself, and he would go on to work in-house for three other companies related to the homebuilding industry: a multinational conglomerate of housing companies based in the United Kingdom, a Fortune 500 real estate-services company based in the United States, and, finally, Losani Homes, a land-development and construction company based in Hamilton, Ontario.
The position was a perfect fit. The family-owned company, Liske says, has the size and financial capability of a larger company but is controlled by caring people as opposed to a board and layers of bureaucracy. “Deals—buying and selling products, giving advice, managing litigation, the things in-house lawyers typically do—are strategized intensively between myself and a small group of people working closely together in brainstorming sessions,” he explains.
Liske is now the general counsel for Losani Homes, which is recognized as one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies, a list established in 1993 to award excellence in Canadian-owned and -managed companies with revenues greater than $10 million. Liske hopes to take things to the next level by helping the firm become a Platinum Club member, which it will do next year if it maintains its 50 Best Managed Companies status for a seventh consecutive year.
Liske says Losani Homes’ recognition as one of Canada’s 50 Best Managed Companies is the result of the business’s quick and creative thinking. “Much like the way families operate, it’s the kind of thinking that people do when they’re on their feet, not the kind of thinking they do writing reports that go through several levels of review, ultimately to be presented at a later date in a boardroom,” he explains, pointing to managing owner Fred Losani’s brainstorming sessions as an example. “He’ll come up with an idea about how a building can be more efficiently designed or constructed, then get the architects or contractors to think about it.”
As an example of how that creativity achieves results, Liske points to a group of industrial buildings that Losani Homes designed to look like upscale commercial buildings from the front. It was a vision conceived during one of the brainstorming sessions. “Tenants flock to them because they’re the only ones out there that offer both prestige and practicality,” Liske says.
Another result of the firm’s creative thinking is its flexible approach to residential homebuilding. “We rarely say no if a client asks for customization,” Liske says. “Our library of alternate home-design options is astounding.”
Ultimately, Losani Homes’ approach will keep the company strong, Liske says. The way he sees it, “as markets tighten, it’s a way of surviving because people see us as a company that listens to their needs and gives them a high-quality product incorporating what they want—as opposed to telling them what they should get and delivering cookie-cutter results.”