Looking North

When the Argentine financial crisis left Patricia Grieco reeling, she moved to Canada and found a calling in real estate, which led her to the High Peak Group of Companies

Patricia Grieco is not only a numbers person. A fan of décor, she’s studying interior design at Ryerson University’s School of Interior Design, and she has just two courses to go to complete her certificate.
Patricia Grieco is not only a numbers person. A fan of décor, she’s studying interior design at Ryerson University’s School of Interior Design, and she has just two courses to go to complete her certificate.

Patricia Grieco had just finished her MBA when Argentina entered the financial and political crisis that would see the country’s gross domestic product shrink by 28 percent. Undeterred, the Buenos Aries native looked abroad—to Canada. Here is a review of her career, including her latest turn as controller for the High Peak Group of Companies.

Grieco spent the first 42 years of her life in Buenos Aries, Argentina. After receiving a bachelor’s degree in economics and commerce at Universidad Nacional de Lomas de Zamora, she worked for a few different employers before beginning a career as assistant controller for Valeo Group, a French auto-parts business, in 1997. Grieco left Valeo in 2000 and earned her MBA at Universidad del CEMA. “I’ll always love my country,” says Grieco, noting its warm people and weather as big draws.

28% decline
When Grieco finished her MBA, however, the timing couldn’t have been worse. Argentina was experiencing a major economic depression, which began in the third quarter of 1998 and lasted until the second quarter of 2002. The depression led to widespread unemployment, rioting, the fall of the government, and a default on the country’s foreign debt. All told, the economy shrank by 28 percent, and there were few opportunities there for Grieco, who turned her sights overseas. “My husband worked for Scotiabank, a Canadian bank, so when the bank left the country, we considered leaving as well,” she says. “Our children were bilingual teenagers, and Canada seemed like a good place to finish raising them, given the better opportunities.”

8 courses
Grieco began her career in Canada in January 2004, working as a specialist in real estate accounting for Standard Life Investments Limited. Over the next four years, she also worked at two other companies in the real estate industry—Bentall Kennedy, where she served as a property accountant, and CREIT Management, where she was a real estate accounting specialist—while taking the eight courses necessary to become a certified general accountant in Canada. She was designated in 2008 and went to work for Brookfield Office Properties as a manager of property accounting. “I really liked real estate,” she says, recalling that she was responsible for all the financial and accounting matters for the Hudson’s Bay Centre, one of the company’s largest properties.

8 million square feet
Grieco left Brookfield in 2010 to work as a controller at Colliers International Canada, where she was responsible for all accounting and financial activities on behalf of Standard Life. “My first employer became my client,” says Grieco, who helped Colliers expand its portfolio significantly. “When I started, Standard Life’s portfolio was 4.6 million square feet, and when I left, it was 8 million.”

Grieco’s staff also grew during her time at Colliers, from 4 people in 2010 to 10 in 2013, when she left to spend six months as a controller at CAPREIT. There, she helped overtake the third-party management of multifamily-housing communities across the United States, which resulted in the sale of the portfolio to another company.

23 properties
Recently, the High Peak Group of Companies presented Grieco with an opportunity she couldn’t refuse, because of the company’s reach and potential for new growth. The Canadian arm of Walker Corporation, an Australian development company specializing in high-density waterfront and mixed-use properties, High Peak was started by Luc Corneli 14 years ago. The company provides diversified real estate services, including advisory, development, leasing, property management, and brokerage. It manages 22 properties (mostly retail but some industrial) in six provinces (Alberta, New Brunswick, Newfoundland, Nova Scotia, Ontario, and Québec), and on the leasing side, it has participated in different deals throughout Canada and the United States. On the development side, its work is primarily in Canada, though it did work on a notable US resort: Slopeside at Big Mountain in Whitefish, Montana.

Grieco took the reins as controller for High Peak in 2013, and in the process she gained something she’d missed in her previous positions: variety. She immediately got to work defining and streamlining policies and processes, which the company was lacking at that point, and she hired new staff and trained them to work as a team and communicate with operations as a single entity. She also upgraded the company’s systems (using the same ones she had at Colliers) and put in place an automated year-end recovery process. It has been a lot of work, but it’s work she relishes. “At Brookfield, I handled one property; today, I oversee everything the company does,” Grieco says. “From even corporate taxes to mergers and acquisitions, I can see the spectrum of activities, and I never get bored.”