Mark Hartum is a talented, young and very successful musher living with his family in Edmonton, Alberta. Mark has traveled around Canada, the Lower 48 and Alaska for open class races and has proven himself to be a top contender in the sport. I had a chance to talk with Mark this June about his life out of mushing – Mark’s Other Life. AB: You came out of another successful season of racing in Canada and Alaska. You spent 4 weeks in Alaska this spring with your family. What is it that you do that allows you to take that much time of during racing season?MH: I am a partner in a full service commercial real estate company called Avison Young: I am a partner in the Alberta operation. We have two offices in Alberta – one in Edmonton and one in Calgary, and we have around 85 employees. We also have 9 affiliate offices throughout Canada. That gives us a total of 11 offices in Canada that operate under the Avison Young banner. What our company does, and what I do, is to offer a full range of brokerage services which includes sales and/or leasing of commercial real estate including retail, office, industrial and multi-family properties. We also offer consulting, advisory and valuation services. Our client list includes such companies as Brookfield Properties, Home Depot, Wal Mart, General Electric and National Bank Financial.I have been in the commercial real estate business for 13 years. I got into it when I finished my Bachelor of Commerce Degree at the University of Alberta. I always wanted to do something entrepreneurial. While getting my business degree I owned a residential painting company and always had 10 or 14 people working for me. It was a great way to put my degree into practice, gain experience and earn enough money to pay for my education and buy my first house.I grew up in an entrepreneurial family. My parents owned a butcher shop for many years, then started a log building company (boy that was hard work!) Then they purchased a distribution business which they, along with my three brothers, continue to operate. I am the only one in my family with an office job, so I always get a hard time…they think I am soft. My parents always worked for themselves and were always flexible and had freedom, even thought they always worked really hard. They instilled principles in us such as hard work, integrity, the value of family and spending time together. Commercial real estate has turned out to be a wonderful career for me. It has been very flexible and rewarding. What I really like about the commercial real estate business is that it does not involve me going to work evenings or weekends. My clients are primarily business owners, presidents and CEOs of corporations who make the real estate decisions for their companies on a national and international basis. They typically work regular business hours and do not want to meet outside of regular business hours which is very nice. One additional thing that gives me extra flexibility is that most of my clients are not located in Edmonton. They are located in cities such as Toronto, Calgary, Vancouver, Chicago and New York. As long as I have access to a computer, a cell phone and I have my BlackBerry I can be in Alaska or anywhere else for that matter. In fact, during my time in Alaska this past season, I worked on a number of deals for major clients who had no idea I was in Alaska racing sled dogs! AB: So your job is not like in the movie American Beauty where the real estate agent goes to a house, cleans it and then has an open house waiting for potential buyers.MH: No, not at all. We are usually working with clients who are motivated to purchase, sell or lease commercial space. Our role is to act as a trusted advisor and consultant and negotiate the best possible terms and conditions for our clients.Our deals also take longer. It is not uncommon for a deal to take six months to a year to complete. Our retail team recently put a Home Depot deal together that took several months. They were involved in handling the land assembly, zoning issues, access, signage, site plans and negotiating all of the terms and conditions for a long term lease for a new 120,000 square foot store. In our business there are fewer transactions, but most of the deals we end up doing are larger.AB: How do you feel about negotiating deals with companies that may be encroaching on trails?MH: It is not really an issue. Most of the companies we deal with want to be within city limits. Plus, now with Edmonton’s metropolitan area in excess of 1 million people there aren’t trails systems for running dogs in close proximity to any of the commercial development taking place. That’s precisely why in order to have 80 acres of land and access to trails I have to live 30 miles outside of Edmonton and face a 45 minute commute.AB: Anything else interesting happening at work?MH: Yes, we have been trying to diversify our company and offer other services that compliment our core brokerage business. Essentially, we want to offer one stop shopping to our clients. Last year we started a joint venture company called JayCap Financial. It is basically a mortgage and lending company offering financing solutions like short term mortgages and mezzanine lending. Now we can not only provide real estate solutions; we can also provide a short term financing solution until the property or land is ready for the long term financing to be put in place. This is important to clients who are renovating, re-tenanting, converting or re-developing property. We will lend them money for up to a year at slightly higher interest rates, giving them the opportunity to renovate the building, get a tenant in place for a fixed lease term and go to the bank to get their long term financing. We are also joint venture partners in a property management company call NewWest Enterprise. This allows us to offer a full range of property management and facility services. Lastly, we started a business brokerage arm of the company that sells businesses. The primary focus has been mid-size oil and gas companies in Alberta.Our goal as a company is to offer intelligent real estate solutions. Hopefully, with being able to offer a full range of brokerage, consulting, advisory, valuation, financing, property management and business brokerage services, we can achieve that.AB: I am just blown away that you have time run dogs. It is amazing that you have any spare time.MH: I think the real key is that I have great employees and a very good team of people who work with me. It really makes a world of difference to be surrounded with quality people that are talented and trustworthy. I have tried to structure things to run smoothly when I am not around because the most important thing in my life is my family and I always want to have time for them. In fact, from the time our first daughter Mya was born, (she is our oldest daughter now six years old) I never went to the office more than four days a week. It was not always the same day that I would take off, some days it would be a Monday and the weekend or a Friday and the weekend or a Wednesday and the weekend, but it was important to have at least three days per week together as a family. It wasn’t until she started kindergarten, almost two years ago, that I started going into the office five days a week. It is one of those jobs where it is very easy to become a workaholic. I have to admit I have been guilty of that a bit over the past year and a half. I have been leaving by 7:30 am in the morning and not getting home until 7:30 or 8:00 pm at night. That’s not good. Even though I still take the weekends off, I think it is important to have supper as a family as often as possible during the week and since returning from Alaska this winter I have made that a goal. AB: Do you have a handler who helps with the dogs?MH: We don’t at the moment. One of the problems with buying a larger piece of land, like the 80 acres we have is that we have an old small house on it. It is hard to get a nice piece of land with a nice house. Usually it is a nice house on a small parcel of land, and if it is a large parcel of land it usually has an old farm house. Right now we are doing everything ourselves. That is the main reason we are keeping our kennel small, around 40 dogs. We have everything automated – we feed and water using golf carts. When setting up our dog yard we scraped off all the top soil and brought in road crush and gravel so it would not get muddy. We had it laser leveled to ensure it drains really well. We also put a 7 foot high game fence around the male and female yards and put all of our dogs in rows of ten on a 17 foot grid (modeled after T & B Streepers’ dog yard). They are nicely spaced so we can drive down the rows to feed and water which takes a lot of the physical labor out of it. We also have a nice exercise pen, approximately 1 acre in size. We are planning to start building a new house in July and when it is finished, we will finally have room for a handler. AB: So if you have to drive 45 minutes to work, and you start around 8:30 am, what time do you get up?MH: About 6:00 am.AB: So you can deal with the dogs in the morning before you go?MH: Yes, and again at night. AB: That makes for a really, really long day!MH: It does, however I certainly don’t do it all myself. Brooke does an awful lot of it, especially in the summer. She is at home more with the kids and usually has most of the the chores done by the time I get home. Brooke is a full time mom, and as that is a big job in itself so I really do appreciate the time she spends in the kennel. Now that the kids are getting bigger they also help out with a lot of the chores. Their specialty is watering (more gets on them than in the water cans) and socializing puppies.AB: During winter time you are at work for 9 to 10 hours a day, with a long commute each way. When do you have time to train?MH: At night, mostly. During race season, I will try to leave work early on Wednesdays, around three o’clock, so we have a little daylight to work with and of course on the weekends we try to train in the daylight. AB: So you wouldn’t be getting much sleep.MH: Nope! AB: What else are you involved in?MH: Other than the work and the dogs, we have a lot of other activities that we enjoy. Brooke and I play on a co-ed slow-pitch softball team every Monday night. We also have horses. I grew up riding and training quarter horses, a wonderful experience, so we decided that while raising a family we would always have horses. Presently we have 4 horses. We are looking at buying another one this weekend. Noah thinks it should be his since he is the only one that doesn’t have his own horse yet. Both Mya and Elle have their own horses named Roxy and Star, respectively. Noah just turned three and got a riding helmet for his birthday so he has been getting riding lessons. There are 120 miles of trails adjacent to our property that we can go riding on. Our 80 acres is bordered on one side by Elk Island National Park, and on the other side by the Blackfoot Cooking Lake Provincial Recreation Area. The area is designated as a sled dog training and racing area in the winter, and the park rangers groom it with a $200,000 groomer. In the summer it is designated for horseback riding, mountain biking and hiking. It allows us to be really active year round.I also play quite a bit of golf. I try to play 20 to 25 rounds every summer. I recently signed up for a 2-day golf school in Kelowna, British Columbia in July. Hopefully I can lower my handicap a little. We also enjoy camping and try to get away as many weekends as possible while the weather is nice. Also, when summer holidays start we pick one or two things we have never tried before and make it a goal to do them before the summer is over. It was cool last summer, the girls, Mya and Elle, more than anything wanted to see the ocean, they had never seen it. We panned a 4 day trip to Vancouver. We flew there and hung out in Vancouver for a few days. We visited Stanley Park, went to Kitsilano Beach and not only saw, but swam in the ocean. With Noah, every time he saw a helicopter in the sky he would say “Copter, copter, copter!” As a family we went to Canmore and had the chance to charter a helicopter for an hour and saw Canmore, nearby Banff and many beautiful mountains and lakes from the sky. Noah absolutely loved it. This summer the thing they all want to do is to swim with dolphins. As it turns out, Brooke’s sister is getting married in the Mayan Riviera in Mexico. One of the excursions we have booked is swimming with the dolphins. AB: So you guys have an immensly busy life! Are you planning on coming back to Alaska for next season?MH: Yes we are planning on coming back to Alaska next season. Last season was probably the toughest and most humbling year of my life as far as dogs are concerned. We had been steadily improving year after year, and we had some good races with strong finishes and were really start to gel. With a talented group of dogs in our kennel we expected big things. While preparing to come to Alaska things just didn’t come together. Our main leader Wave ate a rock, had surgery and was out for the season. We didn’t end up having enough core dogs to make the team, so we ended up leasing a couple of dogs who didn’t really fit into the program. Other dogs never really compare to the dogs you have raised and trained yourself. Plus, things were busy at work. I could not just neglect my work and career because that is what allows Brooke to stay at home with kids and it is what gives us the ability to have horses and dogs and travel and do the things we like to do. Sometimes I would miss training runs because of meetings at work that would run late. I am not making excuses, but sometimes things don’t work out as planned. When you are racing against professionals like Egil Ellis and the Streepers who commit 100% of their time and effort towards preparing their open teams everything has to come together perfectly in order to be competitive. If you miss a beat you are going to off the pace. We were thinking of not even going to Alaska this past season, but we believe in open class racing and supporting the Open North American so much that we thought it was important to show up with our team and do our best. We ended up learning new things about our team and ourselves and at the end of the day it was really nice to take a month off as a family. Although, when I look back at the race results it still makes me feel sick to my stomach.AB: That has to be a big part of your work as well, the ability to take a month off and spend that time traveling as a family and spending intense family time.MH: Three years ago when we came to Alaska and spent 7 weeks in a motor home, the kids were still really young then and they almost forgot that we had a home that we lived in. They forgot that Daddy had a job and had to go to work. They got so used to us being together all day, everyday. They just loved it. It is really special to be able to do that. It is a balancing act – when I am at home, I do have to log a certain amount of hours at work because I take 4 to 5 weeks off in the winter.AB: Thanks so much for your time Mark, and have a wonderful summer.MH: Thanks Amanda.
Racing in the ACE Race with Tonya Helm On this episode of the Mushing podcast,