Coaching a strong team

Ken Zaba, vice-president of finance and administration for Calgary Sports and Entertainment, talks about corporate culture and how to keep good hires happy.

Q: What is the culture of the finance team at Calgary Sports and Entertainment?

A: Since I got here 16 months ago, we’ve hired 17 or 18 people. I rolled out my expectations to everybody: a focus on other departments as business partners, staying focused on the positive, a collaborative approach to work, commitment to quality of work and staying focused on solutions. We work long hours, but I believe in walking the walk — I’m not going to delegate and disappear at 5 p.m.

Suncor, your former employer, is a large publicly traded company, and now you work for one with private owners. What’s the difference?

If there’s a good idea, it doesn’t take long to get it to the corner office. It’s an incredibly entrepreneurial organization.

Are you a sports fan?

I was on skates when I was 18 months. I’ve known since my early 20s that I wanted to work in this industry. It was not until the wife of an ex-coworker got ill did my eyes open and I thought it’s time to stop talking and do it. I couldn’t have gotten here without a lot of folks along the way. I try to give that leadership back to my team.

Is it hard to attract and retain employees when you’re competing with the oil patch?

We did have some challenges with the more senior roles. You can make some pretty lucrative money in the oil and gas industry when you’ve got 15 to 20-plus years of experience. We offer some unique perks, like a half-set of season tickets to the Flames. On game days, you can watch the energy level in the building grow. It’s electric.

What are your challenges?

Keeping the team I’ve hired. Efficiencies happen after people have been in their roles for a while. I need to make sure they’re engaged and see a future here. We also need to do a lot of process improvement and automation. Not having things automated adds extra workload to the team.


Ken Zaba began his career at PwC. After 14 years, he went to Petro-Canada/Suncor where he held several roles before leaving for the Calgary Zoo. When Calgary Sports and Entertainment came calling 19 months later, he jumped. The company owns many teams, including the Flames and Stampeders.