Likely only once in a career is one fortunate enough to come across a man like Sylvan Swanberg.
Over 50 years, Sylvan built Swanberg Bros Trucking Ltd into a highly successful and respected trucking business moving mainly oil and gas drilling equipment in western Canada. Sylvan had many great and profitable years with Swanberg Bros Trucking Ltd and I am sure some very difficult ones that I never saw.
Sylvan was a quiet leader and an intense listener. He would listen way more then he would talk - a quality many of us should emulate. He had a very devious type of laugh and a great sense of humor. Sylvan would often sign company cheques "Mickey Mouse" just to check up on the bank processes. He loved to talk business, investing and airplanes. I was fortunate enough to be part of some of those discussions and thus a large beneficiary of his many insights. One had to listen closely to Sylvan however. He did not pound his chest. Rather, his words were calm and indirect - but meaningful if you listened.
Sylvan gave our firm and I the opportunity to first work with his businesses approximately eight years ago. Over that time, I got to know intimately the businesses operated by the Swanbergs. However, I got way more out of this than just a business relationship. I got to know Sylvan personally - what a tremendous experience that was. I learned many things from Sylvan - about running a business, about respect, about strategy - things I could have never learned to this extent in school. Mostly though, I learned the true value of experience and the respect that should command.
In 2006, Sylvan and his family sold the trucking business. Did I see a change in Sylvan after selling for a substantial amount of money? No, not one iota. I suppose many people change attitudes and style after the big sale, but in my view Sylvan remained pretty much the same man I met in 2003. He still drove the same truck, had the same house, same friends and same friendly demeanor.
I walked into restaurants in Grande Prairie with Sylvan on many occasions - everyone knew him - patrons and staff. I felt like royalty with him. I had the opportunity a couple of years ago to attend Sylvan's 75th birthday party in Grande Prairie. As expected, there was a huge turn out to celebrate the occasion. He was almost embarrassed by the attention placed on him. But again, all signs of the type of man Sylvan was.
You would never have known what Sylvan had created over 50 years in business. He wouldn't tell you. The wealth he created for his family and many others fortunate to be associated with him. The jobs he created which allowed many to be productive and feed their families.
Sylvan always treated me with respect. He listened to what I said as an advisor. But he also questioned what I said and provided alternative viewpoints. He would also always asked how both my family and business were doing. I don't believe there are enough flattering words to describe how I feel about Sylvan. Honesty, integrity, humility, patience (to a fault), trusting, fair, generous are but a few that come to mind.
Sylvan tragically passed away on April 10, 2011. While I can only imagine how his wife and family have suffered over the loss of their father, I too, am feeling a void. I was extremely fortunate to have met Sylvan Swanberg. His decency, integrity, intelligence and trust are a model. If he was embarrassed by the attendance at his 75th birthday, he would have been every sheet of red as a result of the thousand plus people who attended his funeral.
He will be sorely missed by myself and many.
Brian D. McGill