By Andrew Macdonald
After 12 years, Peter Spurway has transitioned out of his PR job at Halifax International Airport Authority, but he has not retired.
Since 2006, he was the airport’s VP for corporate communications, sitting on the airport’s executive management team. Last June, Spurway went part-time at the airport before leaving at the end of December.The 67-year-old is now toiling with Frank Gallant’s Peak Experiences Consulting. They have a storefront operation at Purdy’s Wharf, while company founder Gallant, who began the firm 25 years ago, lives in Antigonish with his wife, Heather Mayhew.
The third principal of the firm is David Garner, a Halifax resident.
“Conversations which have developed between Frank and myself came out of the airport work on the ‘Stanfield Way’, creating a culture of service in the airport community,” says Spurway.
“After I made my decision to leave the airport at the end of 2017, I wanted other things in my life to do. I am 67 years old so I could afford the time to go off and pursue things I wanted that are important to me, and it seemed to be a nice conversion of ideas when I talked to Frank for awhile,” Spurway tells The Macdonald Notebook.
Gallant worked in leadership development prior to founding Peak, while Spurway brings his impeccable art of communication to the firm.
“The basis of the practice is the relationship we see between leadership — leadership and organizations — and the culture that those leaders create and the performance of those organizations,” adds Spurway.
“We look at leadership; it creates culture and culture drives performance. So we talk a lot about that relationship between leadership, culture and performance.”
Gallant brings his knowledge of leadership to analyze leadership.
“Frank has the ability to assess the culture in an organizational setting. You look at the culture we have now and this is the ideal culture (for a company) over there. How do you get from A to B. And it usually comes back to the leaders and their value and the attitudes they bring to the work,” says Spurway.
Spurway is not on a salary and gets paid via project works.
“Generating business is one part (of the work) and then there is the actual delivery of contracts. That’s the arrangement,” Spurway tells The Macdonald Notebook.
A mutual friend, Kevin MacIntyre at the Greater Halifax Partnership put Spurway in touch with Gallant.
“Frank and I started off having very casual conversations about culture and discussions of our city, our province and the region, and what some of the barriers that we see to moving forward in our region.”
Spurway has a home office in Lawrencetown Beach.
“It’s a very different arrangement. I spent 40-plus years in the regular corporate world where you got up in the morning and went to an office and you did work, and then you went home five days a week or sometimes more,” he observes.
“Now I have the freedom and the luxury to be able to choose when I work, how hard I work, when I get involved with a project or don’t get involved with a project.
“I must say the part I like the most, there are seven days in a week and 24 hours in a day, and I can set my own work now,” he says. “I am a very creative person, very interested in ideas, leadership, and creativity does not follow 8 a.m. to 5 a.m., Monday to Friday.
“You need to create an atmosphere in which ideas are welcomed seven days a week.”
He didn’t bring new clients to Peak Experience, but living in Halifax since 1981, he brings a strong Rolodex.
“One of the things I am proud of is when I look at my Rolodex — electronic or otherwise — I enjoy the terrific diversity within the network I know. There are hundreds and hundreds of people in there with significant diversity and perspectives, and I find that really interesting,” he says.
“I go out of my way to try to connect with them and get a feel of what is going on in their world, and get a feel for what is going on in our city and our province.
“I am developing some contacts and consulting clients and I continue to talk with various people.”
The seasoned communications expert was recently named as Nova Scotia Communicator of the Year by the Canadian Public Relations Society, and is also a new author, writing Peter Spurway’s Practical, Powerful and Effective Guide to Media Relations.
The book, published by Xlibris Press, is available now on Amazon.ca
“I have a lot of stories to tell,” he says of his next book, which has a working title “So There I Was,” which covers his days as a radio reporter, government spokesman, and as media director for former premier John Hamm, plus his dozen years at the airport.
The coming book offers “a look behind the scenes as some events I’ve been lucky enough to see up close, from politics (elections, budgets, cabinet shuffles) to sport (the Olympic Games, World Series, Stanley Cup finals), to teaching, and radio,” says Spurway.
He says his life in the media and other areas as a PR communicator has left him with a myriad of stories on the art of communicating.
“Writing is easy, good writing is difficult, so one day I googled how to write a book. And I looked at the top five articles and the thing in common was to write what you know.
“So I began to write about media relations, things that I learned over the last 30-plus years.”
A former John Hamm communicator during that government regime, Spurway has always run a media-friendly department.
He’s a former radio reporter who worked in various stations across the Maritimes, from 1975 when he helped found CIGO with Gerry Doucet in Port Hawkesbury, to 1987 when he worked in Halifax radio stations.
His open door policy to the media, “goes back to the 12 years I spent in radio. Reporters have a job to do. If an organization is immediately defensive with the media, you can create a situation where there are great opportunities missed.”
He is proud of his efforts during a dozen years at the airport authority, and educating journalists on the operations of the airport.
“That pays off over time because, as someone who use to ask questions and that is now asked questions, those questions which are difficult to answer are the ones based in a lack of understanding.”
Among his achievements at Halifax Stanfield International Airport was creating and implementing the airport authority’s service culture development program in 2012, called the The Stanfield Way, which saw nearly 1,000 airport employees graduated from the program over the past five years.
There are 5,500 people working around the airport in Enfield.
“My focus for the next 10 years will be on organizational culture and leadership performance,” he says. That is based on his creation of The Stanfield Way, which has “really become pervasive for the culture of our airport,” and is designed to create “happy, helpful, courtesy, caring and kind” employees.
“When I look back at the contributions at the airport, that is probably the biggest legacy piece that I am very proud to be associated with.”
Another legacy was directly negotiating with food concession operations, including at one time signing a Chickenburger outlet, as well as Starbucks and Booster Juice.
“This was an assignment I got from Tom Ruth, our previous CEO from 2008 to 2013. It was fun, and interesting and we had a chance to make more revenue for the airport.”
He credits his wife Nancy for coming up with the idea of a Chickenburger outlet, because the airport authority was interested in local businesses.
“I said, ‘Nancy you’re absolutely right’, so I phoned Mickey MacDonald and he came out and I pointed to the space in the food court, ‘Mickey, just imagine the Chickenburger right there’.”
MacDonald then negotiated the franchise agreement with HMS Host, a global eatery company operating in hundreds of airports, including Stanfield.
In the end, however, Chickenburger closed out its airport operation.
Spurway joined the workforce in 1972, spending two years as a teacher of English and physical education in Prince Edward Island and his native Fredericton.
“I taught school when jobs were very difficult to get,” he tells The Macdonald Notebook. “I enjoyed teaching very much, but I did not enjoy trying to maintain a classroom. It stopped being fun.”
So, in 1975 he took a radio job in Nova Scotia’s Strait area.
“I have three criteria in life. The first one is to have fun and enjoy what you do because some day you’ll be dead. If you are going to be around here for 60 to 90 years, then you should enjoy yourself.
“The second thing is to make money. You don’t need to make a lot of money, but you need to make enough money in your life. And the third criteria is to give back to the community and to the people that have helped you because no one gets it on their own.
“If you do those three things, I think you’ll be okay.”
He says he had a lot of fun pioneering radio stations in Port Hawkesbury and Fredericton before ending that career in 1987.
“Radio got tired of me about the same time I got tired of it,” he recalls, saying radio operations became more corporate and the creative freedom disappeared.
“When I arrived in Halifax in 1981, there were 11 people in the CHNS-CHFX newsroom. We had a legislative reporter, we had a City Hall reporter, we generated a lot of stories. (Owners now) don’t make that investment any more.”
He moved on to join John Buchanan’s cabinet minister Tom McInnis as executive assistant, and later took government PR jobs, including at the Justice department when the Donald Marshall inquiry was taking hold.