Insurance mogul ensuring future of skiing World Cup
David Parker
Calgary Herald

June 4, 2005

Not being a skier, I was surprised to get an invitation to a breakfast hosted by Ken Hughes in support of the 2005 Cross Country World Cup. But it was a chance to catch up with him, as I hadn't talked with him since he formed Alpine Insurance & Financial, and to find out his interest in the sport.

He is a good marketer, and with an office in Canmore he sees the race as a good promotion. And he does have a passion for the sport that he says he has been a participant in since his teenage years -- enough that he completed 24 kilometres in the Kananaskis ski marathon.

Hughes was born on the family ranch in the Longview area, a fourth generation Albertan. He's spent a fair bit of time away from the province though, first to the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University where he earned a masters in public administration. A two-year program, it was chosen for its flexibility that allowed him to pursue public policy and corporate finance.

Returning to Calgary, he spent three years with Bow Valley Industries as executive assistant to Gerry Maier, and then moved to Ottawa as senior advisor with Joe Clark in Foreign Affairs.

Then it was back to Alberta to run for office himself. He was elected to represent Macleod in the federal government. His campaign manager was Scott Tannas, and when he left politics in 1993, Hughes took consulting assignments while also investing in small companies. He later joined Hi-Alta Capital, the company Tannas had formed in High River.

Hughes was an independent director of the firm but as it grew dramatically within the insurance and real estate/travel sectors he resigned to allow room on the board for new investors.

Now called Western Financial Group, Tannas has stuck to his focus on secondary markets. Hughes, along with his wife, Denise Savage-Hughes, decided to start their own insurance brokerage concentrating on the economic heartland of Alberta. Four years ago they purchased Alpine Insurance in Canmore from Tannas in partnership with Terry Reader, a resident and businesswoman there.

The next expansion took Alpine into Red Deer, Edmonton and Lethbridge, and last month acquired Benefit Insurance in Kensington, to secure one in Calgary.

Already it is a $23-million annual business and ranked in the top-40 in Canada -- a remarkable achievement in four short years.

Owning a company in Canmore and knowing a lot of people there got Hughes introduced to the planning for the World Cup and he was soon a member of the organizing committee. He sponsored the Calgary breakfast to introduce the event to prospective sponsors. It certainly looks like a great opportunity.

The provincial government is spending $16 million to upgrade the Nordic Centre to meet today's standards, which have made the sport a much better spectator event.

The Canadian TV audience is expected to be 700,000 while globally, 70 million will view the event. At the December event they will also enjoy a Calgary Stampede rodeo that should do wonders for our tourism industry.

Hughes also promotes the sport as one that can be enjoyed for a lifetime, and sees the World Cup as a means of encouraging youngsters to set their sights on international racing.

Business and volunteer boards take a lot of Hughes' time but he's made a personal commitment to participate in corporate governance, and last week graduated from a Corporate Governance College program of the Institute of Corporate Directors. He currently sits on the boards of Wenzel Downhole Tool and Sterling Leaf Income Trust.