Leader’s success tied to strong circle of support

Published on February 16, 2021

Brent Hesje receives the Distinguished Friend of the Institute Award

The secret to Fountain Tire CEO Brent Hesje’s success is his strong circle of support. In fact, if he had to choose one piece of career advice to give to NAIT students, it would be to “surround yourself with good people. This includes who you serve, who you coach and your advisors.” That advice has served him throughout his life and career journey.

A dedicated community supporter, Brent credits his inner circle, which includes wife Deb, son Jonathan his wife Maya, and daughter Katherine and her husband Stephan, for being there during critical moments and important decisions over the years.

“Family has always given me a great frame of reference,” he says.

In 1992, one such decision changed the trajectory of the Saskatchewan native’s career when his uncle, Brian Hesje approached Brent about a new opening for a marketing manager at Fountain Tire. Brian was leading the Edmonton-based company through transformational change and asked him to help advance their vision.

At the time, Brent was working in sales management for Procter & Gamble in Calgary and wasn’t completely sold on the idea at first. After some encouragement from Deb and a nudge from Brian, he went for it. And it wasn’t long before the Hesje family established firm roots in Edmonton, a city they’ve called home for 28 years.

The road to success

Deborah and Brent Hesje at an event on NAIT's main campus.Brent has lived almost his entire life near the North Saskatchewan River. (He likes to say he was “born down-river” in Prince Albert, Sask., “raised upriver” in North Battleford and then “landed way upriver” in Edmonton.) Growing up in North Battleford, Brent’s father was a cattle buyer and took great pride in his work.

After high school, Brent took another route. He earned a bachelor of commerce from the University of Saskatchewan before landing a job in sales with Procter & Gamble in Moncton, N.B. Over the years, his job took him across Canada until he settled back west in Calgary.

When Brent joined Fountain Tire in the 1990s, he had extensive experience in sales management – with an ability to sell his ideas to leadership and expand their brand. Over the next 13 years, Brent was instrumental in helping Fountain Tire grow its brand and was promoted to vice-president of marketing. He became CEO in 2005.

Today, Brent continues to lead Fountain Tire’s expansive growth, which now includes 160 stores between British Columbia and Ontario. It has been named one of Deloitte’s Best Managed Companies every year since 1994 and a Platinum Club Member since 2003 (a special accolade for best managed companies). In recognition of his leadership, he was inducted into the Tire Industry Hall of Fame by the Tire Industry Association in 2019.

A generous community supporter

In 2008, Brent became a member of NAIT’s Board of Governors and would later serve a 4-year term as board chair. When he joined the board, Brent knew NAIT was a big supplier of the skilled mechanics employed at Fountain Tire, but over the next decade he started to learn about the institution’s vision to become a leading polytechnic and its impact on Alberta’s workforce.

Brent says he learned a lot about leadership during this discovery.

“To lead with your head, your hands and your heart – that’s how we at Fountain Tire define leadership. And I learned some of that at NAIT,” Brent says. “NAIT is a place that teaches leadership.”

Even after Brent's tenure on the board ended in 2017, he continued to stay connected. He volunteered to serve on a committee of industry leaders providing advice to NAIT Industry Solutions. It was an experience that reinforced how NAIT helps companies innovate and become more productive.

Brent Hesje, a group of students and then-president and CEO Dr. Glenn Feltham stand in front of large building blocks. Brent Hesje (second from right) and Dr. Glenn Feltham (left) launch Essential: The NAIT Campaign in 2014.

“There’s a great entrepreneurial spirit that comes out of NAIT. It’s a place that can help businesses scale up.”

For the love of learning

As chair of Essential: The NAIT Campaign, Brent helped launch the campaign in 2014. With a goal of $100 million, Essential was the largest fundraiser in the institution’s history – one that also coincided with a sharp economic downturn.

Despite those challenges, Brent never lost confidence in NAIT’s ability to meet its goal. That faith in the institution and its value to the community led the Hesje family to personally donate to the campaign. “After talking with my family about how meaningful [our gift] would be to the community, to Canada, and Fountain Tire, it made a lot of sense to make a donation,” he says. (Essential ultimately exceeded its campaign goals and raised more than $125 million.)

The Hesje family’s support of community extends to organizations such as United Way of the Alberta Capital Region and Junior Achievement – both through their personal giving and Fountain Tire’s corporate support.

“Brent puts his heart and soul into everything he does.”

When the Feltham Centre (formerly known as the Centre for Applied Technology) – a 51,000-square-metre (550,000-square-foot) learning facility for NAIT business, health, science and technology programs, was under construction, the Hesjes quickly agreed to lend their support.

“Education is very important to us,” explains Deb, a former teacher. “It’s important to give back – and that’s something that we’ve taught our children.”

For his volunteerism and the family’s contributions over the past decade, Brent was named the 2020 Distinguished Friend of the Institute at NAIT.

“Brent puts his heart and soul into everything he does,” Deb says proudly of her husband of 35 years. “He doesn’t do things because of the accolades and praise. He does it because it’s the right thing to do.”

The Hesje family (from left to right): Jonathan and Maya, Brent and Deborah, Katherine and Stephan The Hesje family (from left to right): Jonathan and Maya, Brent and Deborah, Katherine and Stephan

Community support

Brent Hesje supports a variety of community initiatives, including

  • Board member, Edmonton Football Club, the Canadian Brewhouse, ONEC Construction, and Great Western Brewing Company
  • Past chair of the Automotive Industry Association of Canada
  • Former chair of the board of directors of the YPO Alberta Saskatchewan Chapter
  • Former chair of the Western Canada Tire Dealers
  • Former cabinet member of the United Way of the Alberta Capital Region
  • Recipient of Northern Lights Award of Distinction, Edmonton Chamber of Commerce