September 5, 2014
One of the major benefits for any Queen’s University alum is the life-long friends you meet and keep.
When those friendships also forge a successful business relationship, it is a truly special bond.
That’s the case for Oskar Johansson, Bernard Luttmer and A.J. Keilty, who attended Queen’s in the late ‘90’s and early 2000’s. They roomed together in a house on William Street and later went into the real estate development business forming Podium Developments and Varsity Properties, now part of the team bringing the new University Suites condominiums to the corner of Princess Street and University Avenue.
The three actually met in their mid-teens as competitive sailors on the Ontario Youth Sailing circuit and later decided to attend Queen’s because of its academic reputation and its strong sailing program. It was as members of the Queen’s Sailing Team where they formed a solid friendship.
“We had road trips for 10 or 12 weekends every Fall,” says Bernard. “We spent countless hours in the car competing for Queen’s. We worked very hard together for a common goal and this is where our friendship flourished.” Not only the friendship, but the potential for future success together in business. “Many of our entrepreneurial ideas came about on these road trips,” says Oskar. “Batting around ideas, thinking about new ventures, and building a level of trust among the three of us.”
They and close friend Nathan Cowan, built Queen’s into such a sailing power on the U.S. Collegiate Circuit at one point Queen’s was ranked #1 in North America, the only time in history that a Canadian Team held this honour. Cowan passed away in 2001 and his three friends have remembered him by founding a Memorial Fund in his name that supports a bursary to supply financial aid for sailors attending Queen’s (www.nathancowan.org).
Oskar and Bernard, as members of the Canadian Olympic Sailing Team at the 2004 Athens Olympics, even walked into the Opening Ceremonies carrying a flag with the initials “NC” on it as a tribute to their friend.
Since 1992 there have been 8 QST members who have gone on to represent Canada at the Olympic Games. The pursuit of excellence was a way of life that these grads honed as members of the Queen’s Sailing Team.
The new Kingston condominium project, University Suites, continues to give back to Queen’s as it is now sponsoring the Queen’s Sailing Team and buying them sails for this season and many seasons to come. “We used to take old sails out of the garbage of U.S. schools back in the day because supplies were tight and funding was hard to get. We know first-hand how much support is needed,” says Bernard. “Queen’s and the sport of sailing have provided all of us with a lot of opportunity, and we want to give back.”
Successful sailing means working as a team and unifying individual skills sets so the boat performs as expected. Transferring these lessons to business was crucial in building the success of Podium Developments and Varsity Properties.
“Three skill sets came together very nicely,” says A.J. “We all had an interest in real estate and we each took a role in finance, property management and development to build a great team.”
With the new University Suites condo project only 500 meters from campus, it’s like the school is getting a facelift with higher quality residential living to help attract international students and staff, and adding better quality housing to the entire Kingston community.
“Queen’s culture is unique as most friends stay friends for life and it starts here,” adds A.J. “With this in mind, we have designed University Suites to bring people together. We’ve provided many opportunities for interaction amongst the residents in our building with amenities for everyone.”
With Oskar, Bernard and A.J. forging life-long friendships, turning an idea into a successful business, and returning to Queen’s to make a beneficial impact on the university and its community with University Suites, it’s very clear that Queen’s taught them well.