Bill Knight. You probably know that name. He made a name for himself by creating one of the largest demolition companies in Western Canada. Now he’s given up that company to help entrepreneurs realize their dreams. Taking the “been there, done that” perspective, Knight understands entrepreneurs because he is one. He knows the struggle, the hustle, and the fact that even great success and realizing your dream never negates the volume of hard work it takes to keep a company afloat. Knight is also passionate about philanthropy, knowing that the more you give, the more you get out of life.
These days, Knight is no longer tearing things down for a living. He’s spending all of his time building things up.
“In the fall of 1989, I took a job as a labourer for a demolition company here in Edmonton for the sole purpose of making enough money to buy a plane ticket back to Ontario,” Knight reminisces. “It was a very seasonal company, and as a result, I had to take other odd jobs as well. I sold pagers, vacuum cleaners door-to-door, and even did some framing work. Something, however, always took me back into the demolition industry.”
He never did get that plane ticket back to Ontario.
“In 1999, I opened B&B Demolition. I recognized an opportunity for a specialized interior demolition contractor and I seized it. Through the years, I have had other opportunities to own and invest in a garbage company, a trucking company, a construction company, and even a few nightclubs. I’ve also owned some multifamily properties in Alberta and Saskatchewan. Because of my varied experience, I have a unique understanding of entrepreneurs and the challenges they face.
“Nobody talks about the downside of being an entrepreneur in a busy Alberta economy. Labour shortages, finding qualified people, having so much work it’s hard to complete on time to the standard of excellence you are known for, and the stresses that are put on the team members and families.
“Three Knights Investments seemed like the next natural progression for me, as it allows me to leverage my skills and work with passionate individuals that I can help on their journey to success.”
Three Knights Investments Inc. is a company that invests in and mentors entrepreneurs. Founded by Bill Knight and co-run by his wife Grace and his son Steven, the trio focus first on the growth and development of the people they help, and secondly on their financial investors. The company recognizes value where value is commonly overlooked and places a strong emphasis on businesses that are run by strong, passionate, educated entrepreneurs with viable dreams and realistic outlooks.
“As the leader of the B&B Demolition team, I felt constant pressure to do better for them and for my own family,” Knight explains of his time as an entrepreneur in the Capital City. “The workday never ended for me; it was always a 24/7 pressure that eventually took all the fuel I had left in the tank. I was in the worst health, mentally and physically, that I’d ever been in. I had no life/work balance and I knew something significant had to change. My passion was, and has always been, to help people, and unfortunately, I was just too burnt out to do that at B&B.
“I founded Three Knights Investments because I wanted to focus on my passion again. I want to share my experience and knowledge to help others avoid the burnout that I’ve experienced. I want entrepreneurs to succeed in realizing their dreams before they become as exhausted as I was.”
Looking back, Knight didn’t realize this was where he would wind up after he launched his own demolition company. Like so many business owners, his primary goal was to sustain himself and his family.
“I started B&B Demolition to pay off my $100,000.00 mortgage on my $110,000.00 house. I’ve always been a hard worker, but I just took one step at a time. Before I knew it, I was here in this place. I never looked this far; I looked directly in front of me, but never ahead. I’ve been so blessed with such good fortune.”
Knight reflects on the mission and values of his new company, and on why it’s so important for Edmonton.
“Three Knights Investments Inc. is a growth capital firm that is focused on assisting entrepreneurs through mentorship, financing, and strategic planning,” he says. “We are a team of individuals that leverages each other’s strengths and experiences to develop entrepreneurs and their businesses through their next stages of growth. Our goal is to assist entrepreneurs in realizing their dreams.
“I believe we have challenging economic times in Edmonton right now, and entrepreneurs need more help than ever. There is a lot of talk, but very little action in directly supporting curious and innovative people. I am lucky enough to have the experience of running businesses through the 2008 recession, along with other downturns in the economy, and I was able to successfully guide multiple companies through those times while adding both growth and profit. By sharing my experiences and knowledge with others, the entrepreneurs we work with will be able to grow and succeed, adding an economic benefit to local families. Strong communities build strong countries.
“I believe, everywhere else in the world, there is six degrees of separation among people, but in Edmonton there are only two. It is always easy to connect with people because of that. Edmonton has always been a community of success, and the city has a very generous attitude towards entrepreneurs and those who want to support the community philanthropically. People in Edmonton are giving and supportive. We always rise to the challenge to help others in need. No matter where I am in the world, I am proud to say that I am from Edmonton.”
Going from a field-based career to an office-based one, however, is not without its challenges. Knight explains, “There is a big transition moving from a company the size of B&B Demolition to the size of Three Knights Investments. The most challenging thing for me is taking a step back and realizing that it’s a start-up at times. The most important piece is to celebrate the small victories.”
Setting up any type of company is hard work, but there are many things about Three Knights Investments that Knight treasures. “Working with my son Steven, and helping companies grow,” he cites as two reasons, in addition to, “knowing that we are providing a stable employment base for team members to provide for their families, and mentoring entrepreneurs who are chasing their dreams.”
“It’s fulfilling,” he continues. “I’ve learnt more from my failures than I have from my successes. If I can prevent that one mistake from happening to someone else, it’s a great feeling.”
As a long-term and successful entrepreneur, Knight has valuable information, based on his own experiences, for those thinking about starting their own companies, and for those questioning how to lead and develop their existing teams.
“Leadership is more about providing a vision and motivation than it is about being right all the time,” he counsels. “It’s okay to not have all the answers, but leaders must develop excellent teams, and empower them to reach their full potential. By rolling up our sleeves up and jumping in the trenches, leaders can find solutions to the most complex challenges in collaboration with their teams.”
“I’ve always believed in the power of a team. Whether it’s midnight and we’ve just hit a sprinkler head in West Edmonton Mall and it’s all hands on deck, or it’s doing charity work like being a team delivering toys for Santa’s Anonymous, the power of a great team can make anything possible. It’s very rewarding to be part of one, and to help one grow.”
He warns that entrepreneurship is never easy. The most consistent complaint across business owners with companies of all sizes is the very elusive balance between satisfying the needs of yourself, your family, and your company.
“Unfortunately, I was late to the game on this one,” Knight admits in trying to find his own work/life balance. “In the last five years, I’ve had no work/life balance. I was always at work, even when I should have been focused on my family. I have learnt it is necessary to find that balance early in your career. It’s important to set the phone down, turn off the emails, and be present. Find things outside of work that get you just as engaged, and make time for them early.”
These days, Knight keeps things in balance by making sure he’s as engaged in the things he loves, as much as he’s engaged in running Three Knights Investments. He loves to fill up a backpack and go hiking in the desert or mountains, unplugged and far away from the bustle of the city and its distractions. He loves to travel and explore new places. However, you won’t find him skydiving or zip lining! “I am extremely afraid of heights,” he admits a little sheepishly.
In every iteration of his life, Knight has focused on giving back.
“Edmonton has so many great charities, and it’s hard to choose just one, but I’d have to say The Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree Foundation really stands out the most for me. It is a grassroots organization that we’ve had the privilege of supporting since John Cameron Entertainment resurrected it. To date, Cameron and his team have given back $700,000.00 in donations to Edmonton charities.”
Each year, The Edmonton Singing Christmas Tree Foundation features a 35-foot choir tree that sings as ballerinas delight, acrobats tumble, a live orchestra plays, and soloists thrill. The breathtaking performance is a great kick-off to the holiday season, and all of the net proceeds from the show are donated to local charities, organizations and children in need through gifts, food, and music education. This is just one of the types of non-profit organizations that Knight is pleased to support.
Knight is also quick to recognize the support he has received from others, knowing that behind every great entrepreneur stands those that help them along their journey.
“There are so many people to acknowledge because I believe everyone I meet is in my life for a specific purpose,” Knight says humbly. “The ones that stand out the most are: my son Steven. I love to work with him. He is wise beyond his years. My wife Grace. She has the ability to make me look at situations differently (I tend to have tunnel vision). Jeff Sheckter, for showing me there are 100 ways to make a deal. Carmelo and Stella Rago, for showing me the importance of philanthropy; and the Entrepreneurs’ Organization Edmonton, for mentorship and friendship.”
Knight is enjoying the evolution of his career and his ability to help emerging entrepreneurs realize their dreams. So what comes next for this Edmonton businessman and philanthropist? As it turns out, there are many more exciting things in his future.
“For Three Knights Investments, we would like to continue to have 2-4 new partnerships per year,” smiles Knight. “For me personally, I am running in Ward 6 this October, and plan to help make Edmonton the best city in the country to live, raise a family, and do business.”
Some people are content to dream about what they want to do with their lives, but for people like Bill Knight, they realize their dreams, then help others make their dreams come true as well, all while supporting the community that launched their career. As Knight can attest, it makes for a truly happy, satisfying, and rewarding way of life.