Stan Grad succeeded in the oil industry and also founded a purebred operation that developed its own composite breed
Stan Grad is a modest man who credits most of his success in business to a host of friends and mentors.
This fall, the Alberta rancher and oilman is receiving the Alberta Order of Excellence, the highest honour the province can bestow on a citizen.
The owner and founder of Soderglen Ranches, Canada’s largest purebred operation, had humble beginnings.
He was born in Vancouver in 1944, but the family moved to Alberta and he grew up on the northwest side of Calgary before the city sprawled into the countryside and displaced the nearby farms and dairies.
His father owned a motel where Grad and his sister helped, but the summers were spent working on a local dairy farm where he came to love cows and farming.
“I was so engrossed in the cattle business because as a young boy working on a dairy farm, I loved cattle. I was so keen and I had a reasonable eye for cattle,” he said.
“If I would have had the opportunity to go more into the ranching world, I am sure my life would have been different.”
Instead, he enrolled at the Southern Alberta Institute of Technology and earned a diploma in petroleum technology before obtaining a petroleum engineering degree from the University of Wyoming.
His career in the energy business took him around the world. He is still active in the business and is a partner in Canyon Technical Services, Canada’s third largest hydraulic fracturing company.
Grad once served as president and chief executive officer of the Grad and Walker Energy Corp., which he founded with his partner, Willard Walker, a co-founder of Walmart.
The company was sold to Crestar Energy in 1997, and Grad later co-founded additional oil and gas initiatives.
However, oil wasn’t his only interest.
In 1972 he bought a quarter section of land near Airdrie, Alta., which eventually became the home base for Soderglen Ranches. The operation, which runs a breeding herd of 2,600 females, encompasses 22,500 acres on sites northwest of Airdrie, southwest of Fort Macleod and southeast of Cardston.
He relied on mentors and partners in those early days such as Walker, oilman and Charolais breeder Harvey Trimble and John Draper from Bar 5 Simmentals.
Grad started with Simmentals and worked with seven partners. Investments in cattle could be written off for tax purposes at that time, so there were plenty of investors willing to take a chance.
“I was lucky enough to be in the right place at the right time, as were a lot of people. The difference for me was I started with Simmental,” he said.
He and his wife, Jane, live at the Airdrie ranch.
Working with partners Scott and Elan Lees, the ranches at Airdrie, Fort Macleod and Cardston expanded to include Charolais, Simmental, Red and Black Angus and their own composite breed, the Red and Black Max line.
That line of cattle has been among their most successful among buyers in Western Canada, but it took time to create a hybrid that offered growth, consistency and most importantly, calving ease.
“It wasn’t anything magical. We just thought it was a better way. There was a lot of learning and there were a lot of culls. We learned the hard way,” he said.
Grad was a founding member of the Calgary Stampede Foundation, served on the board of governors of Mount Royal College and was a director and chair of the Alberta Shock Trauma Air Rescue Society (STARS) for 14 years.
He was also a director with the Alberta Nature Conservancy Board, which reflected his involvement with Ducks Unlimited, Delta Water Fowl, Pheasants Forever and the Safari Club International.
SAIT awarded him with an honorary bachelor of applied technology degree, and he donated $7 million to the school’s capital campaign.
In 2012, he was selected as one of four laureates to be inducted into the Calgary Business Hall of Fame by Junior Achievement.