Mike Klassen, CFIB | BCBusiness
Mike Klassen, director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business, has made a lucrative and dynamic career by putting his money where his mouth is
That Mike Klassen can tell a good story is fitting. Now the B.C. director of provincial affairs for the Canadian Federation of Independent Business (CFIB), the 51-year-old has spent most of his career in communications. So he knows just when to slip in a tantalizing Hollywood hook when talking about his five-year stint at Burnaby’s Electronic Arts in the early ’90s. As we eat, Klassen recounts how, while at E3 (L.A.’s Electronic Entertainment Expo) demonstrating the then-nascent video-game company’s “facial animation” on the basketball players in NBA Live, he saw Steven Spielberg and his children taking a tour. Klassen took a long shot to attract the director’s attention by tapping the shoulder of one of his assistants and inviting them all into his soundproofed booth.
“They walked in and I absolutely panicked,” he recalls. “Somehow I managed to maintain a calm exterior and he and the kids appeared to be impressed with our work. It’s definitely an experience that stuck with me.”
This anecdote also feeds into Klassen’s reputation as an unabashed communicator. Many will know his recent political scoops and skewerings on City Caucus, the popular site that he co-founded in 2008 and ran for three and a half years. Then there was his run, albeit unsuccessful, as an NPA council candidate in 2011. His eclectic resumé also includes presidency of Thinking Cap Inc., his 2001-established social media and communications consulting company, as well as a few years in the film industry in the mid-’80s (where the UBC literature-and-theatre graduate worked as a production assistant on Look Who’s Talking and 21 Jump Street). He also recounts landing his “dream job” staging sound productions at Expo 86 live venues. The East Vancouver native still lives in his boyhood neighbourhood with wife Stacey and their 12-year-old daughter Sophie.
“I might not recommend anybody take my career path,” he quips between bites of curry at the Hyatt’s Mosaic Grille near his downtown office, “but I would have to say I did happen to get on board on some very interesting, leading-edge trends and I’ve never been intimidated by technology. I just jump in and learn it whenever I can.”
An early Twitter adopter, he brings his knowledge of old and new media and politics to represent B.C.’s 10,000 CFIB members (there are 109,000 nationally). Regular issues, he says, include concerns about skills shortages and regulatory red tape.
While Klassen is all “about listening to our members and responding to their needs,” this time it’s achieved with one notable exception to his past modus operandi: being non-partisan. “This is actually one of the most exciting aspects of what I get to do: I get to work with everybody,” he says, noting that this includes Vancouver Mayor Gregor Robertson. “I may have been one of his toughest critics, but I’ve reached out directly to him,” he continues. “There’s an enormous amount of common ground between the people who run cities, the people who work and the people who help to bring in tax money, like small business.”
It will all be fuelled, if Klassen has his way, with great dialogue, a passion of his that segues into life away from the office, too. When he’s not shooting the breeze about his love of Okanagan wines—one of his many proud-of-B.C. passions—the prolific gardener is often tinkering in his yard—and most likely talking to the plants, too.
Mike Klassen's Favourites
1. “For a breakfast meeting or one over coffee, I like to go to JJ Bean (3010 Main St., Vancouver and other locations; jjbeancoffee.com). I like the energy, I like the design of the space and it’s particularly nice sitting out in the summer months, too.”
2. “Being on the rooftop at Lift in Coal Harbour (333 Menchions Mews, Vancouver; liftbarandgrill.com) is brilliant for an eyeful of one of the most beautiful vistas in the world. I’ve been up there over a couple of summers and thought to myself how lucky I am to live here.”
3. “My wife and I like the new Co-Zi café (4376 Fraser St., Vancouver; co-zionfrasercafe.com), which was opened by a member of our neighbourhood. It’s well priced and the dinner features on weekends are always tasty. Best tip? The roast beef sandwich—and bring an appetite.”