A man standing next to a chair in a room.

Former NAIT boss making his name in furniture

Published On
July 19, 2019
Former NAIT President Sam Shaw is applying his educational acumen to the furniture business. GRAHAM HICKS/EDMONTON SUN

The Energizer Bunny is back.

Sam Shaw made quite the name for himself and NAIT (Northern Alberta Institute of Technology) when he headed up the educational institution for 13 years, from 1997 to 2010.

He was here, there and everywhere – running and modernizing Alberta’s biggest post-secondary school,  chairing the city’s United Way campaign, being honourary colonel of the CFB Edmonton’s 408 Tactical Helicopter Squadron, chairing this committee, that committee, fund-raising for worthy causes.

His imprint on the community was such that in 2004, Venture business magazine named him Alberta’s Business Person of the Year.

Fast-forward nine years:  Shaw had moved his family to Calgary after his NAIT days, where he was vice president of policy development with the Encana energy company.

But he now holds dual-city citizenship, for in early 2017, he and his son Clayton purchased Edmonton-based Allwest Furnishings. He’s usually in Edmonton four days a week.

Both are actively running the well-known furnishing company, Sam as owner and board chair.

“I’ve always loved business,” says Sam, as effervescent as ever. “I love finding solutions, changing the way we work, creating quality-rich environments in which employees can flourish.”

The opportunity fell into Sam’s lap. He’d been as busy as ever – Encana for three years, setting up colleges in the United Arab Emirates, testing political waters, building indigenous educational opportunities through Yellowhead Tribal College.

Out of the blue, previous Allwest owner Colin Eichart approached him. “Colin was ready to fully retire. He came to me and said, ‘I want to sell Allwest to you.”

After a career of  training/educating students for business, Shaw plunged into business itself. No steady pay cheque and guaranteed benefits here. He used his own savings to finance  the hefty purchase.

“It’s been great,” says Sam, “There’s so much room for creativity. And in my wildest dreams, I never thought I’d be working side by side with my son and daughter.” (Shaw has a side company with his  daughter Robyn Shaw-Silva. TGIM The Monday Club delivers fun desk-top accessories to subscribers on a monthly basis.)

What else would you expect Sam to say?

He is the ultimate optimist. If a mountain of dung was dumped on his driveway, Shaw would figure out how to transform it into compost, into an insect farm for protein powder, into a training centre for poop-to-nutrient conversion, all the while spouting aphorisms such as “Gratitude is riches. Complaint is poverty.”

Having purchased Allwest, Sam & son sprang into action.

The website has been re-designed, the name changed from Allwest Commercial Furnishings to Allwest Furnishings. Visuals, aesthetics, vibes, colours – all aligned to reflect Allwest’s new motto, “We change the way people work.”

A major contract – office  furnishings and solutions for Stantec Engineering’s multiple floors in the new Stantec Tower – was followed by a global deal between Stantec and Allwest’s chief supplier, Canadian furniture manufacturer Teknion, to provide furnishings for Stantec’s 400 offices world-wide.

Ever the thinker, Shaw sees Allwest’s holistic approach opening doors in both the education and extended-care spheres. “What better way to impact learning than providing chairs that feel good to sit in, or maker-stations that truly benefit students?  In extended health care, great chairs are crucial.

“It’s so much more than products,” says Sam. “It’s about a philosophy, ergonomics, organizational behavior, sophisticated technology, well-trained staff.

“It’s about wellness. Through lighting, colours, air quality, physical lay-outs, creating a state-of-mind that ensures maximum productivity.  Lower the friction!”

But Sam, with the four-year-long slump in the Alberta economy, hasn’t it been a slog?

“The economy is what it is,” he says.  “If the cup’s half-full … fill it up!  It’s not the size of the revenue coming in today, it’s the size of the opportunities we need to pursue.”

Sam Shaw may be back, in business this time. But he’s still an educator at heart. I’d argue he is using Allwest as a unique, for-profit,  behavior-enhancement laboratory.

Will his advanced ideas on creating “wellness” work environments  pan out? In the cold hard realities of business, will the added productivity per employee offset the costs of an all-inclusive work environment?

Kudos to Shaw. Through Allwest, he is putting his money firmly behind his ideas.