Steve Stipsits is not your ordinary builder. The president of Branthaven Homes has skied to the North and South Poles, walked a mile in stilettos and funded the $400,000 renovation of Hamilton’s YWCA transitional living spaces — all in the name of charity. With numerous projects underway in the GTA, Stipsits took the time to chat with us about giving back and what buyers can expect from the Branthaven brand.
Steve Stipsits: My parents taught me the value of hard work, fairness and generosity. I learned a lot from watching how they lived and worked. I was definitely taught by example. My father taught me that nothing worthwhile is attained without effort. He said excellence can’t be achieved without persistence, and he told me you need a team to truly achieve all your goals.
BBH: Did you always know you wanted to follow in their footsteps?
SS: While growing up, everyone said I should be a lawyer because I talk so much. We grew up as part of a team working hard together. From as young as I can remember, my Dad took me to the jobsite to pick up and burn wood scraps. From age 12, I worked on either the farm or the jobsite, before and after school, every weekend and all summer. I remember being soaking wet and covered head to toe with mud at 8 at night, outside, pouring a footing because it had to get done.
BBH: What’s it like to work in a family-run business? What are the benefits?
SS: I run a business making homes for families and it’s truly a blessing that I could start doing that with my parents and with my sister Andrea 28 years ago. It’s wonderful that my sister Heidi joined us 5 years ago and my wife Elizabeth has been guiding all of our marketing efforts for the last 16 years. So it really is all in the family, and family means everything to me.
BBH: You’ve skied to the North and South Pole to raise money for children’s charities — which expedition was more grueling and why? How much money was raised and where did you donate it?
SS: Although my teammates would most likely disagree, for me, the South Pole was the most difficult. The altitude was a challenge, and it was an exercise involving mind blowing monotony.
The North Pole was also very difficult. To get there we had to cross the most inhospitable terrain on earth, while lugging hundred pound sledges in sub-zero conditions. It was very damp and wet. Our goal was approximately one hundred and ten kilometers away. Finally, after fourteen days and nights, we made it.
Through the treks to both Poles, my teammates and I were able to donate over a million dollars to inner city charities, focused on helping underprivileged kids. We’re extremely grateful to everyone who helped make it happen.
BBH: What’s the craziest thing that happened to you and your team during the expeditions?
SS: My very first night of winter camping in my life was on the polar ice cap in the Arctic Ocean. It was after a day of skiing hard toward the North Pole. After a few hours of melting snow for water and cooking, my tent mate Fred Losani said, and I paraphrase, “Something has to be wrong with this thing take a look.” His GPS showed that we were travelling at 0.7km/hour due south… while sitting in our tent. That’s 17 kilometres a day. The most we hoped to travel in a day as the crow flies was 19 kilometres. So after three days of slugging it out, we had gone 8 kilometres and we still had 100 kilometres to go, with food for only seven more days. We were on the world’s biggest treadmill. Each day, every few minutes we dealt with another obstacle such as crossing open water by sled bridge, or skiing across ice less than an inch thick, or the endless almost impassable pressure ridges and threat of polar bears.
BBH: Recently, Branthaven took part in the rejuvenation of the YWCA Hamilton. Tell us about this initiative.
SS: Last spring, I was introduced to the “Walk a Mile in Her Shoes” event to benefit the YWCA’s transitions for living program. Around the same time, my wife Elizabeth saw a segment on the CHCH evening news in which some of the women taking part in the program shared their experiences and all of the good that was coming from it. We agreed immediately that we should get behind this. While taking part in the walk, I was asked if I could come and see the facility and make any recommendations or give advice on how to go forward.
After familiarizing myself with the proposed renovation and rejuvenation project, I figured the obvious fit for us was in the construction side of things, where we could leverage our know-how and our contacts in the industry.
We made a commitment to the Y that we would complete the job entirely without them having to raise any funds. With the help of our labourers and suppliers, we donated our time and money to the $400,000 rejuvenation project, which has breathed new life into YWCA Hamilton’s 40-year-old residence. Each room received a fresh coat of paint, new flooring, blinds, a bar fridge, an accent chair and a new bed with fresh linens and pillows. Improvements were also made to the building’s wooden wardrobes, two kitchens and common spaces. The total cost to the YWCA was $0.
BBH: Let’s talk about your newest master-planned community, Oakvillage — what are the lifestyle benefits of living there?
SS: Located at Dundas Street East and Trafalgar Road, Oakvillage is on the edge of everything and is the beginning of a new era of housing in the Oakville market.
From recreation to diverse urban amenities, everything your family needs is close to home. The North Park development, centred on the Sixteen Mile Sports Complex nearby, has three NHL-size ice pads, an Olympic-size ice rink and other facilities. Oakville Place mall is just a short drive away and is scheduled to undergo a major renovation beginning this year. The new Oakville Hospital, a state-of-the-art health sciences facility, will also open later this year. Families will appreciate the great selection of reputed public and private schools, libraries and community centres close by. Plus, with plans for the expansion of the transit system right outside your front door, getting around the GTA is worry-free.
BBH: Your Fresh Thinking™ features come standard with every home. Name your top three favourite upgraded living features.
SS: There are so many great features that come standard in our Fresh Thinking™ package. It really is hard to choose just three, but a few that come to mind are the upgraded, luxury kitchen and bathroom fixtures — they really add a touch of class to each project. There’s also the tablet mounts that can be used in the kitchen to hold your iPad while you read recipes, watch a movie while you cook or listen to your favourite music. The touchscreen deadbolts are also a great touch for those on-the-go, you’ll never have to worry about forgetting your keys again!
BBH: Townhomes can sometimes feel a little cookie-cutter. In what ways do you allow buyers to customize their homes?
SS: Our Design Centre offers a wealth of choice for every homeowner. With over 50 standard floor tiles and 100+ cabinetry choices in every style from traditional to modern, we are able to meet the discerning tastes of today’s homeowner at every price point. When a homeowner purchasers one of our homes, they are assigned to a dedicated Design Consultant who will meet with them at least twice and assist them in putting together a design that is completely customized to their lifestyle and taste. Custom cabinetry, storage solutions and our built-in “Fresh Thinking” features help maximize space and offer great solutions to common design issues faced in production housing. We also work hard on the exterior architecture to create varied elevations and superior material selection, paired with designer-selected exterior colour packages.
BBH: We know Jazz broke ground just a couple months ago. How is construction progressing so far?
SS: I am proud to say that the Jazz project is ahead of schedule and things are progressing very well. We expect closings next June.
BBH: What does Branthaven have coming down the pipeline? Any interesting new endeavours you can share with us?
SS: We launched two very exciting projects this summer. In July we launched our Pure site in Milton and in August, we launched Lake House in Grimsby. Soon, we will launch Oakvillage Phase 2 in Oakville.
BBH: If you weren’t in the development business, what would you be doing instead?
SS: I would work for a charity. My family and I have always been very passionate about philanthropy.