A: In one of these situations, I found myself in a high-rise downtown with the vice-president of a bank who was really nervous about the project – they were a 50-per-cent lender. I had two banks: my bank and this other one. This guy said to me, ‘If I were you, I’d be jumping out the window.’ (Laughs.) So it could have killed me. But what doesn’t kill you, makes you stronger.
I wasn’t as nervous, but it was tough. That bank left. Ultimately, we finished the project and made good money. The bank that stayed on also made lots of money and I was happy about that. Since then, we’ve never missed a budget or a schedule. We learned that lesson.
Q: What’s your strategy for risk taking?
A: Remember I promised my wife not to risk the nest egg, so I always calculate and build in enough buffer so I can take some untoward happenings.
Q: Where does your confidence come from?
A: (Laughs.) You’re born with a certain spirit or confidence. In my case, it came naturally to me to always see opportunities when there was a problem. The Chinese have a symbol for crisis that’s actually made up of two symbols – one for danger and the other for opportunity. I’m like that automatically.
Q: What makes a great executive?
A: The single most important talent that a good CEO has to have is the ability to recognize talent. You’d be surprised how many really smart people fail to recognize talent in other people.
Q: And then...
A: Give them a lot of room. And set a fine example – not of your brains or wit – but of your character. People want to work for character. It’s the little things you do every day and as much the things that you don’t do. Over time, people get a sense of who you are by what you didn’t do. You could have made this mistake and you didn’t.
Q: So when you look for talent...
A: I look for integrity, humility and above anything else – character. Then I look for intelligence, talent and the rest.
Q: What’s your advice to young business graduates today?
A: Seek everyone’s counsel but follow your own. It was my motto when I started in business because you get bombarded with advice. Then move. Don’t draw back or hesitate to go forward. I carry a quote with me from Johann Wolfgang von Goethe that says, ‘Whatever you can do, or dream you can, begin it. Boldness has genius and power and magic in it.’
And think big. People constrain themselves with small plans but that small plan often has as much intensity, work and stress as the much bigger plan. So go for the bigger plan.
Q: Is that your own philosophy?
A: Yes. Always has been. I don’t want to see limits. I want a very big, broad horizon.
Special to The Globe and Mail
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