I truly believe one of the most important role models my life was my mother, Lydia. Her story is all about perseverance, and the importance of keeping a positive mindset no matter what the circumstances, and never, ever giving up!
Our family emigrated from Denmark in 1952 and quickly settled into a new life in Canada, making Calgary our home. As a son of a cabinet maker, and the eldest of six children, I learned at a very young age the importance of hard work and loyalty to family, friends, and peers.
After going bankrupt in 1982 , I started my company SMED International which grew to 300 million in revenues and was sold to Haworth Inc. in 2000. In 2004, Determined to Do It Right This Time, I co-founded (along with Barrie Loberg and Geoff Gosling) DIRTT Environmental Solutions. After 14 years as CEO, with projected revenues in excess of 350 million for fiscal 2018, the DIRTT Board of Directors decided to terminate me. I obviously did not agree with the decision since it left me feeling totally unfulfilled in reaching anywhere close to the potential of our vision. I still had at least 15 years of solid productivity left in me and did not want to squander 40 years of experience, reputation and relationships. Then there was the dreadful thought if DIRTT did not succeed, the incredible vision we created 14 years ago, would completely disappear. Thus the advent of TTIMit (“This Time I Mean it” - final Company name yet to be determined)!
Secrets to success - and what makes me tick
I have never been afraid to fail, and neither should you. How could we experience success without taking risks? Some might say I’ve set the gold standard for knowing how to get fired; perhaps that may well be my legacy in life! In business, sometimes we have to compromise, but I will always choose loyalty and doing what I know to be right, regardless of the personal consequences. I have many mantras in business and life, but at the root of all my success, is having a purpose. And I will always strive to find purpose in everything I do. People are the common denominator that drive me to do what I do. I am passionate about wanting those who journey with me to become successful in their own unique way.
Get out of the crowd + get up on the stage!
Having a real purpose, whether it be family, social causes or business etc., is one of the main secrets to a happy and fulfilling life. In my own circumstance, I am driven by helping those around me succeed. It’s knowing that we can all be better. This is the real reason I get up in the morning! Success is subjective in life, but defining your purpose will make it your strength. So here I am, almost 71 years old, more inspired than I’ve ever been in my entire life!
I did mention I have been fired a few times, but I do not regard being fired as any kind of failure; rather yet another reminder that my contrarian view to the world is totally incomprehensible to the more conventional thinkers. Why I was fired connects to the very points I still preach today. I didn't want to live in the conventional world of doing business, I respectfully accept their understanding and thought process, but knowing I would shoot myself having to live in their world. This is not an indictment of these folks and their world, but more of a condolence for them not being able to experience the daily excitement of mine! In the words of Steven Jobs: “Here’s to the crazy people!”
Far and away the greatest blessings in my life have been my family (human and canine alike) and friends; there is nothing more motivating than their loyalty, love and unrelenting support! For those idiots out there who say you can’t have meaningful relationships and friendships with your employees or clients; you don’t know what you’re missing! When are the MBA’s ever going to learn the ultimate secret to leadership, success and genuine fulfillment? People only respect and care for you as much as you do for them!
I’ve had so many experiences that reinforce this supposition, but one was so much more poignant than all the rest. These experiences have defined my personal perspective for why recruiting people to join me on my business ventures is so important. We went bankrupt in 1982 (Scandinavian (Metrix) Wood Industries) and besides losing everything, our father (who taught me everything I ever knew about business) died of a heart attack. I should have accepted I made a lot of mistakes, instead of blaming it on the Pierre Trudeau government and the total collapse of the energy economy, which represented 80 per cent of our business. Although I immediately started a new venture, with the support of my friends, I spent the first three months of my bankruptcy feeling sorry for myself. Then I came to the stark realization there were 235 people and their families who depended on me for their livelihoods and now, because of my stupidity, it was gone.
I had always been grateful for the support and genuine friendship of almost everyone I worked with. It was that moment I realized real leadership means being accountable and responsible for the well being of each and every person who puts their future in your hands. I’m not one for prolonged recruitment interviews, but firmly believe in focusing on people’s strengths, not their weaknesses; after all they’ve had to ignore mine over these past 45 years. It has always been my mantra to challenge the living heck out of everyone who works with us, while empowering them to make their own decisions. So whenever I’m introduced to a potential candidate I start with making the statement: “Any business that thinks the people are there for the sake of the company as opposed to the company being there for the sake of the people, is guaranteed to fail!”
Although some folks may perceive these comments as an indictment of one’s personality, I humbly submit a more appropriate response to the people who didn't believe it could bring success From the words of one of our founding DIRTTbags, Ed Eaton: “ I reject your reality and substitute my own!”