Leader’s Insight

The boy from Miramichi

He grew up in a working class family in Miramichi where he learned the value of hard work. But as Gordie Lavoie watched an uncle and cousin take on leadership roles in business, he felt something new rise up within him: a desire to forge his own destiny in the world of business. He studied business and began his career in the banking industry. Twenty-one years ago, he joined Sunny Corner Enterprises Inc., a Miramichi, N.B.-based construction, fabrication and industrial sales firm. Five years ago, he took over as president, and has led the firm through a period of unprecedented growth.

I got into business for the wrong reasons. I grew up in a blue-collar family. I could easily have followed suit and worked in the mills, but early on I was influenced by certain family members to pursue a business track. As a young person, I was impressed by their positions of authority and heightened sense of recognition. Today, I respect distinctive leadership qualities, the desire to do something different and to be the best you can be. So, although the things that initially attracted me to a career in business were probably the wrong things, they were, nonetheless, important in getting me to where I needed to be.

I have a complicated relationship with my competitive spirit. On one hand, I believe that competitive people are often insecure. No matter how big their business gets or how nice their car, it’s never good enough, never satisfying enough. Life becomes a never-ending pursuit of wins. On the other hand, your business is never over in a day or even in a year. You have to be willing to show up to win day after day and year after year.

When the student is ready, the teacher appears. I’m a strong believer in continuous education and personal development. I’ve been fortunate to have had many excellent teachers and mentors. I’ve learned to be a student of life, to be as open as I can be to learning in any form. You never know who your next teacher will be. One day, during a conversation, one of our janitors shared an amazing insight with me. If we can just keep an open mind we’ll be amazed at who that teacher can be and where learning opportunities lie.

I get very, very uncomfortable with the word “leader” – especially when it’s applied to me. When I hear that word, I think of someone a lot bigger, mightier and more wonderful than I am. To me, “leader” represents someone with a singular attitude; the type of person who says, “Look at me, look how great I am. If you follow what I say, the world will be a better place.” If only it were that simple. My focus is to provide “leadership” by developing and strengthening the qualities within myself and those in our organization necessary to reach our full potential.

The man who knows “how” will always have a job. The man who knows “why” will be his boss. Very early in my career a boss shared this insight with me and I’ve never forgotten it. So many are content simply understanding the “how” but if we can engage ourselves and our people to understand the “why”, we can take our organizations to entirely new levels.

Some of my truest moments are when I stop and ask myself if it’s been pure luck that got me here. When I look back at my life, I see how many times I’ve been in the right place at the right time. The stars have lined up, delivering me to this place. Some days I worry that it may have all been luck and that those stars may fall out of alignment but you know what? I really hope that I continue having those thoughts because that’s what keeps me grounded and appreciative of what I have.

Don’t over-plan your life. Truly, not a whole lot from my first career in banking would lead to where I am today but someone took a chance on me. I joined Sunny Corner to manage their new industrial sales division, a department I knew little about. It was probably a crazy risk on my part, but I have no regrets. In every life opportunity knocks. Our job is to prepare ourselves as best we can and to keep an open mind so that when the call comes, we’re with it enough to open the door and walk through.

About Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette

Knightsbridge Robertson Surrette is Atlantic Canada’s leading recruitment and human resource consulting firm.

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