I loved high school – it was where I solidified my oldest and most enduring friendships and where I learned to think and to write, to enjoy long-distance running, and to play the saxophone. That I won Musician of the Year in Grade 13 remains a bit of a mystery to this day because I still can’t read music. And as much as high school revealed a real passion for politics and public affairs, it also revealed my appalling ineptitude for math and even worse cognition of science.
It was during my university years that everything really came together. I was fortunate to complete a four-year Honours BA in three years at Mount Allison University, followed by a Master’s degree at McMaster University in 12 months and a PhD at the University of Warwick in England in under three years. As I reflect back, I realize I’ve always been in a hurry to start the next thing; to invent new products, services, and manufacturing processes; to write books; and to develop my latest creation – a new and disruptive digital tool for financial advisors.
Shortly after completing my doctoral dissertation I joined the Canadian Plastics Industry Association and led trade delegations to Europe, Japan, and California. I then moved to the executive head offices of the Bank of Nova Scotia and managed its government relations department, which included speech writing for the president and chair. I joined Toastmasters in 1993 and indulged an early passion for not just writing speeches, but delivering them. And while it would take another 15 years to actually get paid for this passion, giving speeches was clearly in me.
In 1995, the irrepressible inventor in me resurfaced, this time in the development of a recycled plastic office product that received US and Canadian patent protection and was successfully licensed to the world’s largest office products firm.
In 1999 I took over as president of my family’s plastics manufacturing business, located in Orangeville, Ontario, and St. Louis, Missouri. It was that business that I worked collaboratively with my father to sell at the peak of its enterprise value eight years later in 2007, just months before the Great Recession began. I took that extraordinary shared experience and in 2008 wrote Every Family’s Business, which has been sold in over 100 countries and was listed by The New York Times as one of the Ten Books Business Owners Should Read.
Every Family’s Business remains the best-selling family business book of all time. Much of the book’s success, and that of its sequel, Willing Wisdom, is owed to my prolific public speaking and frequent guest appearances on CBC, CTV, BNN, and MoneyLine.
With the help of a couple of very good agents I have delivered more than 1,000 paid speeches in 20 countries and in 2010 was awarded Speaker of the Year by TEC, the largest professional speaker’s bureau in North America. I’ve had the good fortune to deliver keynote addresses in intimate boardroom settings to some of the wealthiest people in the world, to impoverished coffee growers in El Salvador, and to convention audiences numbering more than 2,000 in South Africa.
My varied career has also included being president of the Orangeville-Brampton Railway and chair of the Headwaters Health Care Foundation in Orangeville, as well as chair of a federal government committee on research and development tax credits.
My second book, Willing Wisdom (2013), is dedicated to educating Canadians and Americans about the need to write their wills and share estate planning documents with family – something millions of Canadians and tens of millions of American adults fail to do. I followed that with a new digital product called the Willing Wisdom Index, which has helped thousands of people answer the question, “How prepared is my family to inherit?” Billions of dollars are inherited every day in Canada and the US, and the Willing Wisdom Index has been used by some of the largest wealth management firms in the world, including Bank of America, Credit Suisse, and the Royal Bank of Canada, to help families prepare for that inheritance.
Since 1999 I’ve lived in a secluded forest in the beautiful Hockley Valley, Ontario, with my wife, Laurie. We have two grown children, Jordan and Nathan, both graduates of the University of Western Ontario.
My pearl of wisdom for students reading this plaque? Everyone’s job is to find out as early as possible what gifts they’ve been given. For some – the natural athletes, the great math and science minds – the gifts are obvious. For the vast majority, though, our gifts are hidden or unrecognized, waiting to be discovered. Your gift will likely reveal itself when you’re deeply challenged or in the midst of trauma. Watch and wait, for this day will surely come. Then take the next step – share your gift with the world..