Paul Soubry: 2018 Distinguished Alumni Award Recipient for Lifetime Achievement
The recipients of the 2018 University of Manitoba Distinguished Alumni Awards are graduates who are outstanding in their professional and personal lives. These honourees encompass a wide range of achievement, innovation and community service and inspire fellow alumni, current students and the community.
Paul Soubry [BComm(Hons)/84] thinks big. For that reason, Canada’s top CEO has accomplished in his career what few can do in a lifetime. He has transformed two Manitoba companies into Canada’s greatest international success stories and revolutionized product development in the aerospace and transportation industries.
In his own words…
My dad was born in Belgium. He came here at age 18. He did well but the value of the dollar was absolutely fundamental to him, and he taught that to his kids about how you’ve got to earn your keep.
I was number four (of six kids). If you ask my mother, she’d say I was a complete pain in the behind. To the point where she had me start kindergarten at four instead of five because I was a handful.
My first memory is of family trips to my grandmother’s in Quebec, sitting in the back seat of a station wagon facing backwards, watching where we’ve been.
When I first went to University, I thought I wanted to be an accountant. I got Ds in all the courses. I’ll never forget when Professor Nina Caldwell – she was a foot shorter than me – put her arm around me and said ‘you might want to try marketing or HR.’ It was a life lesson on knowing who you are. I’m not a math guy.
Hopefully more and more students will realize that it’s the degree you came for but it’s also this education of you as a person. It’s not just the classroom, it’s the incubator and the opportunities.
I’m not a risk-taker like an entrepreneur, that’s just not the way I’m wired.
There’s nothing worse than seeing someone try to be something they’re not. Bring what you bring, not what other people expect.
I remember going to a store with my wife and I saw a painting of an old dashboard of a car. It’s almost become a metaphor: you’ve got to use the rear-view mirror to know where you’ve come from, keep an eye on the gauges to know what’s going on, but look through the windshield because you can’t lose sight of where you’re going. I bought the picture and it sits in the hallway at work so I tell that story to everyone.
I’m one of these guys who if I like a quote or something I capture it. Then I read them back and try to read into it. What does it mean and how does it apply?
One of the neatest books I ever read was The Great Game of Business. The one thing that’s just burned in my brain and I use all the time is “you can fool the fans, but you can’t fool the players.”
(On starting at New Flyer) We went after culture before we went after the processes. Because they’ve heard it before, everybody’s heard it before: “It’s going to be different, it’s going to be new,” whatever. I think actions and genuine sincerity send a strong message: it starts with us (leadership).
When we win an important deal or when a customer says we’re awesome, it inspires us to do it all over again.
I think what I’ve been good at and proud of is deploying good, basic things.
(On chairing the Front and Centre campaign) It’s not about Soubry raising money; it’s about our future. In my view, it’s so critical. We’ve got this massive institution trying to get the next generation of leaders, business professionals, doctors and scientists. We’ve got all the students and now we’re helping to make sure they reach their potential. If we didn’t we’d be headed for nowhere.
As I see it, the game is never over.