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Paul Soubry photo by Thomas Fricke.

Paul Soubry photo by Thomas Fricke.

Snapshot: Building community

May 7, 2018 — 

The recipients of the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Awards are back on campus and telling us about the work they do (or wish they did).

Lifetime Achievement recipient Paul Soubry [BComm(Hons)/84] helped to transform two historic Manitoba companies into market- leading success stories in the aerospace and transportation industries. At 55, he’s president and CEO of NFI Group: New Flyer Industries, Motor Coach Industries, ARBOC Specialty Vehicles and NFI Parts (and before that, Standard Aero). He’s also chair of the University of Manitoba Front and Centre campaign. In 2016, the National Post named him Canada’s top CEO.

You might find him giving tours of the plant himself, picking up garbage from the shop floor—why wouldn’t he?—or thinking of new ways to rally his nearly 6,000 team members (across 32 sites). He’s quick to crack a joke and with self-deprecation will tell you, “I’m not the smartest guy in the room.” But he knows how to make things exciting.

How he starts his day: Gets up at about 6 a.m. Reads the Winnipeg Free Press. Usually skips breakfast. First job: Janitor at a tennis club, at 13. Worst job: Right out of university, he was a “swamper,” working in the mud, chaining up oil rig equipment for transport. Dream job: Professional hockey player (“Like that would ever happen.”) How much sleep he gets: Six hours, but would love eight. The energy in his workplace: Spirited. His mantra: It’s amazing what can be accomplished when nobody cares who gets the credit (advice he got from his U of M basketball coach.) A pressing issue in his workplace: The uncertainty around United States protectionism. His business philosophy: Inspire and engage employees. A bad boss is: Restricting. The future workplace needs to be: Exciting. Biggest regret: Never learning a second language. How he spent his first big pay cheque: Bought a Porsche 911. When he’s not working: He’s playing sports, or building things at his cottage—a deck, bunkhouse, swing set. (“It’s not straight. It’s not square. But, I did it.”) What he’s not good at: Golf. A job should be: Fun.

A key part of his daily routine: The list that I make every day. Going back through that list, making sure that I’m working on the stuff that really matters and reprioritizing that list all the time, is really part of something I do every day, every minute, to make sure that I’m spending my time on the stuff that has the highest impact or highest priority, not just the easiest stuff to get done.

Biggest win: It’s hard to answer. I’ve been really lucky to work for two wonderful companies. At Standard Aero, we were part of the largest, private/public competition for aircraft maintenance for the United States Air Force, winning a significant portion of a $10-billion 15-year outsourcing contract. At New Flyer, we have developed the business both organically and by acquisition, resulting in our market cap growing from $400 million to now over $3.5 billion, with nearly 6,000 team members. Really feels special. In both situations, from right here in Winnipeg.

A big reality check: I worked for Standard Aero for 24 years and one year after the business was sold, the new owners decided to move the headquarters to the United States. So I worked for the company for 24 years, we grew it from $100 million to two-and-a-half billion, becoming a global industry leader, and all of a sudden I’m out of a job. Then before I go, I’ve got to fire the majority of my executive team. That’s 10 years ago now. That’s the reality of business. Picking up and asking myself, “Was it me?”—maybe it is, maybe it isn’t—but taking all of the stuff I’ve learned and going to deploy it somewhere else, with real success, is truly gratifying. Belief in culture and people, combined with a solid focus on leadership, is absolutely transferrable.

Best part of his job: When someone you saw who had a lot of promise 10 years ago, and whom you helped develop, is now in a very senior role and they’re knocking the lights out. That’s what people did for me—they gave me a chance.

His thoughts on complaining: Throw all of the rocks that you want. Just make sure on the rock, there’s a note that says what you think is wrong, that you’re willing to help fix it, and here’s my suggestion, and here’s my name. But just throwing rocks is useless.

Read more with all the recipients of the 2018 Distinguished Alumni Awards on UM Today The Magazine.

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