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Sep
28,
2010

Successful friends help to motivate and inspire

Dan Cooper and Kevin O'Leary.

Dan Cooper and Kevin O'Leary.

I’ve always believed that if you hang around successful people, you will find success yourself. Whether by gaining insights and knowledge or simply being inspired, the lessons learned from those who excel will help you in life and business. I have been fortunate to have befriended many business and community leaders who have inspired me and provided me with invaluable business acumen. They have been instrumental in my personal and business growth.

Outstanding entrepreneurs and leaders such as Kevin O’Leary – best known as one of the dragons on CBC’s popular reality show Dragons’ Den – Peter Gilgan, president of Mattamy Homes – Canada’s largest home builder – and Jim Balsillie, co-CEO of Research in Motion – the maker of the BlackBerry.

Kevin is my kind of entrepreneur. He vowed at a young age to always be his own boss and launched his incredible career with $10,000 borrowed from his mother to start up a software publishing company – SoftKey – which became The Learning Company and was eventually sold to Mattel for $4.2 billion. Kevin was among the top shareholders.

He went on to invest in a variety of successful enterprises but is best known for the nightly Lang and O’Leary Exchange on CBC News Network and his tight-fisted role on Dragons’ Den. On the latter, he has a knack for one-liners that get straight to the point – “You can’t cry your way to success” and “I’m not trying to make friends, I’m just trying to make money.” When it comes to business, Kevin doesn’t fool around. He is a mercenary and the result of his approach speaks for itself.

Peter Gilgan is among those rare business leaders who did not go to university, but rather followed a passion for building homes and making money. What he accomplished was to build the country’s largest home building empire with communities all over Ontario, in Alberta and in the U.S. Does Peter regret not pursuing a higher education? “I’ve never stopped learning,” he said in a recent interview. “I found the rate at which I was educated in school was not quite fast enough – if the subject interested me. If it didn’t interest me, it was really too slow – you were bored to death. And I had a preference to get out and start making money.”
Interestingly, Peter was honoured this year by Wilfrid Laurier University’s business school as its outstanding business leader. What I admire most about Peter is not only his business success, but his generosity as well. His philanthropic philosophy is inspiring and one that I have tried to emulate. Peter has given back to his community of Oakville in a big way. I have written often about my own philanthropy and Peter is one of the people who have been a personal inspiration.

Jim Balsillie made headlines not only with the BlackBerry, but his unsuccessful bids to bring an NHL team to Hamilton. Over the past few years he has made offers on Pittsburgh Penguins, Nashville Predators and last year Phoenix Coyotes. Jim’s commitment to his community and his innovation in business leadership have been widely recognized. In the late 1990s he was honoured with the Canada Award for Business Excellence. He received honourary Doctorate of Laws from Wilfrid Laurier University and from Dalhousie University and he was elected a Fellow of the Institute of Chartered Accountants of Ontario, the highest designation that the institute confers.

These are but a few of the many people I have had the pleasure to get to know – who have inspired me, helped me to fashion my guiding principles and reminded me the power of giving back to the community. If you want to be successful in business and life, surround yourself with people who will motivate and inspire you.