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Call it WE Day for business leaders

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It was fitting, though likely not planned, that Wednesday afternoon Paul Soubry and Mark Chipman were talking about leadership principles at the Metropolitan Conference Centre while across Donald Street 16,000 young people were getting inspired at We Day.

If they wanted to, Soubry and Chipman could probably get on the card at the next We Day.

Speaking at a day-long leadership symposium -- sponsored by the University of Winnipeg, the Conference Board of Canada and the Niagara Institute in a first-time partnership -- the two Winnipeg business leaders and longtime friends provided some powerful inspiration of their own, speaking plainly about what they know about leadership and how they try to instill it in others.

The one principle they both agreed was necessary for good leadership was surprising and probably not something the 200 people in attendance would have expected -- humility.

Soubry, the current CEO of New Flyer Industries and the former head of StandardAero, spoke about something that impressed him on an overseas trip to Europe he took while he was working his way up the management team at StandardAero.

His boss received an upgrade to business class, but Soubry, the junior executive at the time, did not.

The senior executive turned down the upgrade to remain with his junior executive in economy class.

He said he recently had a similar scenario play out, but he was the CEO who got the upgrade and his junior colleague did not.

"I played that card and turned down the upgrade," he said.

It was a simple example, he said, but there was a noticeable level of respect and appreciation that came his way from his colleague.

Chipman, the president of True North Sports and Entertainment and the architect of the NHL's return to Winnipeg, said leadership is about service.

He spoke about the difference between formal authority and moral authority and the natural laws that govern human interaction. He admitted he learned these things by reading Stephen Covey's books, which he says have had the most impact on his own life and leadership style. Those laws include integrity, trust, honesty, service and humility.

"Moral authority is about what's right, not that you're right," Chipman said. "There is a deep sense of humility, not a sense of knowing everything. With moral authority you empower people rather than control people. People with formal authority often look to be served. People with moral authority serve other people. To me, that is the essence of leadership."

While all this may sound almost saintly, both Chipman and Soubry said their comments were about the things they strive for, not necessarily what they have achieved themselves.

Soubry and Chipman are literally the new generation of business leadership in Winnipeg. Both of their fathers were widely respected business leaders in the city in their day and Paul Soubry and Mark Chipman arguably had the best kind of mentors any aspiring leader could have.

Robert Chipman, who passed away just last month, was a beloved figure in the business world who was respected as much for of his humility as his business smarts.

Paul Soubry senior ran the Versatile tractor company for many years and Paul junior said he saw the anguish and the tears his father spilled over the hard decisions he sometimes had to make, the kind of decisions we are sometimes led to believe are taken by business leaders out of heartless expediency.

Their sons now lead businesses -- one a publicly traded company and the other a private one -- that put them under significant public scrutiny.

That helps keeps them humble.

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 31, 2013 B6

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About Martin Cash

Martin Cash joined the Free Press in 1987 as the paper’s business columnist.

He has spent two decades chronicling the city’s business affairs.

Martin won a citation of merit from the National Newspaper Awards in 2001 for his coverage of the strike and subsequent multi-million-dollar union settlement at the Versatile tractor plant. He has also received honours and awards for his work on agriculture and technology development in Manitoba.

Martin has written a coffee-table book about the commercial and industrial make-up of the city, called Winnipeg: A Prairie Portrait.

Martin Cash on Twitter: @martycash


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