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A 'thoughtful and humble guy'

Quiet leader leaves behind a lasting legacy

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Winnipeg's first family of hockey has lost its patriarch.

Robert (Bob) M. Chipman died Monday afternoon following a year-long battle with bone cancer.

The 87-year-old was a quiet leader, entrepreneur, mentor, father and grandfather who started out with a single car dealership -- Birchwood Pontiac Buick Ltd. -- in 1963 and slowly built an empire.

Today, Megill-Stephenson is a behemoth with diversified business interests in the automotive, real estate, construction, sports and entertainment and financial-services industries.

It can easily be argued without this conglomerate, the Chipman family would not have had the financial wherewithal to bring the NHL back to Winnipeg more than two years ago.

Steve Chipman, president and CEO of the Birchwood Automotive Group, said his dad's mind was sharp right up until the end.

"We were talking business (Sunday night) until I left at nine o'clock," he said.

"Last summer, they gave him a year to live. He made it to his 87th birthday in August and kept going a little longer."

Steve Chipman said his dad was more than a father to him and his siblings -- brothers Jeoff and Mark and sister Susan Millican -- he was a mentor and sounding board.

"He was a mentor for a whole lot of other people in Winnipeg, too," he said.

The family hasn't finalized plans for a funeral.

"We're just making phone calls and taking phone calls and emails from people," he said.

Nick Logan, CEO of National Leasing, said he was blessed to work alongside the elder Chipman, who was the longtime chairman of the company, for nearly four decades.

"He's the greatest entrepreneur this city has seen," he said.

"He was my mentor right out of business school and that continued for the next 38 years. I don't know how much luckier you can get than that."

Chipman had been golfing his age for more than a decade and, until he was slowed by illness, walked more than three kilometres every morning and regularly did weights, pushups and sit-ups.

His friends say they knew his condition was worsening when he started missing his regular Wednesday morning breakfasts -- a weekly staple of his schedule -- at St. Charles Country Club.

Chipman was known for avoiding the spotlight, content to let others, often his children, get all of the attention and credit.

For example, when True North Sports & Entertainment held its media conference on May 31, 2011, to announce it had purchased the Atlanta Thrashers, Chipman slipped into the room and was going to take in the proceedings from the back until his daughter ushered him up to his seat in the front row with his name on it.

After the formal part of the news conference was over and reporters were scrambling for one-on-one time with NHL commissioner Gary Bettman or Mark Chipman, governor of the team that would soon become the Winnipeg Jets, the elder Chipman was quietly soaking it all in until a reporter approached him to talk about his role in bringing the NHL back to Winnipeg.

While he attempted to politely decline, Millican walked up to her father, kissed him gently on the cheek and said, "I think you should talk, Dad."

With that, the founder and chairman of Megill-Stephenson held court for a few minutes.

"I've been saying for a number of years that Winnipeg lacked two things -- a National Hockey League team and IKEA," he said, referring to the Swedish furniture giant that opened its highly anticipated store a year-and-a-half later.

"I think Winnipeg now has equal status with Montreal, Toronto, Calgary, Edmonton, Ottawa and Vancouver as a truly important Canadian city," he said.

"I've been around this (NHL hockey) story for a long time. I've been very fortunate to have such a wonderful family and to work with a lot of great people. I'm a very fortunate guy."

Mark Chipman was quick to give credit where credit was due that day, saying while his father went about his business quietly and efficiently, his influence spoke volumes.

"I can't describe the feelings I have for my father," he said after the news conference. "Role model doesn't begin to describe what he has meant to my brothers, my sister and me. He's one of the smartest and wisest human beings that I've ever met. He's a kind, thoughtful and humble guy."

Lawrie Pollard, chairman of lottery ticket manufacturer Pollard Banknote and a friend of Chipman's for 70 years, visited him as often as he could during the past couple of months.

Pollard fondly recalled their first encounter when he started a job selling hats at Eaton's just as the Second World War was ending. Chipman, then 17 and about 18 months older, was the department veteran. Pollard's manager said he couldn't give him any more advice about selling hats than to watch Chipman.

During his first shift, a farming couple walked in, both of them looking rather threadbare. When the man walked up to Chipman and said he wanted to buy a hat, the young clerk measured his head and came back with an Italian import with a price tag of $15, a small fortune at the time.

The man put it on and Pollard vividly recalls Chipman stepping back, pointing his finger and saying, "That hat is exactly you."

The man was proud and really wanted to buy the hat, but Pollard said his wife nearly had a nervous breakdown at the price. Finally, the man settled for a $5 hat.

"I said, 'For God's sake, Chipman, you should have brought him the $3.75 hat,' and he said, 'That's business. You start off with the best product and work your way down,' " Pollard said.

"Everything I learned from him that summer has materialized. He was one phenomenal salesman. He had the perfect knack of bringing the message for his product."

Logan said Chipman's "magic" was in how he would encourage would-be entrepreneurs to be all they could be with their ideas and to ignore roadblocks in favour of opportunities.

"He didn't hang around with old people, he hung around with people who were doing things. He had an affinity to be where all the action is. He was a business junkie," he said.

And if somebody was ever down, Chipman could sense it and he would invite them into his office or out for lunch to pick up their spirits and help figure out what they were going to do next.

"He would find the value in talking to you and supporting you. He did this throughout the community. He has a tremendous following of people like me," he said.

Pollard said Chipman, whom he described as "tough as shoe leather," leaves a unique legacy of four children who have all excelled in business.

"A lot of people have success with their family, but it's usually one individual or two. He has been successful with every one of his children," he said.

Pollard said Chipman taught his children to lead well.

"He was a tough cookie. They got orders every day of their lives when they lived with him. They're an outstanding family. There are a lot of years ahead for the people in Winnipeg to benefit from what (the Chipmans) are contributing and will continue to contribute," he said.

Chipman was predeceased by his wife, Sheila, in 2005. He is survived by his children, their spouses and many grandchildren.

geoff.kirbyson@freepress.mb.ca

 

Bob Chipman’s address at the 5th Annual Asper MBA Fall Gala on October 16th, 2010:

To graduate with an MBA degree. Well, that is a seriously important lifetime achievement. Sincere congratulations to all you graduates. I hope you all stay in Manitoba in what I believe is one of Canada’s best business environments.

As I recall in Canada we’ve had some serious economic downturns. In the early 1970’s. Again in the early 1980’s. At which point it seems to me Manitoba opted out of deep Canadian recessions. A recession again in the early 1990’s and again after the turn of the century. We are all very aware of the world’s problems of the past few years. What do I mean by opted out? Indeed we had some pain, but it was relatively mild in comparison to other parts of our country. How did this come about? It’s probably the subject of another discussion.

Manitoba in my view represents the most stable and resilient economy in Canada. It’s perhaps about diversification – Natural Resources, Agriculture, and a myriad of small successful manufacturing companies. Farm equipment, aerospace and so on. Perhaps too it’s about spirit.

Some years ago at an Associates function, Paul Tellier, then C.E.O. of CNR and widely judged to be one of Canada’s true captains of industry told me that in his opinion Winnipeg had the best community spirit of any large Canadian city. Recently Larry Pollock, the C.E.O of the Western Canadian Bank, told me that hands down the spirit of Winnipeg’s business community was clearly superior to any other Western Canadian city including Vancouver, Calgary and Edmonton. I really hope you plan to stay here.

Last month I moved after living in my former house for 25 years. My wife Sheila died 5 ½ years ago, we would have been married 61 years. Over that time we collected a lot of stuff. After some torturous days deciding what to keep, what to give away, what to discard I finally ended up with 90 boxes of good stuff. Moving and unpacking all those boxes was an energy-draining experience.

The light at the end of the tunnel was that a week after I’d moved I was traveling to spend two weeks in France in the company of my daughter Susan and her husband Jim. Here I am in Ramatuelle, a charming mountainside village with a view of the Mediterranean. It’s early evening with a light libation in hand, when it occurs to me that I have a task at hand. I needed to organize a few words for tonight’s assignment. A call for help went out to Susan. I explained I was speaking tonight. That about four or five months ago I had spoken at an MBA class session on one of my favorite subjects, Social Capital. Succinctly Social Capital is about community contributions and involvement and how partnered with Enterprise Capital provides a good formula for career or business success. At any rate I needed a new subject.

Susan asked me if I had made reference on that occasion to my twelve precepts. I said I had but just briefly. My helpful daughter suggested I could make my twelve precepts with brief commentary my theme tonight.

 

Everyday on my early morning walk, I review my twelve precepts. They have been helpful to me. So, with your patience, let’s consider them.

Precept One

The winners in this world are those that give. It seems to me that at an early age we gain a sense that there is reward for those that give. It happens at Christmas, birthdays, on special occasions – as we observe the joy that occurs as a result of our gift. It causes within us a good feeling. This is our city – we want to be proud of it. We all need to contribute to making it an increasingly better community. We need to respond as best we can to the calls for support, whether it is financial or contributing our time and skill resources. When we do this we feel better about ourselves. There is an inner elation that we have taken the extra step in a worthy cause.

The United Way had a thoughtful slogan a few years back. "The Giving Hand is Never Poor".

Precept Two

You cannot be too generous in praise of others. "Well done, good work, right on, super job, first rate effort, we’re proud of you" all have a nice ring to our co-workers, family members, team players and friends. Recognition for achievement is really important to all of us. It causes up to feel good about ourselves – it encourages us to pursue further successes. 

Precept Three

Stay the course – be circumspect.

I believe we are best served if we have plans – a family plan, a good health plan, a business plan, a hobby plan and so on.

Now and then the grass on the other side appears greener and we are tempted to change our course. It’s my observation it generally isn’t greener. Be cautious about important family or career changes. As we go through this world we learn that life can be uneven. Family matters – business or professional careers can provide some setbacks. We might feel we are in a nasty storm. It seems to me that if we stay steady and resolute, our course will see us back to good weather.

Precept Four

You can’t reclaim the past – focus on a good tomorrow.

We lose loved ones – it’s important to dwell on the good memories – feeling sorry for ourselves is negative and not a worthy option.

Sometimes we regret decisions we’ve made, our behavior – words we’ve said. What’s done is done! Active people are going to make some mistakes. What’s important is to learn from our errors. There’s an old expression: "Carpe Diem, Seize the day".

We should try to seize everyday.

Precept Five

Giving the benefit of the doubt is generally the right decision.

Sometimes we’re puzzled or disappointed in an outcome, an action by friends or others; we’re upset by the results of a community development. However, there is peace of mind when we realize that most often the people involved have knowledge or information that’s not available to us. It’s quite possible even probable that if we had all their information we would agree with the result or outcome.

Precept Six

Good health requires commitment.

Wanting good health needs to convert to a program – a program that probably won’t be easy and requires discipline.

Eating the right food, exercising daily, running, walking, cycling, etc. It also includes a curious active and positive mind-set. As you grow older – you genuinely succeed to the rewards of taking care of yourself.

Precept Seven

Business success involves considered risk. To be well rewarded, there has to be an element of risk – an awareness that we can fail.

Many people, as I did, opt for the opportunity to go into business for ourselves, or to enter into partnership arrangements.

To be successful we have to carefully consider our proposed market place. Are we covering a need with our product or service? Are we covering a need?

It’s essential that we are adequately capitalized. That we have the required skill and we recognize that our considerable efforts are going to be much greater than the initial rewards. We need to anticipate that there are going to be disappointments and unexpected adversities. However, if we have it right, persistence will provide us with success. 

Precept Eight

Thoughtfulness is a core quality for personal success.

Try everyday to do something thoughtful. Be a good listener, be genuinely interested in others, remember birthdays, anniversaries and celebrate the success of others. It’s important to make time for family members and friends.

Precept Nine

Be decisive – procrastination is a bad habit. Life is so much easier when we make the daily decisions that are in front of us.

Sometimes there’s a matter that’s difficult to deal with. We drift hoping that he decision task will go away or that delay will provide a solution.

Generally, by drifting we magnify the problem.

Precept Ten

It’s easy to criticize – be careful.

Our own performance should cause us to be careful about being critical. Looking for the good in people and in situations converts to positive results. It seems to me that people who see the glass half empty tend to be more critical in their ways. Chances to have a happier life, I believe, are enhanced by seeing the glass half full.

Precept Eleven

The daily pursuit of knowledge is important. Read good newspapers, good magazine articles and good books. Search out information to be as well informed as possible.

Smarter, wiser with each passing day is a worthwhile goal.

Precept Twelve

A warm smile is a valuable attribute.

The value of a smile is significant.

Smiling begets civility, goodwill courtesy.

Smiling people are a joy to meet and to be with.

 

There we have it – my twelve precepts, my mantra for a fulfilling, healthy life.

There are so many components that need to come together for enduring business success. For what its worth it seems to me they include being a vital part of your community, the execution of strong business practices which you have gained additional knowledge of at Asper, building or being part of a winning team and of course striving to be best in class.

Graduates, by coming back to school to extend your knowledge and skills indicates that you are made of special stuff, so I’m confident that you all have the potential and will to make a difference in whatever you are about.

Thank you all for the invitation to break bread with you tonight. It’s been a privilege to be a small part of this important and well earned celebration.

 -- Asper School of Business

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition September 10, 2013 B6

History

Updated on Tuesday, September 10, 2013 at 6:58 AM CDT: Replaces photo

10:52 AM: Adds speech from the 5th Annual Asper MBA Fall Gala on October 16th, 2010.

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