Rob MacIsaac is a distinguished public servant, business leader and currently the President and CEO of Hamilton Health Sciences. Since joining HHS, Rob has led the development of a new strategic plan and approach for HHS, focused on enhancing HHS' role and relationships with the communities it serves. Rob sits down with Louis Frapporti to discuss how his past experiences have contributed to his current role at HHS. From his time as the Mayor of Burlington to President of Mohawk College to Lead Chair at Metrolinx, Rob has led with the ambition to leave every organization a little better than he found it.
- Versatility of a legal education
- Working in the public sector
- Business relations with government/politicians
- Challenges as a leader of an organization
- Investment in transportation
- Ownership and leadership
- Fostering an innovative culture
- Three things to achieve for an organization to succeed
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Video: Accelerating business episode 6
Louis: You began with a degree in the law. Did you ever practice as a lawyer?
Rob: I did. I started on Bay Street for Goodmans, which is kind of a mid-sized, large-ish sized Bay Street law firm. Very innovative firm, by the way, and after about a year practicing there as a lawyer, I decided that I would go out on my own. I came back to Burlington, which is my hometown, and set up my own practice. Which is a very challenging endeavor, starting out at a law practice from scratch, and I practiced probably for about 7 years. A year in Toronto and then another 6 years in my own practice then ultimately gave up practicing law.
Louis: Now, did you give up practicing law in pursuit of something else or were you resigned not to practice law and then found something else?
Rob: I think probably the best way to describe it is the practice of law got pushed out of my career by other endeavours. I was elected as a councillor on the City Council in Burlington not long after I came back to set up my own practice. I practiced law and sat on City Council for 6 years and then I became Mayor, subsequent to that, and tried to continue practicing law while I was Mayor but that was just not working out very well so decided to give up my practice.
Louis: In reflecting on the entirety of your career, and we'll go over it over the course of the interview, Rob, it occurs to me to ask whether or not you felt that your legal education, and career for the years in which you practiced as a lawyer, has served you well in your public service role and in your business role? Do you have an observation or reflection on that?
Rob: Yeah, when I speak to young people who are thinking about going to law school I frequently encourage them to do so and on the basis, not necessarily that they'll practice law but on the basis that, from my perspective, a legal education is a great set up for almost anything else you might do in life. I would say throughout my career I felt that my law degree, in countless situations, has given me an unfair advantage over people who I was dealing with. Yeah, it's been a great set up for everything that I've done.
Louis: In reflecting on it, and if you could, would there be changes to the curriculum that you experienced at law school that would better position and resource lawyers who get into business in their careers, or not?
Rob: Well, look, I think, and I wouldn't claim to be an expert in the curriculum of law schools today, but I think the notion of training lawyers to be leaders makes sense to me. If I was to supplement the curriculum that I took, I think it would be giving lawyers some in school leadership training that I'm guessing still is not there. I know 3 years is not a lot of time, in some respects to teach everything you'd like to teach them about the law. However, I do think leadership is a critical skill especially for those leaving the practice of law. If you're in business, or if you're in government, those leadership skills are so important.
Louis: We'll come back to the question of leadership a little bit later in the interview. In reflecting on your biography, virtually the entirety of your career has been spent in public service. Was that something that you had expected or intended? Was it an accident? Or are you just masochist?
Rob: I've loved my work in the public sector across my career and for me I'm still a camper. I started camping with my dad when I as a kid. I know it's kind of corny but the camper's credo is to leave your campsite a little better than you found it. That's sort of been my ambition, in every place that I've worked at, is to try to leave it a little better than I found it. In the process, hopefully I start to create, or help create, a better community. All of my jobs have really allowed me to do that work of trying to make both my workplace but also the city and region in which I lived a better place. It's very gratifying work and that's work that gets you out of bed in the morning, for sure.
Louis: Just touching on your political career for a moment, and tying that back into the life and career that you've had since, it occurs to me that in reflecting on a politician's life, certainly as a Mayor or a leader, that you are spending a lot of time managing the expectations and mediating the expectations and interests of the business leaders in the community, and those who live in a community. If you were giving advice to business owners, as we do from time to time, about how to approach and deal with politicians or government in advancing their business interests, what would it be?
Rob: I think that the mistake that I hear most frequently made amongst people in businesses, that if they could only run government, they would do so, so much differently. To me that added to the lies and misunderstanding of how government works. The road to success in politics is littered with the bodies of businessmen who thought they could do it. There's no doubt that the rigor and discipline and acumen that you use to be successful in business is helpful in government. There's no question about that. But there's this other whole set of criteria or requirements for success and government that don't apply to business. You need to understand that government has to play by a different set of rules for it to survive and succeed. It's much more about engaging broad sets of stakeholders, bringing them in and working with them to develop solutions. My advice to business people would be for sure all of the standard things that you do in business around developing relationships, the standard set of negotiating skills that you would use in doing a business deal, are equally applicable in terms of dealing with government, and dealing with politicians, but you need to understand that they also have this additional set of criteria that they're motivated by and operating with. You just need to be respectful of that. Understand it. It's a given going in. There are lots of people who are very shrewd about these things so if you need help you can always get that help.
Louis: Following your time as Mayor you transitioned to Metrolinx. For those that are unaware what is Metrolinx?
Rob: Metrolinx started out initially as the body responsible for developing a regional transportation plan in Greater Toronto and Hamilton. The original vision which has ultimately come to fruition is that Metrolinx would also, not only be a planner, but also an operator today. While I was there we brought GO Transit under the wing of Metrolinx, although that's a little bit like a mouse swallowing an elephant, Metrolinx was a comparatively small team when we merged with GO Transit which is a huge undertaking. It's a railroad, essentially. But Metrolinx is, essentially, the regional planner and operator for mass transit. I think, again, when we first started there was a broader vision which I still would subscribe to today. You can't look at transportation, modes of transportation and isolation, every trip that a person takes involves a variety of modes of transportation, starting with your own legs as you leave your front door and get out to whatever conveyance you're going to get to your next mode of transportation. We certainly involved ourselves when we were developing the regional transportation plan. We brought a very broad perspective to what transportation planning was about and from my perspective, at that time, for sure it was about public transit but it also ultimately needed to think about local roads, highways, sidewalks, cycling and so on. I still believe today if you really want to be good at developing a transportation system you have to have that multimodal view.
Louis: It would seem, on its face, that transitioning from the position of Mayor of Burlington to Metrolinx would present some different and unusual challenges as a leader or organization. What can you share with us about what that was like and what you had to learn, either afresh or what you hadn't expected, assuming the title of leader in Metrolinx when you transitioned from the City of Burlington?
Rob: When I was Mayor I really came to the view that as much as I was committed to serving my own city, and my own city's interests, that you needed to take a broader view of the city region, if you really want to be successful. I was certainly promoted and ultimately engaged in a number of regional planning exercises. Under Premier Harris I was asked to join what was then called the Smart Growth Panel for South Central Ontario and led the group that developed a growth plan for South Central Ontario. That work ultimately became part of the Province's places to grow legislation. But it was really about looking broadly at growth and trying to take that 10,000-foot view of what our city regions should look like. Subsequent to that, under Premier McGuinty, I was asked to Chair a taskforce to develop a plan for a greenbelt around the Greater Golden Horseshoe. Which, again, was very interesting, fascinating work. Very much about whereas the places to grow work were about where should we grow the greenbelt work was about where should we not grow. The third leg of that stool was really about transportation. How are we going to connect all these things in a way that's sensible? For me, from a subject matter point of view, it felt like quite a logical progression in my career and I certainly had a broad view of the city region and a recognition of its importance. From that perspective I felt pretty well prepared. I went into the Mayor's job thinking I would do it for two terms. I think politicians shouldn't stick around for too long. I was persuaded to stay for three but by the end of the third term I really felt like it was time for me to move on. I wanted to see what else was out there for me. The transportation is a very interesting sector. It has a culture all its own. Most sectors do but there's some very quirky things about transportation. There are people who are crazy for trains and crazy for anything that runs on rails. Sort of transit geeks. It's actually a great sector and from my perspective it's one of the few places where if you think about the three pillars of sustainability of the economy, society and the environment, transportation, if you do a great job, you can affect all three in very profound ways. Including down to the level of giving mobility to people who wouldn't otherwise have it and without mobility very difficult to make a good life for yourself. There was tons to learn but it was really interesting work. I left not that long after we had developed regional transportation for Greater Toronto and Hamilton. That was sort of one of my early objectives and I was able to get that done before moving on.
Louis: Just to go back to a moment to the reference or comment you made regarding the economy as being one of the key pillars of the development of transportation infrastructure. There's no question that infrastructure is a key driver of economic activity, or a limiter of it, in some circumstances. Looking back on all of that now, after years of having left the position, what has transpired in the corridor? In Burlington significance actually, frankly as a neighbouring community to Hamilton whose economy is different from Hamilton's, and in many cases residents and interests are different from those in Hamilton. Some of have complained, of course, that there's still insufficient same day rail transportation between Hamilton and Toronto and others, perhaps those train geeks might be wondering about whatever happened to the dream of high speed rail. Do you think that we have come as far as we should? Do you anticipate that we will be making more, or more rapid, success in the years ahead dealing with and improving that transportation infrastructure simply because many, I think, would share the view that it's not where it needs to be?
Rob: Well, I hope so. I do think that when I got to Metrolinx there had been an astonishing lack of investment in transportation for many decades by the Province. It was acting as a huge constraint on growth in the city region, including Hamilton. I think it started with a North ... wide preoccupation with roads over public transit where, as I stated earlier, I think you need to take a multimodal view. It can't be all roads. It can't be all transit. You have to have a thoughtful balance between but from a transit point of view there is many decades where the Province simply focused on roads to the neglect of transit. I do think that the McGuinty government started a reversal of the attitude that the Province has an important role to play in public transit. I think that mantra will carry on. The Province is pretty firmly committed to that business even under the current government. I think they're getting into the business of subways. To me that signals they continue to recognize the importance of public transit. From a Hamilton point of view, I remember there's this great picture from the very North of Toronto looking down Yonge Street, and it's a very wide scale picture, and as you look down that corridor, that Yonge Street corridor, you see these pockets of very intense growth. It kind of goes up and down, like this as you look, and it carries on into the distance towards the lake. What that picture tells you is the importance of subway stops. Every subway stop along that Yonge Street line had created this intense hub of economic activity. I think, from my perspective, the GO Train is the 905 subway. It is the key transportation link between Hamilton and the rest of the city region. I would argue, I think it's certainly increasingly becoming the case, but if you looked at the economies of the cities where all day GO Train service has been extended, I think you would see this very positive economic uptake every time all day service gets extended by another city. I think the single most important economic factor that you could introduce into Hamilton's equation would be the introduction of all day GO service. It would have a huge impact, positive economic impact, on the city. I think it would be enhanced by the electrification of that line. I know you mentioned high-speed train. Electrification not the same as high-speed. I think, from my perspective and not to become a transit geek here, but high-speed rail is really most appropriately used in inter-regional settings. So, Toronto, Montreal, Ottawa, Windsor, those are great candidate destinations for high-speed rail. In terms of intra-regional transportation, we in North America, Toronto, lag behind much of Europe and Asia in terms of introducing electrification of our rails. What that would do for our corridor is allow for 15, 10 minutes service and you wouldn't need these big heavy 10 car train sets rolling along. You could have much, much smaller, more compact service, much more frequently. And again, I think that would only magnify the potential for positive impact here in Hamilton.
Louis: Just in reflecting on the comment that you made about Yonge Street, and the impact in terms of high density development and economic development along the subway stops, we have of course in this region now, the last campaign having been largely fought municipally on the subject of the LRT and municipal transportation, would appear now a path for to the commencement of that project over time in its completion. Do you see that LRT project as having the same sort of positive economic impact as, for example although admittedly different, the construction of the subway had in Toronto over the years? Or do you see it either be neutral or otherwise as it relates to Hamilton and its future?
Rob: We did the initial study for Hamilton when I was at Metrolinx on LRT here in Hamilton. One of the innovations that I really thought was important during my time there was as we did these studies, these impact studies, that we look at those three pillars that I talked about earlier, that we consider the impact on the social path of communities, economic and environmental. Our study around Hamilton did come back with a positive business case for LRT so I do think it will have really beneficial effects on the city. I think it's difficult to compare it to a subway in Toronto where you have a kind of population mass that provides returns that are probably going to be superior to what you would find here in Hamilton. In a relative way, no, probably not as positive as the subway, an extension of the Yonge Street line, but nonetheless is an important driver for the City of Hamilton.
Louis: Let's transition from Metrolinx to your taking on the leadership of Mohawk College. Quite a different institution. A different part of our landscape. An institution today, incidentally which is really a pillar of the community and a significant educational resource for many economic sectors including advanced manufacturing, but you didn't find it that way when you took on that role. Describe what it was and through your efforts what the College has been transformed to be in this community today.
Rob: Maybe just to colloquially comments around Mohawk, first of all, it's an extraordinary privilege to be able to work in post-secondary education and in the college sector in particular, it's an enormously gratifying role to be a college President, I have to tell you. When you preside over a convocation of a college it's an incredibly emotional affair. People are frequently crying as they walk across the stage because in many cases they're the first person in their family ever to have gone to post-secondary education. There's this incredible pride that takes place. It's very fulfilling and there's very few jobs where you sort of get to see people, the raw product come in one end, and you're actually sitting at the end of the assembly line when you see the finish product roll off the assembly line. It's a wonderful thing. When I got to Mohawk I think, the first thing I'll say is it had great bones, all of the potential in the world already existed there, it was my perception that Mohawk had sort of lost some of its ambition and so when I came we were not well ranked from a student rankings perspective. I said to people, "Look. We need to be the best. We need to be the best in Ontario for how our students rank us." I think that people didn't believe that in the early going. So, I feel like
Louis: Sorry, Rob, let me interrupt you. Was it that they didn't believe? That you needed to be the best or that you could be the best?
Rob: That we could be the best.
Rob: In some respects I feel like I really gave permission to people there to believe we could be as good or better than anybody else in the Province. I said it as a real strategic objective, that from a student's satisfaction perspective, we were going to get out of the bottom of the barrel and that we needed to be a premier community college within the Province, and ultimately achieved, largely achieved, that objective by the time I left 5 years later. I think it was interesting when I entered interviewed for that job, I was asked, "Do you think Mohawk should be a place for access for students? In other words, make sure whoever wants to come here can come here and we do our best for them? Or do you think Mohawk needs to be a place of excellence for students?" I said, "Well, we need to be both." Of course, it's a critical role for community colleges to provide upscale people who don't have any skills and allow them to get to a life where they can live with dignity and earn a living wage and so on. If that's all we are, if we're simply an access college, simply the place where people go when they can't go anywhere else, we are not doing our students any favours. So we also need to develop centers of excellence where students, who are the best, want to come here because they know they can get from us a kind of level of excellence that they can't get anywhere else. I think there's that if you're in the community college system I really think you need to do both. You cannot take your eye off the community development role that a college has in terms of reaching out to every part of the community and saying, "Look. We're a place where you belong. If you come here you'll belong." But we also need colleges to have a kind of luster to them that makes it clear that they're also a place where the smartest people in the community can go and learn things that will help them to further their careers.
Louis: I take it you'd agree that partnership within this community to exemplary educational institutions with global reach and connection, who work collaboratively together in a community of course, that is itself ambitious creates a very differentiated value proposition for companies around the world that might be interested in connecting with innovation and skilled workers, and considering whether to move to this region. Would you agree that? Could you explore that with me a little?
Rob: If I was on the international stage selling the City of Hamilton, absolutely I would be promoting the fact that we have these two premier institutions. Each really focused on their own swim lanes but at the same time being able to join up with each other when it made sense to do so. I think both McMaster and Mohawk are key drivers and enablers of a successful business here in the region. They're both places that if you were opening up a business here, you can call up the President of Mohawk and you'll get your call returned and I think there's lots of opportunities there for collaboration. There are. It plays out in a meaningful way, that the reach that Mohawk and the university have into the community, that their connectedness with the community is profound. The business community in particular.
Louis: One of the most significant beneficiaries of that collaborative approach has been Hamilton Health Sciences, that draws on its relationship with both of those institutions in the service of this community. I want to talk to you a little bit about your leadership in this current role but I'd like to take a moment to describe for those watching what it is that Hamilton Health Sciences is. Beyond its size it's comprised of a variety of hospitals and facilities. It's the only hospital in Ontario that cares for all ages, from pre-birth to end of life, offering world leading expertise in many areas. Including cardiac and stroke care, cancer care, palliative care and pediatrics. You are a world renowned hospital for healthcare coverage, I presume drawing quite heavily on your collaboration with McMaster. You're the largest employer in the Greater Hamilton region. You play a vital role in training the next generation of health professionals in collaboration with the academic partners we referred to a moment ago and what you do, and who you represent, a very powerful and significant force in this community. Now in taking the role on, and in leading the organization in what is unquestionably one of the most regulated and challenging business environments, what was it that you hoped to accomplish?
Rob: "What were you thinking?"
Louis: What were you thinking is probably a better question.
Rob: I would say across my career I've not shied away, and in fact sort of run towards challenges, so this was definitely a big challenge and when the opportunity was presented to me it proved irresistible. For all those things you just said, the opportunity to lead a world class institution is not something that comes along every day. It proved irresistible to me. At the same time lots and lots of challenges at Hamilton Health Sciences, lots of challenges in health care, and so again I'm hoping that I can leave the hospital in a better place than I found it. It's been a huge opportunity to work with a huge array of brilliant people. As much as the job has been hugely challenging it's also been an extraordinary opportunity to meet amazing people, develop systems, processes and approaches that I'm hoping can have a profound impact on the community, ultimately.
Louis: You didn't have a medical background, obviously, and you didn't come from life sciences or the medical fields in transitioning to Hamilton Health Sciences. It occurs to me that the learning curve in taking on this role was enormous. How did you approach mastering the industry, the sector, the organization in taking ownership and leadership of it?
Rob: I'm not sure I've quite achieved mastery yet, but I think I tried to do what I always do when I come into a new sector and that is to be a humble leader, to ask lots of questions, to be curious, to make sure that I'm engaging a wide array of people before I make important decisions so that I've got the best possible advice. This place, you could spend a lifetime learning all there is to learn about Hamilton Health Sciences, just because of the scope and scale of what we do. You really don't have any hope of, I mean I'm being respectful to your question, but the idea that anybody could master Hamilton Health Sciences, pretty unlikely just because of how big it is. It's been mostly, for me, about trying to bring some of those learning's I've been able to achieve in other sectors and try to introduce them at Hamilton Health Sciences in a way that is beneficial. I think the board was pretty bold in choosing me to take on the role. I think their view was bringing some fresh eyes to the scene would be helpful. I've also tried to be mindful of that fact that I wasn't brought here to just to do what's always been done. That I was brought here to try to bring some fresh approaches to things. Having brought the diversity of experience that I have I do have brought some ideas that I think are a little different than what the organization has traditionally had.
Louis: In transitioning to the role when you began, was there something that presented as an unexpected, unpleasant surprise, organizationally in terms of challenge, and conversely was there a pleasant surprise that you had not anticipated in taking on the role that has aided your time here?
Rob: I think if I start off with the negative, I frequently say I've never felt so broke with so much money in my budget. We have a one and a half billion-dollar budget, approximately, but it feels like the ability to innovate with that budget is so limited because the money is so committed. I marvel at the fact that at Mohawk I had more money in the President's office for innovation then I do at Hamilton Health Sciences, despite the fact that it's ten times bigger. Health care operates, it's a very stressed system, and it operates on very tight margins. I think the opportunities that I see out of this, that I'm pretty excited about, is just the idea of creating a hospital without walls, the idea that the hospital has an opportunity to become far more connected and integrated into the community than it has been in the past. That feels very much like my wheelhouse because of my career. I have been able to make some good progress and the current government is certainly encouraging that very strategic direction.
Louis: How have you made that progress? How are you doing that?
Rob: It really started out probably 3 years ago. Hamilton Health sciences, in collaboration with others, convened a table of community partners to really start the discussion about how can we, as a serious of health and social service providers, work better together. That group has really been meeting for the last 3 years talking about, and trying out, new solutions, new approaches to how we can deal with some of the biggest challenges here in Hamilton when it comes to health, in the social scene here in Hamilton. I think the current government has certainly recognized that that is an approach that can bear big dividends and so we're currently in the process of working with essentially that same group on the development of an Ontario health team. That's really the direction that the current Provincial government is taking with respect to health care reform. I feel like we're kind of 3 years ahead of much of the rest of the Province in terms of what the current government's directions are. We had submitted to the prior government what essentially was an Ontario health team proposal before this government even came in. I think we're in a very strong position relative to the current set of reforms.
Louis: Does that working group comprise only public sector voices or does it also include representatives from private industry?
Rob: It does include some representatives from private industry, or sort of in addition to, the not for profit and the public sector. It's an evolving initiative and I think the private sector will definitely have a role to play as we move forward in helping make these things work.
Louis: When you talk about, as you did innovation and how constrained your budgets are and actually actioning innovation within this industry, I'm also struck by the fact that in our legal industry, for entirely different reasons, funding and resourcing innovation is also a very significant challenge. But in your efforts to swear the circle and to innovate, notwithstanding those restrictions, how have you been creative in doing that? Do you feel that you are making headway in being innovative and if you have how have you accomplished it?
Rob: I think we're making some headway. Definitely created the position of a Chief Innovation Officer here at Hamilton Health Sciences. That was not something that we'd had previously and recruited a great person, Ted Scott, into that role. I think on the technology side of things we're making some good progress. The first order of the day here at Hamilton Health Sciences, when I came was to try to create some capacity for capital investment and very difficult to innovate in the absence of any investment. We've now done that. We went to market, the capital markets, about 6 months ago and issued a debenture. We're definitely trying to use that money to transform the way Hamilton Health Sciences operates. As we invest that money we're making it very clear this is about transformation. Not transformation for the sake of transformation but we're looking for a very clear return on the capital we're investing into the organization. I think one of the peculiarities in health care, when it comes to capital, the traditional view of capital investment within health care was very much about this kind of arms race approach to developing technology with more bells and whistles. I think increasingly, going forward and certainly the case here at Hamilton Health Sciences, capital investment is going to be about transformation and it's going to be about finding better, more innovative ways to do things. The next couple of years I think are going to be exciting here and I think we'll see an enormous amount of change in the way we do things.
Louis: When I hear you give that answer and reflect on innovation and a resolve to foster a transformation, I'm also hearing you say that's not exclusively about technology, about bells and whistles, but it's also about people and how they engage with the community and behave and act, which to me speaks to the question of culture. As a leader then, can you comment on the extent to which that question of culture, fostering an innovative culture, or other aspects of a culture that are supportive of the growth and health of the institution, is that the center of your leadership here?
Rob: Yeah. I would say, as I think about transformation here at Hamilton Health Sciences, culture is very much on the agenda. It's something that we've been working on over the last couple of years. While not exclusive of one another, I think culture is something that we had an ability to begin thinking about and changing, even the absence of a capacity for capital investment. We've been very invested in the notion of continuous quality and improvement here at the hospital and, ultimately if we're going to succeed at that, it's going to be an exercise in culture change. If we're going to really commit to getting better every day, every month, every year for our clients, our patients, it's going to be about having a culture of quality improvement. That is a lot about transitioning from a very hierarchical top down culture to a culture where there's a profound recognition, an embrace of the fact that value for our patients is created at the front line, at the coalface, at the place where our doctors and nurses meet our patients. That's where we will get the best ideas about how we can do better. It's going from a very top down approach to very much a bottom up approach to how we recognize opportunities for improvement in the organization.
Louis: In reflecting on my engagement with that issue and then listening to you talk about it, my experience, and I'm interested in yours, is that that perspective is received differently depending upon who you are within the existing organization. Not every constituency necessarily welcomes hearing that approach. To what extent has that been a challenge for you or was it easy to get buy in and adoption across the organization? I think in laughing you're probably answering the question for me. But can you comment on that?
Rob: I'd probably start by saying nothing is easy in health care. And culture change is never easy. I think at every level you will run into resistance when it comes to culture change. In this instance, as I talk about moving from sort of hierarchy to networks, and from ... control to enable empowered employees, at the front line there would be some employees who just want to come and do their job and leave at the end of the day. The idea that we are trying to introduce a culture where for those people we're saying, "No. Yeah, we do want you to do your job but we also need you to help us to figure out how you can make your job better." For sure there are always adopters but there are also people who are saying, "Look, just leave me alone. Tell me what to do and I'll do it." This is a very new idea for some of those people that it's like when they have a problem they don't go to their boss and say, "I need you to fix my problem." Their boss will increasingly say, "Well, how would you fix that problem? What do you think the best way to do this to get around that issue is?" As you transition and up the management chain of command there are lots of people who have been working for many years in an environment where they expect to, they feel that they know all the answers, and when they see a problem they will simply issue an order as to how that problem's going to be fixed and telling those people, "Look, you might think that you know the right answer but we need you to work with your employees to figure out, to get to that answer, or to whatever the answer may be." Lots of resistance there too because it's a different kind of leadership style to engage in. Humble inquiry as opposed to simply saying, "Do this."
Louis: You know, as you remark on that, I'm struck by the fact that presents an incredibly powerful advice to existing leaders and those that aspire to be leaders in organizations. But it's also, in listening to it, something that seems to engage this question of resilience on the part of leaders. The persistence that's required to continue to move an organization forward in the face of those challenges is daunting and I'm sure you've experienced that throughout your career. Can you comment on what has kept you going? What advice, that you would give leaders or aspiring leaders in tackling transformative change, as it relates to persistence and resilience, how have you done that?
Rob: I met a guy in the United States named Paul O'Neill, who's a former secretary of the treasury under Bush II, and former CEO of Alcoa, he's a fascinating guy and I took away three rules from him, from my conversations with him, for successful organizations. Essentially what I think he would say is you need to achieve three things if you want your organization to succeed. Everybody needs to feel valued and respected. That everybody needs to understand how their job helps contribute to the vision and mission of the organization. Everybody needs to have the right tools to do their job. They sound like three simple things. You can actually impact them and they mean a lot and they're actually very different things. It's quite amazing how many organizations I've seen where one or more of those things simply isn't true, and which ultimately limits the degree to which that organization can succeed. But those three rules have been top of mind for me since I came here and I've been pushing on each of them. You're right; leadership is a lot about resilience but I think leaders need to have a really clear vision, an inspiring vision, of where they want to take a place and commit to it, and do it in the context of those three things. I think, as I said at the outset, if you have that it's a lot easier to get out of bed in the morning.
Louis: Lastly, Rob, you're a longtime Hamiltonian. You've seen the City change and evolve over many, many years. You're deeply connected. Are you optimistic, and if you are, why?
Rob: Look, I'm hugely optimistic for where Hamilton's at. I'm going to sound a little like Bob Bratina here, the former Mayor of Hamilton, but when I was a kid even though I grew up just across the Bay in Aldershot, I was born here in Hamilton, lived here for a while and then we moved to Aldershot, but this was absolutely the place I would come from ages, well, as a kid I would come here on Saturday mornings and meet my grandmother. We'd have breakfast at Eaton's. It was such an incredibly vibrant place. My dad, who worked at Westinghouse, he had a lot of corny sayings, for sure, but he used to say, "If you stood long enough at the corner of King and James, you'd meet everybody in the world." You kind of had that feeling back then because it was such a busy place. The sidewalks were bustling with people and people from all walks of life. That's how I got to know Hamilton. Then it started this long, decades long, decline which was very painful to watch and lots of kind of false starts in terms of heading back up. But I'm very confident that Hamilton has now sort of figured out the secret sauce for coming back. It's hard for me not to relate it to my broader views about the importance of the City region. We have this incredible position as being part of one of the most successful City regions in North America, in terms of growth and prosperity. I think, what I've been saying for many years, is that there is this wave of prosperity that will overtake Hamilton, and what our local City leaders can do is either let it wash over us and be whatever it can be, or they can really try to ride it and shape it in a way that maximizes that for the City of Hamilton. I think Hamilton is going to succeed, either superbly well because the City has helped to shape it, or in spite of the City, but I think success is headed our way.
Louis: Rob MacIsaac, thank you for spending time with us today.
Rob: Thanks, Lou.
Originally published 14 May, 2020
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