By Marina James
Long before I transitioned into executive-level leadership roles at Economic Development Winnipeg (EDW) and elsewhere, I had the pleasure of working at Winnipeg-based lottery ticket printer Pollard Banknote.
This was just a few short years after the company’s leader and visionary (now chairman emeritus) Lawrie Pollard – who still inhabits a corner office a few steps away from the main reception area – had taken his family’s printing company in its entirely new, lottery-specific direction in the mid-‘80s.
To say Lawrie’s move into that heavily regulated space was risky is a profound understatement, but his gamble paid off: Pollard Banknote is now one of the world’s largest suppliers of lottery-related products and services.
Lawrie’s sons and successors, co-CEOs John and Doug Pollard, are busy steering the company into equally brave waters in their own right these days (the online environment), while holding firm to the values their father personified when he helmed the company.
What I prized most about my time at Pollard Banknote was the chance to interact with Lawrie and to witness his pioneering leadership style firsthand. “Integrity at Work” has long been the company’s credo, and no one better exemplifies this than Lawrie. He didn’t just tell his employees how important they were to his company’s success, he made a point of proving it to them in ways that resonated with everyone who worked for him.
Almost every day when I worked there, Lawrie would tour the plant and talk to as many people as he could. Upon reflection, I believe these informal interactions resulted in two things that really helped fuel the firm’s success: first, every employee got the chance to get to know Lawrie in some small but important way as both an individual and a leader; and second, it gave workers at every level the chance to measure Lawrie’s values against their own, which allowed them to better understand and support the leadership decisions he made.
Lawrie’s employees trusted his leadership, and Lawrie trusted his employees. His personal values helped create and sustain a corporate culture that brought out the best in everyone.
During my tenure, it’s safe to say we didn’t so much as work for Pollard Banknote as much as we worked for Lawrie Pollard. That’s how many of us saw it back then, and I have it on good authority Lawrie’s influence continues to be felt. He still makes his daily rounds whenever he can, and so do his sons.
Lawrie was an unconventional leader who understood that values-based leadership creates an environment that gives a company the greatest chance of success over the long-term.
Lawrie was never a showman, and he never took undue credit for his company’s success.
And he remains as I knew him then: a humble, respectful and good-humoured mentor who loves to regale listeners with stories and lessons learned.
But this unassuming approach in no way hindered his unique ability to be an incredible leader when needed. Quite the contrary: Lawrie’s authenticity rang true as a person and as a leader, and we followed him – and worked very, very hard for him – because he persuaded us to be the best we could be in ways that were congruent with the corporate culture he inspired and our own set of individual values.
Values-based leaders ask themselves, “What choice will be in greatest alignment with our company’s core values?”
When decisions based on these criteria are executed effectively, the opportunity to move a company from good to great is most likely to present itself. Thousands of books extolling leadership get published each year, but the ones that speak strongest to me are those focusing on ways to consistently engender employee excellence.
Sense of community
More and more, business interests are being viewed as integral to the viability of society. These two pursuits are no longer separate and distinct. To survive and thrive, businesses must authentically champion a set of values which are firmly rooted in our collective sense of community. And business leaders who exercise their power in light of this ethos embody and endorse the interconnectedness of communities and corporate cultures.
Winnipeg abounds with examples of leaders like this, leaders whose values are reflected within their companies and within our community at large. From Lawrie Pollard, Nick Logan and Jim August, to Doug Stephen, Gerry Price and Paul Soubry (and many others besides) our city is blessed with leaders who are as involved in our community as they are in the companies they run.
Not surprisingly, the employees they attract, from entry-level workers to senior managers, are often likewise motivated by this kind of high-involvement community participation.
Great leaders need great followers and vice versa. It’s no accident the former attracts the latter, and it’s no surprise that great companies – and transformative communities, for that matter – are the ones whose leaders motivate in ways that coincide with their own core values, their company’s core values and the core values of their employees.
This symbiotic relationship results in workers who are well-trained and anxious to make decisions, solve problems and show initiative.
Our business leaders are a key piece of Winnipeg’s economic development puzzle. Great employers help attract and retain a talented workforce, and our city’s renowned values-based leaders play an integral role in furthering this agenda.
Although talent attraction efforts are driven by many factors, those of us toiling in this field know that when we can rely on trailblazers like Lawrie Pollard and others with similar tendencies to lead by example, the challenging task of persuading skilled job seekers to swell Winnipeg’s ranks becomes enrichened.
Whatever your current role, I urge all of you to consider how you can help build a better future for our city by stepping forward and becoming a leader within your own sphere of influence. With consummate examples like Lawrie Pollard to inspire us, I’m convinced Winnipeg can become a top-of-mind place for people craving a more rewarding work/life resolution. And isn’t that just about everyone nowadays?