Leaders achieve breakthrough results when they learn to trust in, listen to and fully be themselves. While I didn’t know it at the time, my family gave me a solid foundation to build on while growing up on a farm in Cape Breton. My mother was extraordinarily organized and disciplined while my father was visionary and creative, and I got a bit of both. My father, the innovator, built a liquid manure system in 1964 despite being turned down by the farm loan board because no one had done it before. He knew this
system would be more efficient and getting off chemical fertilizer would bring many benefits. He introduced me to the “circular economy”, and I think of his determination and courage when I think about the leadership qualities we need to build a sustainable future.

Today’s leaders need to stand for something, show courage, and speak through their actions. Leadership is about identifying and creating opportunity and setting a bold vision. During my time leading Home Depot, it grew from 19 stores and $600 million in sales to 179 stores and $6 billion in sales over less than a 15-year period. At the time, Indigenous peoples in Canada were leading the fight against unsustainable logging practices, and I agreed with them on the importance of protecting our forests. As one of the world’s largest purchasers of lumber, we played an important role in greening supply chains by introducing our Wood Purchasing Policy. In 1999, years before “green procurement” had made its way into everyday business jargon, we committed to source our lumber from forests that were sustainably managed. I saw first-hand that our actions could bear powerful, and positive results as other industry players followed suit.

After leaving Home Depot I travelled the world with my husband Stan, and it was clear that food, water and energy were major global challenges that require innovation. This led me to create NRStor – an energy storage project development company – to bring forward the solutions we need to transition to an efficient, cost-effective and carbon free energy system. Many people were surprised as I hadn’t previously worked in the electricity industry. But I also joined Home Depot without having built a house.

The great Canadian thinker Marshall McLuhan said, “There are no passengers on spaceship Earth. We are all crew.” In this, McLuhan was right. The challenges we are collectively facing require a new model of doing business, in which the potential of every individual is fully unleashed. We all have to pitch in. The age of silos, blindly following orders and profiteering are dead and gone, and a new way of doing business is emerging.

I am excited for our future. Serving as Chair of Sustainable Development Technology Canada and MaRS Discovery District allows me to see firsthand how innovation is progressing in our country. Canada is the place to be for innovation. We have the strength to be a world-class player in this arena.

To get there, collaboration, speed and communication are critical, along with a new type of leadership. I encourage you to become the type of leader the world needs – capable of ushering in the new model of advancement that marries profitability, sustainability, and partnerships. Success is more than economic achievement; it also includes civic engagement and contributing to humanity. This means embodying who you truly are and learning how to bring that self into the world of action and execution. This means betting on yourself over and over again. So, let’s get started.


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