Usually this success comes from one person or a group of likeminded people who form a working trust and are determined, fearless, single minded, often rude, sometimes arrogant and always in a hurry.
You see this in business, politics, sports and economic development. What you don’t see often is succession from one hard driving generation to another.
One of the reasons is that just like entrepreneurs who start their own businesses, larger-than-life groups or individuals in the civil society suck up the oxygen in the room and there isn’t much room for successors to grow and spread their wings.
Most great politicians who change a city, a province or the country don’t think they will ever lose an election. Most entrepreneurs don’t think they will ever die.
Great leaders are often too busy, too focused, and too passionate about today to give much thought to tomorrow when they have moved on. It is just unimaginable to them.
One place where it looks like we have dodged the succession bullet is at the Northern Centre for Advanced Technology in Sudbury. I have a conflict, so let’s get that out of the way.
I am the past chairman, I sit on the executive committee and just completed sitting on the search committee. I’m immensely proud of the transition that has just been announced and not embarrassed in the least to talk about it.
This is not the story of a group although the board has certainly been supportive and energized. No. This is the story of one man and his passion for action and another who is picking up the baton.
Darryl Lake is one of the most extraordinary social entrepreneurs in northern Ontario’s history.
With Glen Crombie, the president of Cambrian College more than 20 years ago, he imagined, pleaded for, created and willed NORCAT into being. The idea was complex but simple.
Northern Ontario needed to build innovation on its strengths, which included twinning our major multinational mining corporations in the Sudbury Mining Camp that needed solutions with small-medium size businesses that needed to be creative enough to provide solutions.
In short we needed to learn how to commercialize our ideas in the north, but more importantly, think big not small. This is how you create wealth.
The most dramatic metaphor for what has been accomplished is that in 1971 Apollo Astronauts came to Sudbury to study geology (namely shatter cones and impact breccia). I’ll spare you the details.
The world thought they were coming to experience a lifeless surface not unlike the moon. The image stuck. Today, because of Darryl’s chutzpa and his fellow traveller’s brilliance (Dale Boucher) NORCAT has multimillion dollar contracts with NASA and the Canadian Space Agency to provide intellectual capital around the material handling challenges of travel to Mars.
We have leveraged our work and research with Mining Multinationals to adapt technology for space travel. That is called creating wealth in a knowledge economy. And that image is beginning to stick. This is the stuff of true revolutionary change.
Darryl didn’t just do neat stuff, and help turn the culture of a city around; he created such an extraordinary institution that some of the most creative innovation leaders in the country wanted to come and take his job. More than 100 people showed an interest.
On April 17, Darryl’s successor was announced. His name is Don Duval. He is currently the vice president of business services for a hugely innovative organization in Toronto called MaRs, and is also the head of the Toronto Regional Innovation Centre.
He is an extraordinary individual and will build on Darryl’s legacy with determination and aplomb.
But the story today is about character. It is about conceiving a dream and implementing it, about never losing focus on what is important and having the confidence to break the doors down when necessary.
It is about refusing to quit and understanding that if you want to create wealth you have to be the best in the world.
None of it matters if your ideas die or diminish on retirement. The last job is ensure your ideas and energy and leadership stand the test of time.
Darryl has done that. Welcome to Sudbury Don. You have big shoes to fill and we’ll help you do it.
Michael Atkins is the president of Northern Life.
Posted by Vivian Scinto