Robert Winsor: “Chase your dreams, build your team, protect your reputation and learn from your mistakes”

Posted on Friday, October 31, 2014
“Forget about 9-5,” Robert Winsor told the Class of 2014. “Successful people love their work and if you don’t, you should look for a change. Follow your passions.” / Photo: Owen Egan

“Forget about 9-5,” Robert Winsor told the Class of 2014. “Successful people love their work and if you don’t, you should look for a change. Follow your passions.” / Photo: Owen Egan

By Neale McDevitt

When Robert Winsor was a two-way player on the 1960s national champion McGill Redmen football team, he learned the importance of discipline, dedication and having a game plan.

On Oct. 29, the business leader, engineer and innovator laid out his game plan for success for the graduating Class of 2014 during his Convocation address, after he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree.

“In a few minutes you will all have a McGill degree in your pocket and, believe me, there’s no better foundation for your jump out into the challenges of life,” Winsor told the full house in Place des Arts Salle Wilfrid Pelletier. “Now you can concentrate what you’re going to pursue once you’re out there and how you might combine your passions with your work. Both are tough questions. No one but you can answer those questions, but I can certainly offer some advice gleaned from – count them – 52 years of chasing my own dreams.”

Winsor, the owner, Chairman and CEO of Holden America Group (a group of companies that specializes in designing equipment for railway freight transportation), outlined his four-point plan to graduating students – chase your dreams; build a solid team; build your reputation; and learn from your mistakes.

“Adopt the work/life mission of Go For It,” said Winsor. “The ‘It’ is your choice and yours alone. It is what you want to do in life and hopefully something you are passionate about.

“But let’s understand what going for that special It really means. It means being totally focused, totally determined and entrepreneurial in pursuit of your dreams,” he continued. “Strive to be innovative, to be creative, to be imaginative, to be visionary. Think outside the box.”

Winsor stressed that thinking outside the box meant growing your job even when not required to do so. “Build [your job] and grow it to include elements that were not included in the original job description. Keep adding little bits to the edges,” he said. “Make yourself increasingly more helpful for your team as well as your employer.

“Forget about 9-5,” he continued. “Successful people love their work and if you don’t, you should look for a change. Follow your passions.”

Winsor’s second piece of advice – building a team – emphasized the importance of accepting one’s own weaknesses in order to learn from others. “It’s not easy for most to advance quickly through life without constant help, whether that be from supervisors, reporting personnel or other personnel,” said Winsor. “It really helps to be surrounded by those who have all the capabilities and talent and skills that you don’t have.

“Your team-building efforts need to be ongoing, continuous throughout your career. You need to have the team support always. Building and nurturing a team is as important as owning your job.”

Winsor also stressed the importance of an individual’s character in business. “Build your reputation. It is something you just can’t shake,” he said. “Build it carefully and guard it rigorously. Remember, this is your introduction to the world, it will be repeated by those who know only your reputation and not you personally.

“Particularly important… is ethics – the interpersonal stuff, such as integrity, honesty, reliability and, most importantly, loyalty. [Be loyal] to your associates, your firm’s customers and suppliers, and of course, your team members both past and present.”

In closing, Winsor reminded everyone that there will be missteps along the way – errors go hand-in-hand with ‘going for it.’ “It’s just the reality of accumulating meaningful experience,” he said. “You can’t have one without collecting the other.”

The key, he stressed, was turning an error into something positive. “The good news is, you can – and should – learn from those mistakes. This is the most effective form of continuing education you can find. [There are] no classes to attend, its cost free and it takes no time.

“I can speak from those 52 years of experience that has yielded 52 years of mistakes. What an education,” Winsor said, ending his address on a light note. “I think I’m into my third postdoc of mistakes, and I’m still going.”

Watch Robert Winsor’s Convocation address below.

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Category: In Focus

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