By Lindsey Craig
Above, Siemens’ President and CEO Robert Hardt, Kobo CEO Michael Serbinis and Google Canada’s Managing Director Sam Sebastian.
So, there I was at a conference about technology and education. It featured a handful of VIPs from Canada’s business sector elite — Google Canada’s Managing Director Sam Sebastian, Siemens’ President and CEO Robert Hardt, and the brains behind Kobo – CEO Michael Serbinis.
Moderator and award-winning journalist John Stackhouse asked the panelists a series of questions (evidently pre-planned, since, at one point, Sebastian jokingly replied, “That wasn’t in our notes” (to which Hardt remarked, “Why don’t you Google it?”).
Along with the odd laugh or two, the conversation generated relatively predictable dialogue.
Panelists shared personal stories about what inspired them when they were in school, and weighed in on whether universities were doing enough to prepare students for the tech world (Sebastian gave considerable praise to the University of Waterloo – seriously – UW needs to cut this man a cheque).
At one point, they also talked about when kids should begin to learn coding: “Start it in kindergarten,” said Serbinis. “Honestly, you see a kid in a stroller now and they’ve got an iPad in their hands. Kids can figure this stuff out.”
But while the conversation about technology and education unfolded, an underlying theme emerged. Each of the accomplished leaders began discussing the value of sport.
‘That’s what start-ups need’
One of the first references came from Sebastian. He was speaking about the importance of recruiting employees who not only have software engineering smarts – they have a wide-range of other soft skills too.
“That’s what start-ups need,” he said. Hire the “whole package”, he continued. “Hire the athlete”.
Hire the athlete.
I sat back for a moment. It quickly resonated.
Having grown up in sport myself (of which I am eternally grateful), and having interviewed many Olympic athletes, I knew exactly what he meant.
Hire the person who has already proven they understand sacrifice. The one who has spent half their life getting up at 4:30 a.m.to make it to practice. The one who knows and does what it takes to get the job done.
Hire the one who has already proven their ability to lead a team. The one who has already shown their ability to multitask – who held down a part-time job while taking university courses and training for the Olympics.
That’s the team member who will beat the deadline, win the impossible client and boost revenue all at once.
Hire the athlete indeed.
Fail. And fail again. Until you succeed.
Sebastian went on to describe the value of “failing”: the benefits that come with giving it your all – unsuccessfully. Being able to pick yourself back up off the ground and try again. Perhaps in a new way. With a twist. A different strategy. A revised plan of attack.
Just as athletes do.
Just as successful, risk-taking, go-get-’em entrepreneurs do.
“Start-ups need people who aren’t afraid to fail,” Sebastian said. “The ones who say, ‘Yes!’ even as they’re failing,” he added, complete with a fist-pump motion – illustrating that victorious feeling one gets not necessarily because they’ve ‘got it’, but because they almost do – and they now know what they need to do to get there.
“We learn so much from failing,” he continued, and began talking about the values of determination, risk-taking, hard work and dedication.
It wasn’t long before Serbinis, too, picked up on what Stackhouse likely hadn’t intended to prod – the value of sport in teaching fundamental values and skills that translate from the field or court into the professional realm.
“I have three daughters in swimming,” Serbinis explained. “And what they learn from being DQ’d*, let me tell you.” (*DQ’d = disqualified)
Need more phys-ed
Serbinis went on to stress the importance of sport for all kids, so that all can gain from the benefits of athletics and being active.
“We need more phys-ed classes in school. We need more physical activity in the curriculum,” he said.
Hardt, too, brought athletics into the discussion. His comments were less direct about the value of sport – just that soccer had long been his passion, and he eventually gave it up to focus on his career. While I didn’t have the chance to ask him, one may be willing to bet that much of what Hardt learned on the field, has helped him professionally as well.
Interestingly, Serbinis’ comments came less than two weeks after a Toronto Star article reported that Queen’s University had suspended its phys-ed program. The article said experts feared phys-ed as a ‘teachable’ was in danger, and that as a result, phys-ed classes could one day be threatened too. (see Experts alarmed by program cuts as Queen’s U suspends phys-ed. degree).
Benefits in the boardroom…
At a time when kids seem more concerned with video games than the playground or soccer field, it’s frightening to think our school system, too, may involve less physical activity, and inspire far fewer kids to take up sport. Especially when one considers the wide ranging benefits at stake.
The benefits of sport, as any athlete will tell you, are endless. While one could also list the vast physical and mental health benefits (that’s a whole other blog!), the points raised by these business leaders about the professional advantages of sport, alone, are tremendous.
Sports are instrumental in building and developing strong interpersonal skills, the ability to problem-solve, to challenge effectively, to take risks, instill discipline and a hard work ethic, to foster strong time management skills, develop leaders and valuable team players, instill a sense of dedication, commitment, perseverance and — deep breath — I could go on and on and on. All of which, as Sebastian and Serbinis point out, are key traits of success — traits they seek in candidates for their global-leading companies.
And so, to have three of Canada’s most influential business leaders speak unprompted about their belief in the power of sport — was incredible. And I couldn’t have agreed more.
We need more leaders to speak up about the power of sport – for the way in which it prepares us for life, and for our careers, as much as it does the championship game. We need more to speak up so that policymakers, government bodies and members of the general public, too, will take greater note.
More people need to understand the advantages sports can give – the essential, fundamental skills that allow us to conquer and thrive, no matter where and when challenges present themselves in life – on the court, on the field, or perhaps — in a new job with Sebastian, Hardt or Serbinis.