Leadership Lens:  Richard Peddie

23 Oct 2015

Leadership Lens: Richard Peddie

Former President and CEO of Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment

Richard Peddie prides himself on leading with strong core values and creating enterprise value. Whether it was as President of Hostess, Pillsbury, SkyDome, NetStar or Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), his goal was always to deliver tremendous financial value to those companies by having a clear leadership vision and consistently practicing strong core corporate and personal values.

Most recently, Richard was president and CEO of MLSE for 14 very busy years. From building the Air Canada Centre, and launching Leafs and Raptors TV, to buying GolTV, bringing Major League Soccer to Canada and building the $500-Million-dollar Maple Leaf Square, Peddie helped grow the company from an enterprise value of $300 Million to $2 Billion.

Richard shares some of his leadership lessons in his new book: 21 Leadership Lessons, Successes, Failures & Discoveries from a Life in Business & Sports – available in stores and online on October 24th.

Growing up in Windsor, Ontario, were you in any leadership roles at a young age? Was being the captain of the safety patrol in Grade eight the beginning of your leadership path?

In hindsight, I guess it was. Funny, I have often thought about how I led the safety patrol team and I don't think I was very good at it! A bit of a dictator, as I recall! My high school years were actually an empty leadership period for me as I never even tried leading sports teams or high school clubs. It really wasn't until my final two years of university that the importance of leadership started resonating with me. Then, my leadership positions started coming together quickly. I was elected to the university student council, became a VP of the Commerce Club and was chosen as a student rep on the university Senate. I also started reading books by Peter Drucker, regarded today as the "father of modern management", and his books Managing for Results and The Effective Executive made an impression on me. As it turned out, the early days of my leadership journey had begun.

Your father was someone who believed in fairness, teamwork, hard work and telling the truth. What impact, if any, did your father passing away when you were only 21 have on your career and leadership style?

My brother, Tom, and I had to grow up quickly. My Mom did not work and had to go back to school for a short while before she could get a job. So, Tom and I had to start working hard and looking out for ourselves. But, all of our Dad's strong personal values stuck with us. One thing that we really took notice of was his belief in equality. Living on the Canadian-U.S. border, in Windsor, we couldn't help notice what was happening in Detroit. In the early 60's, racism was very prevalent in Detroit and ultimately led to the disastrous 1967 riots. However, growing up we only heard positive things from our Dad about the importance of accepting different people. Also, thoughts of my Dad always stayed with me as I went through my career. As I led so many great companies, I always imagined how proud he would have been seeing me have such a great career. And, being a Red Wings' fan, I imagine he would have been very surprised that I would some day help lead the Maple Leafs!

Of all the leaders in the world today, who stands out as being the most relevant, interesting, inspiring and influential -- and why?

I have read almost every book by or about Jack Welch and have adapted many best practices from him. Early influencers were FDR and Churchill; the former because he was so progressive during the Great Depression and pre WWII, and Churchill for how he rallied England and the world during the dark days after the fall of France. But, truthfully, I see great leadership every day – from CEOs like Tim Cook of Apple to everyday people who do a wonderful job leading their organizations and their communities. It's tough not being inspired by these people that seldom get any recognition for the great stuff that they do.

Noel Tichy, the legendary American management consultant, author and educator, has talked about the need for leaders to have edge, or the courage to see reality and then seize/act on it. Do you agree?

I love Tichy's book: The Leadership Engine. He really believes that great leaders have values, ideas, energy, a teachable point of view and edge: the ability to make a tough decision in a timely way. When I read his book, I realized that I had sufficient edge when it came to business decisions but not nearly enough when it came to leading people. At MLSE, we started having conversations about giving honest and, sometimes difficult, feedback to our people. Today, just about every leader has trouble giving candid feedback while research clearly proves that people want that type of feedback. I wish I could say MLSE leadership became good at having edge before I retired. We improved but we still had a long way to go.

You mention in your new book that “being admired gives you much more leadership power than being feared”. Please explain.

I have no time for bullies, screamers and leaders who think they have all the answers. I know that the very office of the President and CEO intimidates many staff and, if not managed, can really be a barrier to honest feedback, creativity and contrary thinking from one's team. So, I worked hard getting to know all my staff: what was their role; what were they working on; how they were doing, etc. My staff knew I would push them, but they also knew that I would recognize them when they did a great job. I have two chapters in my new book that talk to this because I think they are both key leadership lessons: "walk the talk" and "be sure to say thanks". I believe that the late African-American poet Maya Angelou said it so perfectly: "I’ve learned that people will forget what you said, people will forget what you did, but people will never forget how you made them feel".

Did you set out earlier in your career to be a CEO? Or, did it just happen naturally?

When I graduated I just wanted to go into an interesting marketing job. Thankfully, that's what happened when I joined Colgate. Career ambitions ran rampant with everyone wanting to be promoted as quickly as possible. Two things dawned on me -- one was that our senior leaders were not that impressive. Secondly, I came to believe I could be a great leader if I worked hard at it. I also set an objective to be a VP by 35. Later, General Foods helped me exceed that objective by making me a VP at 29.

What career and life advice do you give to people who want to become CEOs and join Boards?

Get your ticket punched: gets lots of experience both functionally and in different industries. Supplement your on-the-job learning by reading – and not just business books. Read biographies, fiction, humour, art, etc. Finally, give back.

You are a best-selling author and leadership thought leader now, just about to publish your second book (first book was Dream Job). What’s the best, and worst, thing about being an author?

I loved writing both books. And, I loved going on campuses and into companies to talk about my leadership beliefs. It was fun, energizing and rewarding when I saw some of my leadership ideas resonating with the audience. The down side? Well, it's a lot of work and you do not make much (or any) money doing it. I joke that my first job was working at Jack Fraser's menswear for one dollar an hour and that was my lowest hourly pay until I became an author.

In your new book, you have several chapters with catchy/punchy titles. Two titles that come to mind are: Packing Your Gym Bag and Get Your Ticket Punched. Please explain.

I taught leadership to eight different high promotables every year for six years at MLSE – 48 grads in all. The seven month course was called "Elite Training". I used a gym bag analogy in that course. I tried to convey an idea that one should put their leadership lessons in a gym bag and then pull them out when they need them. "Get Your Ticket Punched" refers to getting experiences in many different roles that would help prepare them for their dream job. In my case, I wanted to be the President of an NBA basketball team. Over 29 years, I got my ticket punched by working in consumer products, facility management and broadcast. So, when the Raptors needed a new President I was ready.

You mention in your new book that if people can’t find themselves a mentor, they might find that a book is an excellent substitute. The book In Search of Excellence has had a profound effect on your career. Please explain.

Yes, it's correct I never had a formal mentor and, instead, relied heavily on books to come up with my leadership narrative. In Search of Excellence came out just as I was in my first President's role at Hostess Snack Foods (the potato chip company, not the Twinkies company). After being on the job for a few months, I asked my boss for some leadership advice and he said "Oh, there is nothing I can teach you". Yikes! I was smart enough to know better than that. Peters and Waterman's book outlined nine principles if one wanted to be an excellent leader. The principle entitled "hands on, value driven" impacted me the most as it made a strong case for having a clear vision and rock-solid core values. Ever since I read that book, I have successfully led companies using and championing vision and values. No surprise, then, that the first two lessons in my book cover vision and values – or as I call them, the "what" and the "how".

Many people believe that anything originally written about leadership was done 20 years ago and any ‘new’ leadership thinking is simply a regurgitation of what other people have already written. Thoughts?

In part I agree with that statement. In fact, if you were to ask the late Dale Carnegie he would suggest that it was over 80 years ago. Personally, I think there are three fundamental leadership pillars: communication, coaching and recognition — and they are definitely as old as the hills. The problem is that we all get busy, stressed, etc. or we are just too new to the role of leadership. So, what if some of the ideas are a little redundant and maybe even recycled? If the book makes you rethink and re-energize your leadership approach, then it is a worth-while read.

Last question: what do people mostly get wrong about you?

Two things. Many think I was a "silver spooner". They are surprised to find out that my family was blue collar, that I grew up in a simple post war house in Windsor, really struggled in school and was the first one in my entire family to graduate from university.

Also they often think I am unapproachable. But if they do approach me, they quickly realize that I am, still at heart, a simple kid from Windsor.