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Q&A With Toronto’s Michael Beattie, President And CEO Of MBM Investments Corporation

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Toronto’s Michael Beattie is the founder, President and CEO and of MBM Investments Corporation, a company that has worked with some of the largest construction companies in Canada and the US. He recently shared some of his insight regarding business leadership and, what from his experience, is required to make a successful leader in today’s business environment.

Michael Beattie

Q: This is a nature vs. nurture question. But, what do you think has the most influence in creating a successful business leader – having a natural ability or learning through a mixture of education and experience?

Michael Beattie: I think many traits of entrepreneurship are tied to personality. Being more on the extroverted side might make certain aspects of leadership easier, such as speaking in public or sales management, but on the whole I think you can learn principles through experience and training and then put them into practice.

One thing I learned when I was working at Lakeview Holdings earlier in my career was to eagerly accept responsibility even when I was inexperienced. Some people do this more easily than others—I guess you could call that the natural part. That doesn’t mean that people who prefer more preparation can’t be good leaders, because early success fuels anyone’s confidence for the next project.

Lakeview Holdings served in many ways as a mentorship for me, since we were managing companies in trouble, performing mergers and acquisitions, working in leveraged buyouts, and developing financial sponsorship strategies for public and private equity companies. These were important projects, and I earned enough trust during that time period to still sit on its board of directors to this day.

Q: How did you translate construction structural engineering skills into entrepreneurial and team leadership skills? They are not necessarily the same thing.

Michael Beattie: I studied both engineering and business, so I made a conscious effort to fill in both sides of that learning curve. Knowing how to manage your time, and having excellent interpersonal skills are not automatic, but I still say they can be learned. You might be brilliant in construction financing, but can you deal with a difficult co-worker? Can you motivate your team? Can you communicate your ideas with clarity and manage projects according to the specific needs of your industry? In my case, I’m in construction, so I deal with the labour market a lot. Unionized environments are unique and need to be managed properly.

If you can develop all of those skills, not just your field of study, that’s a powerful recipe for success in any business.

Q: You have worked on some important projects. Do high-pressure projects affect your leadership style?

Michael Beattie: The more experience you have, the more risk you’re willing to take, and the more it takes to throw you. Early stages of leadership involve being willing to drive new ideas and being first in line to take on increasing responsibility, because one thing I wish I’d done is taken bigger steps earlier.

If you want to be a leader in your industry, you need a big picture vision. You must understand (to the best of your ability) where your industry is going and what the implications of your actions might be. These larger-picture items are things you grow into. You learn, over time, how to properly assess risk and decide beforehand how much is acceptable when taking on any new project. So, on the days when things aren’t going well—and there will be those days—you have to fall back to the plan, and calmly see it through as each issue arises. And trust yourself, too.

Q: Businesses can and do face the occasional crisis. What advice can you give young business people to help them weather the inevitable storms of management and/or entrepreneurship?

Michael Beattie: Lots of crises can be avoided by good planning. In construction, knowing how to negotiate and controlling costs is especially important. But sometimes issues arise that are out of your control. You can either complain about having to handle a difficult situation, or you can decide to be the person who willingly handles a difficult situation. It’s all about mindset. This is what shouldering responsibility means—your people must see that you are assuming control and you can communicate the scope of the problem. So figure out what you need to do, make a plan and act on it. Don’t rush your responses, but don’t dawdle, either. I’d also say that a single strategy might not work, so be ready to adapt your plan.

Q: Everyone experiences setbacks in their careers. What have your failures taught you about finding success in business?

Michael Beattie: The real question is whether you can reinvent yourself. I think you can. I have had some great successes in my life, and I’ve been passionate about every single project in construction, road engineering, road operations and maintenance. But you don’t learn much from success, do you? You learn from failure. Once the initial shock is worn off, you can identify your critical mistakes—they will become obvious in hindsight. And that journey might reveal a new true passion, or it might just make you more determined to succeed in the business you had before.

Q: What will be the leading trends in the construction industry in coming years and how will businesses need to adapt?

Michael Beattie: Market demand for eco-buildings is driving research and development into “smart” construction materials. Choosing the right sustainable products that are also cost-effective will be important going forward. New technology is in the pipeline—like 3D VR modelling to pitch architecture projects. Building Information Modelling is already in use and it will be more widespread, because it has the capacity to make a project more efficient and therefore reduce your footprint.

But of course, understanding your market and offering cost-effective, superior work in comparison to your competitors will always be most important. What’s going to give you an edge on the competition? That’s what you’ve got to focus on.

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