Ashe, Robert

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Je suis très choyé d’être ici pour vous parler aujourd’hui. Malgré le fait que ce doctorat honorifique est en effet un point marquant dans ma carrière, le vrai honneur est de pouvoir participer à cette journée si importante pour chacun d’entre vous, futurs leaders de la fonction publique et du domaine des affaires.

Il y a un peu moins de 30 ans que, suivi de mon épouse Sandra quelques ans plus tard, j’étais assis dans cette même salle, m’apprêtant à commencer la prochaine étape de ma vie après l’obtention de mon diplôme. Même si je ne savais pas ce qui m’attendait dans l’avenir, je me souviens que c’était un temps rempli d’optimisme et de potentiel. Avec ceci en tête, j’ai songé longuement à ce que je pourrais vous transmettre aujourd’hui.

I am very honoured to be here to speak to you today. And while accepting this honorary doctorate from this great institution is indeed a highlight of my career, the true honour is being able to participate in such an important day for all of you — both future leaders of business and those of you who will inevitably pursue careers in the service of the public.

It was just under 30 years ago that I, followed by my wife Sandra a few years later, sat in this same room about to embark on the next part of our lives after graduation. Looking back on that time now, while it was not clear what the future would hold it, I remember it as a time full of optimism and potential. With that in mind, I have given some careful thought to something I might pass on to you today.

As I look back on the excellent education, great friendships and life experience that I enjoyed here at the University of Ottawa – I can tell you that my career and professional journey since then has had its ups and downs. I didn’t become a professional basketball player as I fully expected I would after four years as a Gee-Gee – but in the path that I did choose, it ultimately has been a very interesting journey.

The message that I would want to leave with you is one that I often use with the teams that I have lead – it is a message I’ve heard said when describing great CEOs or great leaders. Will all of you be CEOs — I somehow doubt it — but you will all be leaders in your own right, whether at work or in a family setting, and so I think this message applies to all of us.

And that message is that as you embark on whatever journey you choose, you will need to maintain Brutal Optimism in the Face of Harsh Reality — Brutal Optimism / Harsh Reality – seemingly disconnected thoughts.

Let’s start with the Harsh Reality – our journeys rarely go in a straight line – they inevitably are marked with ups and downs, bends in the road, u-turns and yes, they can be marked with disappointments – in my own case, sudden changes in the business climate, attacks by competitors, career disappointments, I’ve seen them all. Your harsh reality will be different – as the speed of change in today’s environment is frighteningly faster than it was when I graduated, you will face your own ethical new dilemmas as social media changes the way we interact and conduct business and your challenges in business or public service at times might seem insurmountable. In fact – that’s when the fun starts – and when true leadership will be required – leadership that everyone in this room is capable of – even though you might not yet know it.

There is no great leader, or average one for that matter, that hasn’t looked disappointment in the eye, and said “How can I overcome this?” “How can I turn this into an experience not a disappointment?” “How do I lead through this?” … Steve Jobs – fired from Apple at age 31. Bill Gates, dropping out of college after two years.  (In fact both of these business leaders dropped out of school — let’s not draw any conclusions from that!) But both overcame huge challenges to play roles in re-inventing our whole computing world.

What’s the common thread here - Brutal Optimism — the ability to stare at the Harsh Reality and just get it done. The people you lead, the constituencies you represent or the personal and family goals you set will demand Brutal optimism in the face of these inevitable harsh realities — the ability to see beyond the challenges to the prize that lies ahead. The ability to connect the dots; from the fine education you’ve just received through to the solutions you’ll need to create to solve a complex problem — to persevere with honesty and integrity. The ability to help the people around you, or indeed just to motivate yourself to stare into that harsh reality, plot your own path and come out the other end to face the next challenge.

En disant cela, je ne cherche pas à avoir l’air trop profond. C’est simplement quelque chose que j’ai appris en observant, et pour quelque temps, en guidant l’ascension de Cognos, qui est passée d’un revenu annuel de 10 millions à mon arrivée à plus d’un milliard de dollars lors de son acquisition par IBM, un leader mondial respecté partout dans le monde, dont l’administration centrale est ici même à Ottawa. J’ai observé de grands leaders à Cognos pratiquer une forme d’Optimisme Brutal essentielle au succès – à cette époque et maintenant – je peux donc vous dire que ça existe vraiment.

Ainsi, mon message aujourd’hui, en cette journée tellement importante pour vous et cette université, c’est que l’optimisme dont j’étais rempli il y a environ 30 ans, l’optimisme dont vous débordez aujourd’hui – ce même optimisme qui vous a mené où vous êtes aujourd’hui – est l’optimisme qui vous aidera à réussir dans cette première étape de votre trajet professionnel et personnel en tant que diplômés. Donc, gardez-le avec vous!

Mes félicitations à chacun d’entre vous et bien sûr à vos familles, qui vous ont soutenu et qui sont ici aujourd’hui. Encore une fois, mes remerciements sincères à l’Université pour me permettre de partager cette journée importante et optimiste avec vous aujourd’hui.

It is not my intention to sound too profound about this – it just happens to be a truth I’ve learned over many years of watching, and for some time, leading Cognos become a global leader – from 10M in annual revenue when I joined – to more than $1B when the company was acquired by IBM, a global leader headquartered right here in Ottawa and respected worldwide. I’ve watched great leaders at Cognos practice a form of Brutal Optimism that it takes to succeed – back then and now – and so I can tell you it’s real.

And so my message today, on such an important day for you and this University, the optimism that I was full of about 30 years ago, the optimism that you are brimming with today – that optimism that got you where you are today – is the optimism that will help you to succeed as you face this first stage of your professional and personal journey as you graduate. So keep it with you!

My congratulations to all of you and of course to your families that are here today that supported you. And again, my thanks to the University for allowing me to share this important, optimistic day with you all.

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