CEOs are known for being extremely ambitious. They are constantly pushing themselves to get more done, produce better results, and reach new heights. This relentless drive is the fuel that enables them to accomplish incredible things. Kevin Ford, CEO of Calian Group, a publicly-traded company that provides innovative solutions for the healthcare, communications, learning and security sectors is a shining example.
From its headquarters in Ottawa, Canada, in its most recent full year earnings report, Calian announced a record $518 million in revenue, which marked a 20% increase from the year previous. It has enjoyed 80 consecutive profitable quarters, a feat unheard of in most companies. Their gross margins of 26 percent were also a company record.
When I spoke with Kevin about his journey, he emphasized the importance of mindset and being mentally ready for what’s ahead of you. “Life is full of challenges, and I find people react in one of two ways. One is ‘Why Me?’ where they feel like a victim and beholden to their circumstances. I adhere to the ‘Try Me’ philosophy. Don’t tell me what I can’t do. I will figure it out.”
Ford has lived this philosophy to the fullest. While a recent study revealed that at least 97% of CEOs had a university education, Ford openly admits he doesn’t have one. “I remember being in awe of colleagues who had MBAs, PhDs and wondered ‘How could I get ahead when I only had a high school diploma?’” Instead of getting discouraged, he became even more determined to succeed. “I think I always felt that I needed to work harder, to demonstrate tangible results to offset any formal education”.
But relentless drive, left unchecked, can have potentially perilous outcomes. Ford wants to draw attention to this fact, as it is often ignored in the corporate “hustle” culture. “I was trying to offset the hustle and stress with exercise and a healthy diet, but with constant travel and long hours, at times these can take a backseat to work to-do’s. The other key factor that I did not pay attention to was genetics, as my father and cousins each had a history with heart disease. I had all these warning signs, but I didn’t pay attention. I thought I was Superman.”
It turned out that he wasn’t.
The pace eventually caught up with him. After returning home from a run with his wife, he started experiencing severe chest pains and then collapsed. “If it had happened a few weeks earlier when I was travelling, and my wife had not been there to help and get me immediate medical attention, it could have ended quite differently.” He believes that these issues were the consequence of his go-getter approach to life and ignoring those genetic warning signs.
“It was as if I couldn’t help myself, I kept taking on more and more. I was trying to cram 36 hours’ worth of tasks into a 24-hour day.”
I asked Ford what he has learned from this experience. One of the most important things for him now is to share his journey with others, so they can learn from his experiences. “I want people to know that while it is great to feel you are unstoppable, don’t forget that you’re not invincible. You can only push yourself for so long until there’s a price to pay. I was fortunate because I survived. There are many others who don’t get that second chance.”
Despite his life-altering experience, he shares a cautionary warning. It is very challenging to make the shift to self-care. It must be done with intentionality and determination. As he observed, “I’m still having to constantly “check in” with myself and ask if I am taking care of those health priority items.”
He has introduced more conversations about the importance of self-care into his senior leadership team meetings. He also publicizes when he takes time off and strongly encourages others to do the same. It is essential for these practices to become “embedded into your culture. Otherwise, you can fall back into old habits or pay lip service to these critical priorities.”
Today, he appreciates all that life and work have to offer. He focuses more on family and personal interests than ever before. Rather than getting in the way of their success, the company has never performed better and continues to grow at a rapid pace. The changes he continues to make in his life and leadership did not diminish the bottom line, they expanded it.
“Although your ambition and your drive to succeed are wonderful motivators, they cannot be everything. There is more to your bottom line than your financials. While prioritizing your health might feel like it gets in the way, it must be your top priority. It is truly a matter of life and death.”
Written by Craig Dowden.
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