Canadian homebuilder wins outstanding leadership award

It’s hard to believe that 13 years ago Canada’s largest homebuilder was in Waterloo fixing up a house on Ezra Street for his oldest daughter, who was attending Wilfrid Laurier University.

After a close examination of the house his daughter was living in, which included a front door without glass, president and chief executive officer of Mattamy Homes Peter Gilgan bought a house on Ezra and worked to make it a home appropriate for university students.

“We quickly transformed the house,” said Gilgan.

By the time he was finished, it was custom-designed for the five females, and was even equipped with a pink shoe rack.

“I wish I hadn’t put so much love into that damn house,” he joked, explaining that the house has since been demolished to make way for the new apartments now located on the street.

But it is this passion for finding people appropriate living quarters and customization that has put Mattamy Homes on the international market and earned Gilgan Laurier’s Outstanding Business Leader Award for 2009.

Having built nearly 50,000 homes, Mattamy is Canada’s largest homebuilder and one of the country’s top grossing homebuilding companies.

“It’s like your report card,” said Gilgan of his company’s financial statements.

However, he noted that financial success isn’t always predicable, using Mattamy’s expansion to the United States as an example.

Though they have locations in five U.S. cities, last year’s housing market crash illustrated that, as Gilgan explained, “The vision was right, the timing was wrong.”

“We actually hope to break even this year.”

During difficult times such as this, Gilgan said that there is one thing that keeps him motivated.

“One thing that sustains me year after year is the people.”

When speaking of the people in his industry, Gilgan praised how thoughtful Canadians are and that in a competitive industry it’s important that homebuilders have the right priorities.

“Housing is meant to shelter us, and secondarily it’s an investment and when people start to lose sight of that … it’s not right.”

Gilgan illustrated the importance of staying ahead in the industry and continuously being innovative.

“You have to be really aware of what your competitors are doing, but don’t follow [them],” said Gilgan, praising individuals such as co-founder and CEO of Research In Motion (RIM) Jim Balsillie, a former recipient of the award who was in attendance at Thursday’s private luncheon held in the Senate and Board Chamber.

“I wish I could be like Jim [Balsillie] and come up with a new product every month,” said Gilgan.

“I guess our [product] has a longer lifetime,” he added with a laugh.

As he wrapped up his speech, Gilgan kept the mood in the room light, stating, “It’s probably not a typical keynote address, but it’s the best I can do because I didn’t read the notes till this morning.”

Peter Gilgan

Started out as a chartered accountant.
-Built his first custom home in Burlington, ON in 1978.
-Spends 25 to 30 per cent of his time on community initiatives.
-Father of eight children.
-Led a cycling trek halfway across Canada, which raised over $500,000 for the pain management centre at Sick Kids Hospital.
-Has personally donated over $1.25 million to Sheridan College since 2006.

The award

Has been presented annually since 1987 by the Laurier School of Business and Economics.
-Selection committee of industry, academia and community leaders choose the recipient.
-Last year’s recipient was co-founder and CEO of Research In Motion (RIM) Jim Balsillie.

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