“It’s funny when you think of how one seemingly not that important a decision can affect someone else’s life. At the time I had just been promoted at Canon as one of the VERY few women into Senior Sales and one of the very youngest at 24. No one expected including my Manager who promoted me, anything in the first 90 days in a new territory. But your decision to go ahead with my recommendation was the vote of confidence I needed. You see, my team was all men and ranged in age between 45-50, so even though I was the number one rep on the “junior team”, I was not expected to last with the “real sales reps” (i.e. men) in my senior position. But I not only lasted, I thrived. And at the risk of sounding “sappy”, it was the day I brought in the surprise deal on the NP6650 from you in my first month that gave me the confidence I needed. And I shocked the heck out of the guys on my team. So I thank you for taking a risk on me and providing the needed confidence that I still obviously, appreciate to this day and remember fondly. I always think about how I may be affecting a person’s life through my actions. I hope it is positive!” (DB April 2015.)

The above comment was sent to me just a few weeks ago. When I was CFO of the Smith Group, 20+ years ago, we were searching for a new photo copier. Xerox was the brand leader. You didn’t ask or tell someone to make a photocopy but rather you asked them to “make a Xerox copy”. Much like when we ask for ketchup we say “pass the Heinz” or not a tissue but a “Kleenex”. But then Japanese photocopiers arrived from companies such as Canon, Ricoh, etc. To deviate from the norm was abominable and full of risk. But a sales representative sold me on the technology of Canon and I went with it. The rest is history.

Thirty years later that sales rep thought she recognized me as a speaker for the Toronto Entrepreneur’s Conference, being held at the Mississauga Convention Centre on May 13th, 2015. She reached out to me to confirm her suspicions. After a few investigative questions we realized the connection. She then told me the story above. I was shocked. You just never know!

You just never know how a decision made today can influence someone’s life for tomorrow.

I started to reflect on decisions I have made during the past number of years and the outcome of those decisions. There was much achieved but likewise much opportunity lost. There were many lives changed but unfortunately many people ignored. What’s scary is I don’t really know how many lives I made a positive or negative difference in. You just never know how words and actions really affect others.

In 1998 when I was appointed President of the Smith Group, the Chair of the Board mandated I join a CEO peer group. So I did. It was one of my better decisions. The group became my advisors, friends, colleagues and adopted family. But after several years, through an unfortunate circumstance, I had to leave the group. Regrettably, we lost contact with each other. A few weeks ago, one of the original members discovered me on LinkedIn. After reminiscing, he invited me to the next CEO Group meeting. I agreed to attend but was honestly very nervous in doing so. After being vacant for ten years, I walked into the meeting room where they were gathered. For almost twenty years, this same group has been meeting together for one purpose only: to support each other professionally and personally. They were not aware of my planned attendance. But upon seeing me enter, with open arms they said “welcome home!” Then they set aside over an hour from their agenda to hear about my life stories and I theirs. Ten years of absenteeism had no negative affect on our friendship. As one member reminded me again, real friends never leave you regardless of circumstance. I made the right decision to attend. My friends were waiting for me.  What an impact their words of acceptance have had on my life’s outlook! You just never know the impact of genuine friendship.

The best decision I ever made was “to love no matter what”. Over the years for example my kids have made decisions that I didn’t agree with. I could have not only rejected the decision but also them. But my decision was to love them no matter what. I have learned that while I may not agree with certain decisions or behaviors, if I choose to love no matter what, I can reject something I don’t agree with but not reject the person. You just never know the impact of unconditional love.

From a corporate perspective the principle seems obvious. Making the right decisions do matter. But there is a problem. Many organizations do make good decisions but execute on those decisions poorly. Both poor decision making and poor execution are chronic corporate ailments. While these ailments will hurt financial performance, organizational health, a major driver of great financial results, suffers. Companies that are unable to make good decisions, and companies that are unable to execute properly, are dispiriting (unhealthy) places to work. Employees once excited and highly motivated quickly become disengaged. We must recognize the responsibility of leadership. You just never know how we as leaders are being watched and analyzed or who is really following.

After 35+ years of being in leadership, I don’t know whose life has been positively or negatively affected by my decisions, hopefully more of the former than the latter. What I do know is this: “You just never know who is watching, who is listening, who is following, who is remembering, who is trusting, who is vulnerable and who is impressionable”. Each decision I make, each action I take, each comment I speak, is making a difference in someone’s life. I want that difference to be great! I may never know the outcome. But if that last word I hear before I leave this world is “thanks for making a positive difference in my life”, then my work is done and my legacy is sealed.


Merv Hillier

T. 416.409.6378 | E.