I just completed a very interesting 2 day experience as a member of the judging panel in this year’s Brampton Outstanding Business Achievement Awards. The City of Brampton has been running this competition for over 10 years now. It starts with an online application, the City then creates a shortlist of finalists, and it all ends with an annual gala where they acknowledge local innovators and business success stories in a range of categories. As a member of this year’s judging panel, I joined a group of local business leaders visiting this year’s finalists and conducting interviews with their owners and executives to help determine the winners. Why was I involved? I was asked to take part because ITW was honoured last year in the Information and Communications Technology category (see here). It was pretty cool to be on the other side of the table this year – recognizing the excitement and nerves bubbling up in the finalists during the interviews and office visits.
At first, I wasn’t sure what to expect or how to conduct myself ‘as a judge’. Early on day 1 I remembered that interviewing companies (and their execs) is actually a big part of what I do for ITW everyday. Whether it’s with clients, colleagues, or vendors, I actually really enjoy that part of my job. Unfortunately, people are always nervous when they meet someone new – especially when it’s part of a competition (or when they are trying to win business). Thankfully, I’ve gotten pretty good at helping them get past the awkward “first dance” and on to talking about business. The best way to get people past their nerves is to get them talking about something they created … ask them about ‘their baby’. Talking to local entrepreneurs and business leaders last week I saw this kind of passion explode. The challenge to our judging panel became reining in the conversations and keeping ourselves on task and on schedule – we had a number of key points we had to address for the competition scoring.
Listening to people talk about their business challenges, their plans, and their risks is really addicting. The entrepreneur in me LOVES that! During these 2 days I got to spend time with a real mix of great business people (not just IT folks), from a wide variety of industries. Some were from young start-ups, some from established enterprises and even a finalist that has been operating for over a century! Some were private SMBs and some were public giants. What I found compelling (and comforting) was that they all expressed similar fears, similar difficulties, and all of them were deeply passionate about their organizations. Enthusiasm is contagious.
Before I agreed to be part of the panel, my team asked me to justify removing myself from ITW’s operations for 2 days with no immediate benefit for our business. The simple answer then was that ITW believes in investing in our local community. Now, having spent 2 days with local business leaders, I would still answer the same … But I’d also smile to myself knowing that I probably got as much (if not more) out of this experience as the finalists did.
The best part by far was seeing real passion in others. With the Annual ITW Summit this weekend too, the timing couldn’t have been better. Enthusiasm is contagious.