29 Questions: Jim Commerford

Jim Commerford: President and CEO for YMCA of Hamilton Burlington Brantford


Jim Commerford

1. If you could pick anyone, who would you pick as a business mentor?
Galen Weston Sr. — balanced very successful business growth through expansion of sales with philanthropic giving

2. What business or leadership book would you most recommend?
“Lean In” by Sheryl Sandberg — It is not just a business book for women, it is a must read for all business leaders who recognize the importance of women in leadership roles

3. What advice have you received that has helped you the most?
If you have to choose between being smart or being lucky … pick luck every time.

4. What would you do if you felt no fear?
Take a year off and ski the world

5. What/who makes you laugh?
Terry Cooke — as president of the Hamilton Community Foundation, he has a great sense of humour in his speeches and use of social media. You never know what he is going to say or write.

6. Where have you visited that you would like to return?
China — an amazing country with a tremendous history and culture. I spent two weeks in China several years ago and would love to learn more.

7. What is your favourite spot in Hamilton?
I love being around water, so it is Bayfront Park — a great place to run, bike or sit and look at the lake.

8. What is your guilty pleasure?
Potato chips — I love salty snacks

9. What did you learn from your first job?
Working with great people makes all the difference. Not only does it help the organization, it makes coming to work every day very rewarding and fun. I have been very fortunate to work with wonderful staff and volunteers.

10. What is your favourite hobby?
Running … much slower and shorter distances in recent years, swimming and downhill skiing

11. What do you do to wind down from work?
My favourite place to wind down is the cottage.

12. What’s your favourite meal to make or eat at a restaurant?
I love all international foods, especially sushi, Thai and Indian. If I am cooking, seafood is my favourite.

13. What makes you nervous?
Year-end financial statements. Despite a great finance team, year-end results are never guaranteed until the audit signs off on the statements.

14. How do you motivate people?
I think strong personal relationships and a real understanding of your staff team are two important areas to motivate people. Of course, never underestimate the self motivation of your team … so sometimes it is simply ensuring that you don’t get in their way.

15. What is your biggest pet peeve?
Unfairness. It irritates me when people are not fair, to themselves or others.

16. What are you good at?
I like to analyze things and look at different perspectives and options. Process and understanding is important to me.

17. What do you want to work on?
Sometimes I worry about spending too much time on process, which may adversely affect quick decision-making.

18. What is Hamilton’s most valuable asset?
There is no question that Hamilton’s most valuable asset is the people who live and work in Hamilton. We have a very caring city, with people willing to work together in building a stronger community.

19. If you were to describe your company’s mission in one sentence what would it be?
Building healthy communities. Our focus, in partnership with many others in the community, is to improve the health of children, youth and families.

20. What is the biggest challenge for small- to medium-sized businesses today?
Working in the world of charities, one of the most significant challenges is possessing the capacity to effectively and efficiently address the significant challenges facing our communities. As complexity increases, greater staff specialization and expertise is required. Also, successful charities must be willing to work with other charities, businesses and government in a collaborative manner. All this must be accomplished during some challenging economic times and in a more stringent regulatory environment.

21. How do you balance your life?
I am fortunate to really love my job and the people I work with. Therefore, it does not seem like work. Through work, I attend many national or international YMCA meetings that allow me to learn about the world we live in and the social, political, economic and environmental challenges we face. As an avid skier, I am able to get away on ski holiday every year.

22. Who is the leader you look up to the most?
There are many leaders in the businesses, charities and politics that I admire. So, I will stay within my family. It would be my father, whose wisdom, compassion and patience I have always admired.

23. Which economic trend do you pay attention to?
Precarious employment and youth unemployment. We have the best educated generation in our history, facing some of the most significant challenges in the recent decades. As a country, we need to improve our performance in this area to prevent even greater societal challenges.

24. What do you like to do for entertainment? TV? Movies? Books? Videos?
Reading newspapers and books, but my favourite are newspapers. On holidays I will frequently buy two or three daily papers and read each one.

25. What makes a good employee?
A good supervisor. Every organization will have its “stars.” The great organizations are the one’s able to elevate the performance of average staff to excellence.

26. What do you think people would be surprised to know about you?
When I travel on holidays, I rarely plan ahead. On a recent trip to Europe, my wife and I arranged a hotel for the night we arrived and the night prior to leaving. All other travel plans/accommodations were determined on a day-to-day basis, wherever we felt like heading.

27. What advice would you give to young entrepreneurs?
Pursue your dreams and take chances. My stepson is working on a career in music, something he loves. Whether this will be his “career,” is less important than his decision to try and succeed in this challenging business.

28. What is the main thing you do to stay healthy?
I stay active, through running, swimming and skiing. This is part of my routine because I enjoy doing these activities and I feel better after a workout.

29. What is your favourite expression?
My team tells me that my favourite expression is “I have two comments to make …” This helps me in always focusing on the larger picture or outcomes … even if I have three or four comments.

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