2016 BC CEO Awards: Greg Malpass

Unleashing potential
Traction on Demand CEO Greg Malpass: “it’s all really about creating the space for them to realize their full potential. I have high expectations of people, but I believe in them” | Submitted

He may not have reached his goal of learning how to invert on a wakeboard before turning 40, but the CEO of Burnaby-based cloud technology company Traction on Demand plans to keep trying.

“I’ve never successfully landed an invert on the board,” said Greg Malpass, laughing. “I’ve landed on my head.”

Malpass, who turned 40 in July, got his start in business by running his own weekend landscaping company while attending Simon Fraser University (SFU) in the 1990s. He later worked for an advertising agency in Toronto and held various marketing and management positions including co-founder and vice-president of marketing at Blue Tide Management.

Born in New Westminster, Malpass grew up in Nelson, British Columbia, where his father was a doctor. He had planned to become a sports medicine doctor, but those plans changed. He moved to Vancouver to study science at SFU, but struggled in school and, after getting the dean’s approval, switched to the faculty of business. He graduated in 1999 with a bachelor of business administration degree, and today credits the past dean of SFU’s school of business, Larry Pinfield, for teaching him how to negotiate.

But what really makes a great CEO, said the 2013 Business in Vancouver Forty under 40 recipient and BC Technology Industry Association board member, is trickier.

“The physiological ability to operate with very little sleep,” he said with a chuckle. “The second thing is the ability to absorb risk. The other thing is to see people for what they could become, not what they are.”

Family is important to Malpass, who is the father of three young children. His wife of seven years, Michelle, is director of community performance at Traction and runs the firm’s philanthropic arm, Traction for Good.

Besides working up to 60 hours a week and spending time with his family, Malpass keeps active with wakeboarding, skiing and mountain biking. He also makes regular improvements to his family’s home in Anmore with various welding and backyard projects.

“I’m still an avid landscaper. I can operate a Caterpillar [excavator] proficiently.”

Founded in 2006, Traction on Demand has grown from a staff of one to about 250 full-timers. Malpass said he estimates the company will add another 100 employees in the coming year.

Not hiring in his own image is one key to his success, Malpass said, adding that he likes to work with people who bring fresh perspectives to the table: “I have a tremendous appreciation for people who are different.”

Calling himself an “enabler” and “servant/leader,” the CEO works to create opportunities for his staff members to grow and improve.

“It’s all really about creating the space for them to realize their full potential,” he said. “I have high expectations of people, but I believe in them.”

Malpass, who said he believes the purpose of life is to find one’s gift and then give it away, said his own gift lies in his unrelenting pursuit of solutions to problems.

“I’m not a perfectionist, but I’ve also surrounded myself with a whole bunch of people that do appreciate pulling things across the final line.” And when it comes to life lessons, he has learned the importance of staying consistent with your own character and being true to yourself.

“It’s important that you are who you are, no matter in what context.”

A mentor himself, Malpass recommends those on the CEO path seek mentorship from several successful business leaders to help achieve their goals.

“There’s an incredible group of business leaders and mentors that have been so helpful to me, not only in sharing their time, but also their experiences. If you ever ask for advice, and someone gives you that advice, make sure you follow through. Don’t just take advice; make it into action.”

Join us to celebrate this year’s honourees at the 2016 BC CEO Awards November 1, 2016, hosted at the Fairmont Waterfront Hotel. For tickets and event info, visit www.biv.com/ceo. 

Q&A

What sort of leadership style does a CEO have to cultivate in the 21st century?

I believe the best way to describe the style is servant leader or “enabler” leader. It has been my experience that it is very important to explore the team I serve, as their leader. To get to know them, what drives them, what inspires them.

What accomplishments are you most proud of?

Being a good dad and husband: through all this growth, craziness and intensity, I’ve tried incredibly hard to leave the office at the office when I am with the kids.

Being true to my word: since Day 1, I committed to myself that I would not sell out. I’ve maintained my word and, as a result, attracted people who really want to build something special.

Being a company for good: we launched our giving program at Traction when we were 10 people. Today, giving and contributing to the community is woven deeply into the DNA of the business.

What is the biggest challenge you have faced?

The biggest challenge for me, one that I expect will continue to hit me, is around my actual evolution as CEO of Traction. When we were six people I was one of the crew. But then, at 40, I had to stop doing the delivery and selling work and start to manage the business. I had no idea how to do that. It was a painful transition. At 100, the business once again asked me to change into a leader I was not. I again struggled. It was gritty, painful, personal change.

What career decisions would you make differently were you starting out today?

None.

What is the one business lesson you’d like to pass on to others?

Work with people who don’t fit your model, who think differently than you, who challenge you.

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