2019, Volume 3, Issue 4 - Spring 2019

Looking back on 50 years, and what lies ahead

By Peter Nygård

When I look back over the last five decades, I wonder how I got here. Where did this all start? I surely never imagined I would have all these beautiful buildings and my name in lights in Times Square.

What I did want was to do the best job and rise to the top. Everything was, and still is, a competition with me — in sports or anything, the ‘medal’ is the ultimate goal.

This company got built because we were dedicated to being the best. We paid very close attention to every detail and didn’t waste our time reaching for over-optimistic goals. We did anything we could to get the job done, and we did it just a little bit better every single day.

It also included vision. But vision without execution is just hallucination. Anyone can have vision — the difference really is execution, and the big difference for our company is that we have been executing to translate our vision into reality.

My focus has always been about learning how to make money, how to keep money, how to spend money, but — most importantly — how to share money. So, a lot of our recent planning has been about rebuilding and re-establishing our Winnipeg Inkster Office as a true landmark, like Toronto, New York, and Los Angeles. Inkster’s Gallery 50 and Park 50 are visual symbols of our commitment to returning back home and reinvesting into Inkster, Winnipeg, Manitoba, and Canada. The symbolism of incorporating the 13′ x 15′ shed from Deloraine (that our family lived in) as a permanent exhibit at Inkster really highlights how a person can rise from rags to riches.

A large contributor to my success is sisu — the part of my Finnish culture meaning guts and perseverance. But it is extremely important to note that I have not done it alone. The most critical agenda for any leader is to build a strong team.

When I look at my success, it was because I was able to build such a communicative, united, and harmonious team, consisting of associates who had complete trust in each other. Our company has always had the team mentality. There are no lone wolves here — it doesn’t work.

In your own business, make sure your employees function as a cohesive unit, that they like each other, that they share the same goals and values, and that they are loyal to each other. We have always developed our ‘A teams’ and have then built people around those teams no matter what their level. For 50 years, I’ve been continuously encouraging teamwork. Every summer, I invite my associates to Falcon Summit Centre at Falcon Lake, Manitoba. We use the time together to enjoy each other’s company. We talk about business, we play sports and cards and sing, we dive off cliffs into the lake, we laugh and cry together, and we bond as friends.

One of the biggest areas of success — that is shared by every single successful person I have studied, from Steve Jobs to Bill Gates) is the ability to correct your mistakes and concentrate fully on your projects through execution and onto completion. This has been a huge part of my pursuit, and it’s significant. We are continuing to focus on training as an integral part of our culture and our best people are our teachers.

I sometimes get criticized personally for never being satisfied — “He’s never satisfied. Why doesn’t he recognize the good things we do?” Bill Gates once made a very interesting comment: “It’s good to focus on successes, but it’s far more important to focus on your lessons of failure.” Every time there’s a problem, I go into the why, and I always focus on the lessons of failure. Anyone can do it well. We can always do it better. Eliminating mistakes is such a critically important issue, and if you study the characteristics of all the great leaders, they say the same thing: Learn from your mistakes!

That emphasis has been perhaps more noticeable in our operations because of how meticulous we are when it comes to attention to detail. The quality of our products has been consistently our claim to fame. Not only do we produce the best product out there, but we have the right manufacturing, and the right marketing.

Our business, though, is in transition. We’ve done a lot of work this past year reprogramming and refocusing ourselves. I’ve been intensely committed to this building initiative. The world has changed dramatically, as it should, and therefore our business has changed dramatically along with it.

But, in change, there is always new opportunity. It’s our mission to embrace that change and envision that opportunity. For example, embrace social media — it’s the new marketing tool. The biggest growth area is through the web, so our plan is to do half our business there. Bricks and mortar business is tough. You saw it with the fall of department stores worldwide. They were 75 per cent of the retail business but have shrunk down to 20 or 25 per cent. Thankfully, brand loyalty is an area we can count on. We’ve always had it. So, we need to convert our customer into a different type of shopper.

At our 50th Anniversary Gala, I was deeply honoured to receive such heartfelt tributes from the greatest medical minds in the world, recognizing me as a forerunner for my research work in regenerative medicine. Dr. Neil Riordan, founder and chairman of Medistem Panama Inc., said, “[Peter] is one of the most extraordinary human beings on the planet. He has really put his heart and soul and money behind regenerative medicine to figure out what the best ways are for people to retain health and get over health challenges to hopefully live a longer, healthier life. First and foremost, Peter is a world leader in regenerative medicine and is working on things that are going to change the world.” Meanwhile, Dr. Evan Snyder, director of the Institute for Stem Cell Biology and Regenerative Medicine at Stanford University said, “As a scientist physician and stem cell biologist, I regard you and your work as one of the leading lights in our field. Your vision, commitment, creativity, and energy is inspiring. The world is recognizing what a great contribution you have made to our field.”

And now I am bringing that acquired knowledge and expertise to all my associates. It’s really no different than what I have been doing for the last 50 years. I have always provided our associates with the healthiest environments to work in. I have seen sweatshops first-hand, and I knew I would never subject anybody to those kinds of conditions. I was a world leader in ensuring the working conditions for our sewing machine operators were the best, by having the first air-conditioned facilities. I was a pioneer in banning smoking from our facilities, and I want my employees to eat healthy food, so I made sure we offer it. There are no dangerous carbs or sugar in our buildings. I want them to lead a healthy lifestyle, so I provided exercise facilities, and all these health initiatives were part of the visionary aspect of my life.

This year of celebration hasn’t just been about ‘Peter Nygård’s success.’ This celebration is about my associates’ success. I am so fortunate to have been surrounded by the most valuable people in my life — people who have really made these 50 years of unbelievable success and this incredible company possible.

Because that is what this company is — it’s about people. My associates really and truly are my family.

Peter Nygård is the founder and chairman of Winnipeg-based Nygård International — one of Canada’s leading women’s clothing brands.