Southwest’s man at the top says success is all about the team
When recently asked about changes in his professional life since being inducted into Atlantic Business Magazine’s Top 50 CEO Hall of Fame in 2014, Gordon Laing, president and COO of Southwest Properties, was quick to downplay his personal achievements.
“It’s kind of hard to point out one individual and say what they’ve done that made things successful,” he says. “We’ve got a great group of people; they all have different elements and expertise they bring to the table. I think without the entire group we wouldn’t be as successful as we have been.”
When I insist that he must have done something (he is a president and COO after all), Laing reluctantly admits to having had some success as a mentor, or in a guidance-related role. “One (thing I do) is have the right people in the right places to do what needs to be done,” he says. “I would say a big part of my role is making sure those people have resources and remove any roadblocks or things that stand in the way of their success.”
To do this, Laing makes sure that he appears approachable and relatable, even though he’s in an executive position. “It’s using a bit of my experience and contacts and sharing things that maybe have gone over well, or not so well, in my career,” he says. “That way I’m able to help guide people on an easier path to success.”
Since Laing’s Hall of Fame induction three years ago, there have been several significant changes and developments at Southwest. “We’re part of the changing skyline of Halifax; we’re very proud of that,” he says.
Laing says recent trends in the municipality have focused on rejuvenating and regenerating the downtown core. This involves making the area more accessible to those who are moving back or looking to set up businesses.
One of Southwest’s newest contributions is the recently completed Maple, a 21-story apartment complex on Hollis Street. Another is the company’s first land redevelopment project, located on the former Sisters of Charity Motherhouse site near Mount Saint Vincent University. Known as Seton Ridge, the area will eventually have 1,976 housing units, including 185 single-family apartments and townhouses.
Other Halifax projects he highlighted were South Park Street’s Curve/Pavilion project and the Cunard development on Lower Water Street. The Curve/Pavilion project will feature several condo and rented units, as well as a YMCA building. The Cunard development is a mixed-use project, currently in the design phase, which will be located near another of Southwest’s properties, Bishop’s Landing.
These and other developments will keep the company busy for about a decade, says Laing, which has resulted in another new undertaking for them: Southwest Construction. “Since we have 10 years of projects ahead of us, it made sense for us to manage our own construction.”
Joining the building industry has also allowed Southwest to play a role in building Halifax’s future, as they will be able to help the city bring people back to the area. “I think it will be fun to be part of that, when we get to that point when our young people don’t have to leave Halifax to get a leg up on their career,” said Laing. “They can find lots of ample opportunities for work (here).”
On a personal level, Laing is looking forward to using his leadership skills to help Southwest grow to the next stage of its evolution. “It’s about taking the time to find who is out there, who fits our culture,” he says, adding that he again draws on his own experiences and personal contacts to see how certain problems were handled in the past. “You don’t want to make the same mistakes as others if you can help it.”
As for Southwest’s future projects, Laing didn’t give too many details, but maintained the company is always looking for something innovative to be part of. “You have to constantly be on the lookout for new ideas and be constantly changing,” he says. “If you stop learning, you stop growing and you become stagnate. I thrive on learning and absorbing new knowledge.”
Did you know?
Before Southwest, Laing worked with Crossley Carpet Mills for five years. Despite his current work in real estate development and previous work in manufacturing being quite different, Laing says they have similar features in that he is “managing processes and people” so his skills were transferrable when he came to Southwest.
Laing is very active in his community and tries to maintain a good work/leisure balance. He has coached lacrosse and hockey and plays the latter activity, along with golf.
Laing has been married to his wife, Anne Marie, for 30 years and they have three sons together: Kevin, James and Adam.