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 “Who Am I?”

Tupper Cawsey

Last month, as you know, I preached about governance and leadership. Jim Bowman did a fine introduction for me, so perhaps I should just sit down!

As well, Gordon Coyne gave us his delightful backward “Who Am I?” history.

How can I match that?

But you forget that I am an academic. And the existential question “Who Am I?” tantalizes and hangs there, providing one more opportunity for “Tupper with a microphone!”

Lets get rid of the normal stuff, the demographics.

I am married to Heather, have been for almost 44 years.
Two daughters (in Elmira and Halifax) who are in their own careers and families
Four grand kids (9,7,3,1) where did those genes come from

I can understand not having your own children but I don’t understand not having grand children!!!

Taught at Laurier for over 30 years, had the dream job of professor and administrative roles Associate Dean, MBA Director, Director Laurier Institute
Now interested in NFP board governance and organizational change and Associate Editor of the Case Research Journal.

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I believe that underlying this are some life themes, patterns that really dig at that existential question “Who Am I?” I want to talk about three themes that are intertwined with who I am.

First, I am probably the only person you know who has failed a job preference test.

Second, I used to be introduced as your military protection for the evening.

Third, as one of my mentors said, “Don’t give it to me good. Give it to me Tuesday, then we will make it good!” 

First, Failing a Preference Test:

You know what a preference test is – where they ask you what you like doing, whether you want to be an engineer or a shepherd? A coal miner or a judge? Apparently, I don’t fit the norms. As a grade 8 student, I was called out of class to be quizzed on my answers to the Kudor Preference Test. My pattern of answers was “not acceptable”: I liked history AND math, English AND physics. Not your usual pattern of answers so I “failed”

This seems to have explained my meandering path through academia: began in mechanical engineering, moved to electrical engineering, moved to engineering physics, then thankfully for those wanting working things I finally switched into math and physics much more theoretical and gave me time for bridge and graduated in that. This sequence of course, led naturally into my enrolment into a masters of history program which I did not take. But I did do my MBA from Western and then registered in a PhD in Marketing before switching into organizational behaviour – the people side of organizations. But I still liked stats, writing, history and understanding how the world works. Even my holidays reflect this. My family and I are taking a history tour this summer of the battlefields of Europe.

This theme of contradictory interests also seem directly connected to my recent interest in personal financial management!

Second, My Military Background:

I stand before you as the opposite of the typical Royal Military College cadet – The 6 foot clothes horse with natural athletic behaviours ready to be gung ho and sacrifice self for country.

Put a uniform on me and it sags. Give me an order and I ask “Why?”. Suggest I should be “gung ho” and I say “Surely you’re kidding.”
For a short period, as I mentioned, a friend used to introduce me as your military protection for the night. Remember this was the 1960’s and Canada’s military suffered cutbacks and downsizing. This friend used to say that the military could not protect all Canadians all the time, so I was their allotment for the year. Good luck to my friends.

I do have great respect for our military and what it gave me. My nephew now flies CF18’s for Canada – a scary thought given my knowledge of him. Fortunately, I was never asked to sacrifice myself for country so I don’t know what my answer would have been. But I did learn much from being in the military – a desire to be physically fit. An understanding of planning and organization. And more importantly, a personal learning about my need for independence and personal control of my life – if my life was to be filled with mistakes, they would be my mistakes!

I left the military because they laid out a very nice plan for my future – but the army was much too capricious. What they promised could be undone by the slightest pressure. I became a prof where I could do my thing and almost no one would or could tell me what to do – except for my kids of course.

Third, Don’t give it to me good, give it to me Tuesday. Then we will get it good.

All my life I have a need for closure. Get stuff done, move on. Write something, show it to others, improve it. Try it, see what works, learn from it. I remember as MBA director, knowing we needed / wanted to increase the number of applicants. My image was of me running through a field of buttons, not knowing what worked but trying to push as many as I could knowing some would work and I could learn from that.

I recently heard a saying about the Russian Soyuz program “What is just good enough, is good enough.” It got them into space and they are still there. While the Americans built a more sophisticated, complex machine that was too costly.

So, I like doing things, getting things done and moving on.

Today, as all of us know bits of our bodies are falling off, systems are shutting down, the clock is not ticking but “gong-ing”.  But for me, the three themes continue: a perverse, diverse interest in history and math, physics and English; a legacy from the military of going my own way and making my own mistakes (sometimes, I think, over and over again) and getting into something, doing something and moving on.

Thank you.