William A. Canady
William A. Canady
President and Chief Operating Officer
As a leader, I seek to do two things. First, I think it’s important to have a clear vision and to be able to share that vision with the team. I’ve never been in a position where there’s been a lack of opportunity. In fact, it’s always that there are too many opportunities. So as a leader, I think it’s my job to help teams focus and align behind the critical few opportunities and drive those across the finish line. That’s exciting to me and, I think, to the team as well.
Second, for me, leadership is about helping people develop—being a servant leader. Several people who worked for me early in their careers are presidents or CEOs today. It’s wonderful, and it makes me so proud. I think that’s where the legacy lies.
Staying true to these principles helps me make an impact every day—on the business and on my teams.
Everything I’ve done up to this point has prepared me for my current role. I grew up installing equipment and turning compression fittings for my dad, who owned an HVAC company in a small, North Carolina farm town. That kind of work teaches you the value of high quality and of doing things right the first time; I like to say we made our living using our hands and our wit.
But like a lot of kids, I didn’t know what I wanted to do for a career; I didn’t have a particular calling. So after high school, I enlisted in the U.S. Navy—which makes you grow up a little bit and helps you transition to becoming an adult. It’s also how I paid for college.
After serving in the Navy, I moved to Illinois for a job. It turned out to be a significant move, because I also met and married my wife, started a family, and earned my degree at Elmhurst College.
It’s different for everyone, but at some point in your career, you start getting a line of sight. You start thinking about what you really want to do, where you think your gift lies, and where you can make the biggest impact. For me, that time came in the late 1990s. I had held a few jobs by then and was working as a general manager for a climate control company; I liked what I was doing, and I had a talent for it. That’s when I knew I wanted to run companies.
That realization helped me map out my future in a purposeful way. It inspired me to challenge myself and pursue an MBA at the University of Chicago. It also helped me take stock of my work experiences. I had learned how to do acquisitions at my first couple of companies. At the next company, I learned how to implement lean processes, and I really developed a deep understanding of continuous improvement. I looked at each future career move as an opportunity to learn a new skill and see where it led me.
I’ve learned something from each organization I’ve worked in and in each position I’ve held, but the most important thing I’ve learned is to seek to understand—what is being done and why it is being done the way it is. Every organization has its own way of doing things, and none of them is necessarily wrong or right.
I’ve learned personal lessons, too, such as the importance of a strong support system. All of my opportunities and experiences required me to travel—a lot, and I’ve moved my family many times. I couldn’t have reached my career goals without the unwavering support of my wife and two daughters, who were on their own much more than I would have ever hoped.
That amazing support system and my own persistence are the two most important factors in my career so far. I believe it’s about showing up every day, doing the best you can, and having a bigger vision to do what it takes.
My vision and my persistence also drive my interest in serving the community. I currently serve on the board of the Great Lakes Science Center, which encourages innovative thinking by making science, technology, engineering, and math accessible to all.