Trinidad-born CEO shares secret to success after receiving honorary doctorate of laws

From left, York Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Roger Mahabir and York President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri
From left, York Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Roger Mahabir and York President and Vice-Chancellor Mamdouh Shoukri

Trinidad-born Roger Mahabir, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Tracker Networks Inc.of Toronto, a cyber-security and risk management firm, told graduates of the Faculty of Liberal Arts and Professional Studies at York University  that “there’s no magic to success.

“But with endurance and perseverance, success is magical.”

Addressing convocation last week, Mahabir who received from the university an honorary doctorate of laws recognizing his role as a Canadian innovator, shared with graduates his secret to success since he arrived in Canada as an immigrant in the late 1960s.

“It wasn’t about following my passion; it was about following the opportunities and being passionate about whatever I did,” he said.

A former student of York University, Mahabir recalled his journey from dishwasher to Chief Executive Officer after his arrival with his family in Canada from Central Trinidad.

Roger Mahabir
Roger Mahabir

At age 16, he found his first job at a restaurant in Toronto where he cleaned toilets, delivered food and washed pots.

Mahabir credits on-the-job training and volunteering to do tasks outside his job description, which he jokingly referred to as “sucking up,” for preparing him for the next opportunity.

It came the following year when he was hired by an insurance company as a trainee in its computer department. Not only did Mahabir convince the boss that he could do the job. He also bargained that if he ever fell short, the company’s computer room would have the cleanest floors. The company hired him full-time and he continued to juggle work and school while turning down offers to party.

“Since I had to help support the family, failure was not an option. And I perhaps unconsciously felt this determination to be the best at whatever I was doing,” said Mahabir. “I became the best computer operator, system programmer and project manager at Bell, Manulife and Canada Trust. At least that’s what they told me.”

In his address, Mahabir had four key messages for graduates for success on their own journeys. The good news, he said, is that they’ve already accomplished the first two.

The first message is to obtain a good grounding, which the graduates have already accomplished at York University, he said. “A lot of hard work, a lot of sacrifice, and I’m proud of you.”

Number two on the list, he added, is to be the best at whatever you choose to do.

Number three, he urged, is to avoid becoming a “dinosaur” by reinventing yourself and learning continuously.

“Re-invent yourself periodically by acquiring a variety of skills. Have an open mind to new ways of doing things. Be accountable, inquisitive and innovative by challenging the status quo,” Mahabir said. He cited technologies such as Airbnb, Uber and Amazon for changing our world. He also reminisced about re-inventing his skill set when he needed to learn about the energy sector as a head of IT for Suncor and making technology work in remote areas of New Brunswick, when he worked for General Electric.

“Change always seems slow to take root. Then suddenly the pace quickens and the flood gates open,” he said. “No segment of society is immune.”

Mahabir’s fourth key message is to “embrace diversity by celebrating difference.” He told graduates  that they should “think globally and use this power to create new opportunities. Being respectful and tolerant of differences and beliefs makes you stronger and more successful.”

Mahabir also advised graduates to mentor and be mentored. “Network, network, network,” he said. “Talk to many people, different people, and have an open mind. They will respond to you. I know that because of all the things I do, mentoring and assisting people gives me the most satisfaction.”

He went on to encourage them to consider becoming the boss, which he said is one of the best ways to unleash their creative talents.

Mahabir was Chairman and Chief Executive Officer of Assurent Secure Technologies, a global leader in software security, which he sold to Telus. Some of his technological achievements have been archived by the Smithsonian Institute. Also, he and his wife went on to build a house “off the grid” and create their own winery, KREW Estates, where he disproved people who told him French grapes could not grow.

His current venture, Tracker Networks, is growing globally and his team includes hardworking York University alumni, he said. This proves “we can do world-class things right here in Toronto.”

For Mahabir, there is opportunity in change. He predicts a bright future for hardworking graduates.

“Technology has levelled the playing field,” he said, adding that the next young innovator can come from Nigeria, Bangladesh or anywhere on earth. “By the time I finish my talk, some teenager would have invented five new apps.”

He reminded grads that they are competing among the best and brightest around the world and that all those who have achieved success worked hard on multiple jobs and projects, held people accountable — especially themselves — altered the status quo, added value and, along the way, helped others.

“Graduates, it’s an exciting time with a world of opportunities,” he told them in closing.  “Smart, young people like you and good technology will save the world. Go and do it for all of us.”