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He's leading the charge for a recently-rebranded industry organization
The last two years have been a bit easier for Paul Preston when it comes to juggling work and home life.
The CEO of TechNL — formerly the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation (NATI) — split his time between St. John's and Ottawa for several years. Although he enjoyed his work with the Conference Board of Canada, Preston felt the need to be closer to home; he is married and has two young children,
"I was probably on a plane every two weeks going somewhere in North America, with a little bit of international (travel)," he said. "The work-life balance is better. I still work a lot of hours, but I'm home for supper. I can be at the hockey rinks — I coach my kids in hockey."
The rebranding of TechNL was announced earlier this fall as part of Innovation Week festivities. Preston said there was a need to better communicate what the organization does and who it serves.
"Our full name was 23 syllables. I was tired of saying the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation. Now I say TechNL." — Paul Preston on, what for him, was a welcome rebranding
"Yes, we serve the core technology sector," he explained. "We're trying to grow the technology company base here and help them be more prosperous. But we're also trying to drive technology and innovation across all sectors of the economy to make our whole economy an innovation economy. For us, the branding makes that clear — who we are, what we're trying to do. We're about tech for the province."
Having existed for over 30 years, Preston felt the timing to refresh the organization’s brand also made sense.
"I will also say, in a very practical sense, I was sick and tired (of it)," he added with a bit of a laugh. "Our full name was 23 syllables. I was tired of saying the Newfoundland and Labrador Association of Technology and Innovation. Now I say TechNL."
Working closely with companies in Newfoundland and Labrador's growing technology sector has been a great experience so far for Preston.
"It's tremendous in two years the people I've met, the companies I've met and the amazing things that are going on."
1. What is your full name?
Paul Gardner Preston.
2. Where were you born?
I was born in Corner Brook, but my father was a Scotiabank manager, so we moved around a lot as a family. I spent a short period of time — I think a few weeks — in Baie Verte, two or three years in Fogo Island, a couple of years in Mount Pearl. But I really grew up in St. Anthony on the Northern Peninsula and came back to Mount Pearl for junior high and high school.
3. Where do you live today?
Southlands in St. John's.
4. What is your favourite place in the world?
I'd have to say it's this province, No. 1. Outside of this province, I’m a huge fan of California. I love the climate, the mountains, the region, the ocean, the hikes, the trees. I'd have to say, there's something special about California.
5. Who do you follow on social media?
I've read and follow some things by Simon Sinek, who is a bit of a futurist out of the U.S. I certainly follow a lot of Elon Musk. Anything to do with SpaceX, Tesla, The Boring Company. Locally ... board members and things like that I'd follow on Twitter.
6. What would people be surprised to learn about you?
I'm a basement musician. I'll play piano, I stumble at guitar, I play drums. I played trumpet for years, bongos, etc. Certainly nothing professional ... but I love to play. It gives me a lot of peace and comfort ... Piano for me was always the number one. If you know how to play piano, it's a lot easier to play other instruments.
7. What's been your favourite year and why?
I got married in 2008. I was living in Ottawa and we came home to get married. That was an incredible experience, just to come back. We did a honeymoon in Jamaica and New York. Big fan of both places. That was amazing. I was working for a bank at the time, and it just wasn't the fit for me in what I wanted to do. I was absolutely miserable, and I took a risk. We'd just bought a house in Ottawa less than a year prior. We were getting married in a couple of months, and I put in my notice without having a job to go to. I just knew this was not what I wanted to do ... I ended up getting a job with a think tank in Ottawa, the Conference Board of Canada. That was an amazing role. I literally worked two weeks, then took a month off to come home and get married and do a honeymoon, and went back. I got offered a job, accepted a job, but said, 'By the way, are you OK if I take a month off in two weeks time?' They were OK with it, and I spent 10-and-a-half years with that organization, which was amazing. That year was pivotal in a lot of ways for me and set me up on an interesting path. I travelled the world. I went to places like Israel, California and all over Canada and the U.S.
8. What's the hardest thing you've ever done?
Leaving a job that had a lot of income potential. I had a brother and father with that same financial institution, so maybe that comes with certain expectations. Didn't have a job to go to, knew I was getting married (but) in my gut, I knew this is not who I am and where I'm supposed to be.
9. Can you describe one experience that changed your life?
My wife having a miscarriage with our first child. It was difficult. Going through that was the impetus we needed to decide we're moving home, back to Newfoundland. (The thinking was) if she was to go through that again, she wanted to be around family and I wanted to be around her family — my family all lived away.
10.What is your greatest indulgence?
I'm not a good guitar player by any stretch, and I bought a Taylor acoustic guitar that's an amazing instrument. I don't deserve an instrument that's that good. I'd say that stands out because I probably should have bought something that was a little more practical for me.
11. What is your favourite movie or book?
Favourite book has to be "The Lord of the Rings" (by J. R. R. Tolkien). Before the movies were out. Amazing book. If you're looking for non-fiction, anything by Malcolm Gladwell. I've read all of them. My favourite movie, something from "Star Wars" or "Star Trek." I'd say both. But if I had to pick one favourite movie ... maybe the first "Matrix."
12. How do you like to relax?
Playing music is probably top of the list. If I'm going to watch TV, sci-fi or something about space is great. Walking my dog. Those are the top three.
13. What are you reading or watching right now?
I'm currently watching a show on the Disney Channel called "The Right Stuff," which is all about the early space program. It's a new series. I'm reading "Atomic Habits" by James Clear. It's a non-fiction book. In the comic realm, my wife and I are watching "Schitt's Creek." I think we're in Season 5, so we only have one season to go.
14. What is your greatest fear?
Living a life without impact. Living a life without focusing on a career and a role that is not going to have a good impact.
15. How would you describe your personal fashion statement?
Casual (laughs). I'm dressed up more today because I had to meet some important people. But casual is where I like to go and feel comfortable.
16. What is your most treasured possession?
My kids. I have a 10-year-old and a seven-year-old, and whether I can call them a possession or not, they're incredible.
17. What physical or personality trait are you most grateful to a parent for?
Not taking myself too seriously, and I get that, I think, from my father more than my mother. Physical trait — I'm glad I've inherited hair. That's one thing my wife always tells me all the time. She's glad my father has a full head of hair and my grandfather has a full head of hair.
18. What three people would join you for your dream dinner party?
Well, I'd have to pick my wife (Melissa), because she's my partner in crime. She'd have to be there. I'd have to say Jesus, just to learn and understand. After that, I kind of start thinking about who else in historical context ... Just because it's (close to) Nov. 11 and I have my poppy on, my great-grandfather (Walter Kearley, from Topsail). He fought in the First World War and was one of the first Newfoundlanders to go over who was shot. I'd love to have him there so he could see the legacy of his life. He survived the war — he survived a gunshot wound in the neck. I'd love to have a chat with him.
19. What would you say is your best quality, and what would you say is your worst quality?
Worst quality … I think too much and analyze too much. I’s just the way my brain is wired, I guess. Best quality — I think I get this just from the way I was raised by my parents … I care for people. I genuinely care about people being OK.
20. What is your biggest regret?
It took me a while to go after what I really wanted instead of doing the things I thought I should do. That was true in high school. That was true in early university. That was true even with one of the first jobs I picked in Ottawa; I left a tech company and went to a bank. I had a history of just doing what I thought I was supposed to do, instead of picking what my gut and heart told me to do. It took me a while to learn that.
NOTE: Answers have been edited for length.
Andrew Robinson is a business reporter in St. John’s.