Explore all opportunities, tech innovator James Temerty tells grads

Honorary degree recipient James Temerty
Honorary degree recipient James Temerty

Speaking from the perspective of someone who has experienced success as a tech entrepreneur, honorary degree recipient James Temerty shared words of wisdom on life and achieving success during his address at York University’s June 21 Spring Convocation ceremony.

Temerty delivered his remarks to graduands from the Faculty of Science and the Lassonde School of Engineering and offered advice for making and reaching goals.

Honorary degree recipient James Temerty
Honorary degree recipient James Temerty

Temerty, who has extensive accomplishments in technology, clean energy development and community support, began his career at IBM. He moved from IBM to launch the entrepreneurial portion of his career with the retailer ComputerLand, which he expanded from a store into a world-wide franchise. He later founded Northland Power, which operates wind, solar and thermal electric power facilities and has an enterprise value exceeding $10 billion.

He’s also active in philanthropic activities. He was named a Member of the Order of Canada and was honoured as Canada’s Entrepreneur of the Year in 2010 by Ernst and Young.

“I’m here today to speak to you about some life experiences – intuition, confidence through perseverance, and the power of perseverance in crisis and the nature of opportunity,” said Temerty, after receiving an honorary doctor of laws degree from York University.

Intuition is the fuel for success and by learning how to inform and acknowledge your intuition, you also set yourself up for confidence, he told graduands. He shared some of his own experience when he left IBM after 15 years to move to ComputerLand. He said that although he came up against many people who thought it was a bad decision, he trusted his own intuition – and it paid off.

“Learn to inform your intuition before you act on it. Develop the confidence to trust your intuition and then work like hell to make it happen,” he said.

Confidence, noted Temerty, is just as important and doesn’t come easily to some people. In those cases he advised that hard work and preparation are stepping stones to confidence, and confidence leads to action.

Honorary degree recipient James Temerty
From left: Faculty of Science dean Ray Jayawardhana, Chancellor Greg Sorbara, honorary degree recipient James Temerty and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda L. Lenton

When you believe in yourself, he said, you are more likely to stand up and seize the moment and persevere long after self-doubters have given up. He did this when he launched NorthLand Power and today it is $10-billion company that has a global presence.

In Northland Power’s early days, Temerty too experienced failures and crises. “The lesson is to persevere through crisis – be careful of the danger but look for opportunity,” he said.

And, once the opportunity presents itself, be prepared, he advised. “How do you prepare for opportunity? Well you’ve been doing it … you develop curiosity about things, you engage with people you network … and you stay alert for the opportunity.”

Temerty also emphasized to graduands the importance of giving back to their communities and suggested that by giving of themselves, they will effectively make a difference in the world.

“I want to leave you today with the thought that you can do all of this, you can become tomorrow’s leaders, create jobs, advance innovation and become socially conscious individuals right here in Toronto,” he said. “Be bold, dream, begin.”