Passion Capital: Paul Alofs’ Historic Career
Paul Alofs, the president and CEO of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, has decided to step down from his position. Now in his 14th year of running the historic organization, Alofs will leave behind a admirable legacy.
Alofs has held high-level positions at various companies since 1989, going from HMV to Disney to MP3.com and more, finally leading to Princess Margaret. Alofs was lucky in that each of these previous positions connected in some way to one or more of his hobbies, but his tenure at Princess Margaret has been much more personal.
Alofs’ mother Patricia was diagnosed with cancer in 2002, and Alofs, along with his siblings, spent time taking care of his mother in her final days. “After my mother passed, I knew I wanted to do something to help. To help people who have to go through this,” he says.
Serendipity struck. After a friend associated with Princess Margaret gave him an introduction, Alofs went on to be hired as the new president and CEO of Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation. Under his direction, over the past 14 years Princess Margaret has become one of the most reputable and successful cancer foundations on the planet, raising more than $1.25 billion for cancer research and for the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre itself.
Said success did not come easy, though. Alofs has made his career through hard work, dedication and an undying work ethic. He inspires others around him, including the thousands who work for Princess Margaret, to continue the fight to end cancer once and for all.
With all of the funds it’s raised, Princess Margaret has made significant contributions to cancer treatment. Research has boosted the survival rates of patients suffering from melanoma. While there are still some areas of cancer research that have not made as much progress, Alofs believes “there will be a cure in our lifetime.”
Alofs has a lot of notable memories from his career, including the time he got legendary rocker Alice Cooper to play on the roof of the HMV superstore at 333 Yonge St. in downtown Toronto. But the memories that have stuck with him the most are the stories of young people who mowed lawns or sold lemonade in order to make a donation to Princess Margaret. “They all have a story. ‘It was my uncle, my mom [or] my grandma and I wanted to do something,’” says Alofs.
Alofs, of course, knows first hand what it feels like to have a loved one fighting cancer. He does his best to meet with each of these children, take a photo with them, give them a wristband and, most importantly, hear their story.
These personal touches are part of the reason Alofs has been so successful over the nearly three decades he has spent leading corporations. While Alofs’s work for cancer research is paramount, the corporate culture he has developed at Princess Margaret is also impressive.
“If you find something you’re really passionate about, over a period of time, if you have the work ethic, you will succeed”
Princess Margaret has three times been recognized as one of Canada’s Most Admired Corporate Cultures by Waterstone Human Capital. “I think we’ve won that award three times because it’s a combination of our performance — how much money we raise — as well as the way we go about working together and treating each other,” Alofs says.
Alofs has cultivated a team and a culture full of passion and people who truly love their work. “When people join Princess Margaret, they have to have a passion to do something important about cancer. It doesn’t matter what level — summer intern, up to my office. Everybody needs to really want to go to war with cancer, basically. If you don’t have that, you don’t work here,” he says.
Theirs is a culture that stresses communication and treating each other with respect. “This idea of collaboration and innovation runs through everything that we do.… We all have titles and positions, but it’s a very flat organization. We talk to each other constantly. [We] communicate a lot face to face, as opposed to email and electronic means. We get things done,” Alofs says. A workplace that puts emphasis on identity, communication and collaboration is refreshing to see these days.
Regarding all the recent revelations of workplace harassment and assault that have come to light, Alofs offers some salient advice: “You need to hire people and you need to promote people on the basis of them carrying those values of respect. When the senior leadership doesn’t share those values of respect and doesn’t actually walk the walk, very quickly, the organization learns that, and things can start to spin out of control.”
He continues, “I think that with Time magazine [putting] the individuals coming forward on the cover [who] have basically put the spotlight on all of these mostly males who have been abusive — [we can see] that behaviour is something that they have learned, that they’ve brought [and] that they probably are mistreating and not respecting people in other areas of their life. I think there’s been a fundamental change that resulted from the brave people that have come forward. Corporate cultures, as of right now, have fundamentally changed on that front. Let’s hope, we’ll see big changes in how corporate cultures operate in North America and around the world.”
In addition to his role with Princess Margaret, Alofs is a speaker, investor and author of bestselling book Passion Capital: The World’s Most Valuable Asset. When asked how he is able to do so much, Alofs replies, “I get up at 5 o’clock every day.… The best way to get a head start on the day is to get up and get a couple of hours of work done before the rest of the world wakes up.” It’s this mentality and work ethic that makes him one of the best at what he does.
Alofs considers himself a builder. “Builder of brands, corporations, people [and more],” he says. It is a fitting definition for a person who has spent his life building organizations into successes.
He shares his recipe for success in his book, Passion Capital. “If you find something you’re really passionate about, over a period of time, if you have the work ethic, you will succeed. I feel bad and I feel sorry for so many individuals that are working in jobs that they really have no passion for. They really don’t feel like they are contributing to trying to make a small corner of the world a better place. They’re just doing it for the money. That is really not a way to build a career that is both successful as well as satisfying,” Alofs says.
“It’s really about our passion: our passion for other people, our family and our work, and how we put that to work”
At the end of this chapter of his career, Alofs has learned some valuable lessons from the people around him, especially from the cancer patients he has spent time with over the years.
At the end of their lives, “nobody talks about how much money they made, what their career has been [or] how many cars they’ve owned. People talk about their family, their friends [and] their special memories. And I think those personal relationships, at the end of the day, when we’re all facing our maker and on our deathbed — we think about our family and friends. We don’t think about how much money we made,” Alofs says.
Having those discussions and being there in those moments certainly puts life into perspective. And this is the reason Alofs wishes for everybody to live according to their passion: “You think about money, or possessions or the things that we collect around us in our life that we think are valuable. It’s really about our passion: our passion for other people, our family and our work, and how we put that to work.”
The lesson Alofs leaves us with is that passion capital is the world’s most valuable asset. Looking at his successful tenure at the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation and the impressive legacy he leaves behind, it is easy to see why that is.