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Lesson #4: Learn From Your Mistakes and Make Less
In 1969, when Schwartz was pursuing his MBA at Harvard, the school was offering an introductory course on computers. It was a popular course, but Schwartz was one student who did not sign up for it. “I thought I’d have assistants do that stuff for me,” he says, “which is why I missed the value of the digital era in so many ways. You can’t understand the power of technology unless you use it.”
Schwartz might have missed out on the computer course at Harvard, but what he calls his “ridiculous attitude toward computers” changed after a trip to Bill Gates’ house. “He gave me a Palm Pilot. I got on a plane from Seattle to Florida, a five-hour flight, and started on the instruction book. I couldn’t figure it out.” By the time Schwartz had landed back home, he was only on section three of 15 in the instruction manual. “I said, ‘That’s it,’” recalls Schwartz. “I decided to learn. From that day forward, I’ve insisted Onex be on the leading edge of information technology.”
Schwartz was an early disbeliever in the rise of technology, but he soon accepted and learned from his mistake. That is not to say, however, that Schwartz became fond of all things technological. For instance, during the early dot-com boom, Schwartz again refused to be a part of the game. “It mystified me,” he says. “But when the stocks kept going up and up, I began to not believe in myself. I thought I was from a bygone era that wasn’t useful anymore.”
In fact, Schwartz said he even considered getting out of the business world all together. “The things I believed in, like value, just didn’t seem to make sense anymore,” he says. Nevertheless, Schwartz stuck to his guns and stayed in the game, and soon saw value “roaring back.” He had not made the mistake of getting in on something that did not agree with his gut. And, it would be lesson he would take with him throughout his career.
Today, Schwartz says, “I’m still a long distance from smart. But I’m also a long distance from dumb.” He has continued to learn from his mistakes, of which there have been plenty. After all, risk is a part and parcel of his business. “There is no such thing as high returns without risk,” he says. And, on Bay Street, Schwartz has gained a reputation for being willing to stick his neck out and take that risk.
“I want to grow,” he says. “I don’t want to get stuck doing the same thing over and over and think I’m the best at it.” In order to do that, Schwartz knows he has to continue going for the long shots, for companies that others have not yet thought about acquiring. And, if a deal does not work out, Schwartz says he takes it personally, but it would not be the end. “It would hurt,” he says. “But we’ll dust ourselves off and we’ll come back.”
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