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7 Questions on Leadership with Mark L Maxwell

Name: Mark L Maxwell

Title: CEO/President of two organizations

Organisation: Prairie College and Tower Asset Management Inc.

Born and raised as a missionary kid in Nigeria. Education: BA (Business) Trinity Western University, MBA (Finance) Baylor University, CFA - Chartered Financial Analyst (Investment Research and Management).

Spent 30 years in the Institutional Investment industry: first 10 years in investment banking, then 20 years in investment management. Built three portfolio management firms, sold the first one, took the second one public on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and still own and operate the third (Tower Asset Mgmt).

In addition to leading Tower, I assumed the role of looking after Prairie College, a small Christian Bible college in Alberta Canada for the past twelve years.

Thank you to the 2,000 leaders who’ve generously done the 7 Questions on Leadership!

I hope Mark's answers will encourage you in your leadership journey. Enjoy!


Jonno White

1. What have you found most challenging as a leader?

Change management: adaptation to a complex and changing environment, whether business or culture or social, and in an environment in which a leader has authority only when earned, not based on the position they hold.

2. How did you become a leader? Can you please briefly tell the story?

Progressively given more responsibility, began serving on Boards. Launched a new company (Georgian Capital) that grew quickly to have $4.6 billion under management and became a takeover target, then joined with 3 others to take control of a public company (Rockwater Capital) which we transformed into an institutional investment banking and portfolio management firm by issuing stock for acquisitions. In one year we saw assets under management grow to 4.0 billion and revenue to $120 million.

My wife and I then launched a small portfolio management firm (Tower Asset Management) which we still own and manage with a young partner who, we expect, will take this firm well into the future. Tower is a Canadian performance-oriented portfolio manager that is registered to manage investments for residents in Alberta, Ontario, Saskatchewan, and Manitoba in Canada, as well as non-US citizens.

In 2010, after serving several years on the Board at Prairie College, we were asked if I would consider looking after the school for a period. At my wife's encouragement, I rolled off the Board and joined the executive as its President...thankfully, she came with me and it has been a joint effort. This has been the most rewarding thing my wife and I have done in our very blessed working life.

3. How do you structure your work days from waking up to going to sleep?

I am not a morning person...I get up at 6:30 or 7:00, into the office between 8:00 and 8:30, enjoy watching some TV (sports or a Netflix food show) in the evening and end up reading in bed before turning off the lights at about 10:00. My devotional life and reflection time is most typically in the evening, not the morning.

Typically, I plan my priorities for the upcoming week on Sunday evening, try to have all management team meetings on Monday or Tuesday, and aim to spend Wednesday, Thursday, and Friday outside the office - marketing, fund-raising, and partnership building.

I find I am doing more writing and giving more speeches...most of that gets done in the evening.

4. What's a recent leadership lesson you've learned for the first time or been reminded of?

Adaptability is an essential core strength that is needed for the future because the world is a complex and quickly changing environment. Every change is a new opportunity, it just needs to be studied and incorporated into the corporate strategy.

Strategic Planning needs to be built around principles rather than activities...Strategic Activities likely have a one or two-year shelf-life, strategic principles will likely endure for ten years or longer.

5. What's one book that has had a profound impact on your leadership so far? Can you please briefly tell the story of how that book impacted your leadership?

The Contrarian Guide to Leadership by Stephen Sample.

Many leadership books are written from the perspective of one person's success and reflect that person's tactics. The fact that it was successful in that setting does not mean it will work in another industry or cultural setting.

I occasionally felt guilty for not conforming to the practices promoted in many of these books (following their "three, five, or seven keys to success"). I had often thought these were activities that worked well, in their setting.

Sample describes key principles that transcend culture and industry (like "thinking grey and thinking free") and sets us free from time-consuming tactics that might be quite irrelevant to our success.

This is not to take away from "The Art of War," the classic leadership book that was written 2 millennia ago and is still relevant to all settings of leadership, whether business, non-profit, local church, denominational, and academic settings. I particularly like the version edited into English by James Clavell.

The book that trumps them all, in my opinion, is the Bible, which has survived the test of time, transcends cultural settings, and is still relevant. It provides a worldview in which the Almighty Creator is actively involved in the welfare of humanity. All of the secrets for success in leadership are embedded in the pages of the Scriptures.

6. If you could only give one piece of advice to a young leader, what would you say to them?

Never make an offer that you would not accept if you were in their position.

Never take out more than you put in.

Humility is winsome and is the fast track to success. Sing the praises of others. Say thanks continuously, express your appreciation to every person who does something for you.

And above all else: Honour the Almighty, praise the Creator, seek Him as your daily companion.

7. What is one meaningful story that comes to mind from your time as a leader, so far?

Letting people go (firing them) is one of the requirements of leadership. It is both difficult and important work.

In my first 18 months at the college, I had to reduce our bloated workforce by 50%. This became an opportunity to eliminate people who were not enthusiastic about our mission and helping drive it forward.

I had read or been told that firing people would cause everyone to be anxious about their jobs and that there would be many negative ramifications and ripple effects.

Instead, I found that 1.) people were relieved - someone was finally dealing with the problem people, and 2.) job security went up - the ones still on the team are more needed on a smaller team.

Our mission was being undermined by some of the people on our team. When they were going, our work load was eased, our team harmony improved, and we began to make money.

I dreaded the conversations, was relieved with how well they went, and only wished that I had moved more quickly!

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