The adventuresome nature of Michael Potter takes him from land to sea and up in the air to pursue his exciting interests. His savvy business sense is evident in his role as a successful Ottawa entrepreneur and the former CEO of Cognos Inc., but it is his role as a father to three strong-minded daughters that he cherishes the most.
Michael Potter is passionate about being a dad to Michaela, 13, Tennyson, 12, and Lilli Angelique, 7, whom he hopes to inspire with his own passion for travel and adventure. Combining a love for Canadian aviation heritage with a philanthropic spirit, he created Vintage Wings, a charitable foundation that buys, maintains and operates vintage aircraft. The foundation supplied the Waco Taperwing for the movie Amelia in which Michael appeared as the pilot double for actress Hilary Swank, who played the starring role.
At the age of seven, Michael and his family immigrated to Canada from London, U.K. and lived in Vancouver, Winnipeg and then Victoria. He pursued a career as a naval officer through the Royal Military College and then completed his masters in physics at the University of British Columbia. In the late Ď60s he moved to Ottawa and began his career at the Defense Research Board. He went on to acquire Quasar Systems of Ottawa, a computer consulting company that later became the leading business intelligence software maker Cognos; there he spent more than 23 years as Chairman and CEO.
Ottawa At Home spent time getting to know this warm and inspiring man during a visit to his historic Rockcliffe Park home and the Vintage Wings of Canada hangar, both magnificently reflective of his fine taste and passions.
What do you enjoy about your neighborhood and living in Ottawa? Ottawa is a great place to raise a family. I can't imagine matching my community and the Canadian friends that I have anywhere else in the world. It has proved to be a superb business environment for me and especially for those who pursue a technology-based career. Young people should not feel that Ottawa, even Canada, is the limit to their horizons. Travelling will help them realize how great Ottawa is, but the world is a much bigger place once you get comfortable working within the global community.
What qualities are important to being successful? It is amazing what can be accomplished when you pursue and devote yourself to a major objective. I believe perseverance is rewarded more than anything else in this life. My nod would go to the person who is willing to spend 20 years pursuing a dream.
How do you stay so actively involved in your daughter's lives? I had the benefit of being able to fully disengage from my business career at the age of 51. It is not something that everyone can do. My kids come first. I will never be happy with my life if I don't do the best I can to help them emerge as independent young adults.
Why is it so important to educate Canadians about our aviation heritage? I have been flying for over 40 years. Acquiring old airplanes in the past ten years I realized Canada had much to be proud of with the development of Canadian designed aircraft and our contribution to WW II. These amazing young heroes who flew both fighters and bombers had remarkable and inspiring stories. History is brought to life when Canadians see these air-worthy airplanes and talk to the pilots. These planes are artifacts that show Canadians what their history represented. Our objective is to educate, commemorate, and inspire Canadians about Canada's aviation history.
What do you appreciate most about your life? I feel fortunate in having three almost endlessly interesting daughters and the rewarding pleasure and opportunities of watching them grow up. Of all the things that I would be willing to give up if I was reliving my life, all the changes I would make, that would be the one that I wouldn't change at all. I think it is remarkable that when you hit 50 and you haven't even started that process, you would have to obviously think that that's not going to happen. I think I am the luckiest guy in the world to have the opportunity (to be a parent) this late in life.
Where do you see yourself five years from now? My parenting role will change launching the girls into university, enabling them to leave the nest and experience the world on their own terms. This will be challenging, but demands at the family home will be less. I hope that I am still healthy enough to achieve another phase in my life then. Three years ago I bought an old, converted, ocean salvage tug that is capable of going anywhere in the world - the Northwest Passage, the Antarctic and anywhere in between. I want to take my daughters, who are terrific young scuba divers, swimmers and sailors to some of the more remote parts of the planet like the Western Pacific, South Pacific Islands, Indonesia, Micronesia, the east coast of Australia and Asia.