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  • Writer's pictureDave Veale

Politics is no different than business – it’s all about relationships.

Updated: Sep 23, 2021

Paul Zed

Published in the Telegraph Journal Thursday December 8th, 2011 Photo: Kâté Braydon/Telegraph-Journal

Dave Veale interviews Paul Zed, Legal Council, Barry & Spalding, Chairman of the President’s Advisory Board for Cisco Canada as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.

Here’s a quick clip of Dave’s interview with Paul Zed, filmed at the end of our interview… Watch the quick video.

I am confident that the majority of people reading this column know the name Paul Zed. What most people know about Paul is that he was a member of Parliament for Fundy-Royal from 1993-1997 (the first, and youngest, Liberal ever elected in the riding’s history) and again for Saint John from 2004-2008. Paul grew up in Saint John and continues to work in his hometown as legal counsel to the law firm Barry & Spalding. In 2009 he was appointed chairman of the president’s advisory board for Cisco Canada.

What you may not know is that Paul was also a lecturer in contract law at the Faculty of Law at the University of Ottawa from 1982-1984 and taught business law at the Business School at the University of New Brunswick from 1984-1993. In 2008 he was appointed national co-chairperson for the Liberal Party of Canada leadership campaign of Michael Ignatieff and was subsequently named chief of staff and chief strategist to the leader of the Opposition.

Not surprisingly, in his role with Cisco Paul is forging key relationships and connecting his years of experience as a teacher, lawyer, politician and world traveller as he helps deliver on Cisco’s slogan: Changing the way we work, we live, play and learn.

Although he is not in public life, Paul still has strong ties to New Brunswick and his belief in our province is very evident. An example of this was Paul’s role in encouraging the recent agreement between UNB and Cisco Canada aimed at helping the university become a world leader in technology innovation. As described in a joint press release, the agreement is “a major boost to the university’s research and advanced learning capabilities. Cisco is providing a $2 million endowment to establish a Cisco Chair in Advanced Learning Technology, which will promote, support, and lead innovation at the university through industry-linked projects.”

I started our conversation by asking Paul how he landed at Cisco Canada.

A: I actually met the Canadian president of Cisco at a restaurant when I was in public life and he had asked if he could come to talk about productivity and technology when I was working for Michael Ignatieff. He said “look, if you ever get out of this business please call me.”

Q: It is interesting to me that you are a lawyer working with a technology firm. Was it a difficult transition for you?

A: I was somewhat reluctant to think that I could make any contribution to this environment because Nitin Kawale (president, Cisco Canada) is an engineer and the place is just dripping with engineers. I introduced a concept into their business model which is to sell outside of their box of technology. I actually sell relationships.

Cisco gave me carte blanche to disturb their selling model – to create new relationships between Cisco, political leaders and business leaders.

Q: What was an important lesson you learned in your political career that supports you in the business world?

A: I learned politics at the knee of Roméo LeBlanc, who was a federal minister. One of the things I learned from him was an election was something that we did for thirty days every five years but that once the election was over you had to work with everybody to make New Brunswick, and of course Saint John, a better place. I was really struck by how well political leaders from different parties worked with each other.

Q: What do you think is a leadership quality that creates a motivating environment?

A: What I have learned is to try and always inspire people with just a little encouragement. It isn’t even necessarily ‘hope’, because hope is a little lyrical, but encouragement: ‘I know we can do better.’

Q: From your perspective what are some of the biggest challenges we have in this region?

A: I think our biggest challenge is the shrinking population in Atlantic Canada. I am the oldest of seven children, five of my brothers and sisters have left the city to seek employment elsewhere and I am here half-time. So I understand that net loss of our population and I think it’s a challenge. I also think we are over-governed – we have way too many MLAs and too many municipal structures. We have to figure out a better way to deliver services to our people.

Q: What do you think it is going to take to overcome these challenges?

A: Atlantic Canada has always been a gateway. Saint John was a gateway. I think we need to refocus on our strengths – immigration, education, health care and energy. It shouldn’t just be one of those; it should be all of those. Our hospital and the university are two large employers in this community – that is our future.

Q: Can you finish off the following sentence? A leader’s job is to …

A: A leader’s job is to make tough decisions. To evaluate, consider, contemplate, study and then make a decision.

Q: What are some examples of tough decisions you have made?

A: Having been in public life, I know about the tough choices that you have to make because you have to stand at your seat in the House of Commons and vote. You have to make really tough decisions on definitions of marriage or on abortion or on unemployment insurance or on sending troops to Afghanistan. At the end of the day, one of the challenges of being in public life is gathering a consensus in your community and making a decision.

Q: What leaders do you admire?

A: People like Dick Currie and Gerry Pond – they are really innovative and competitive leaders who continue to reinvest their energy, their time and their passion in our province.

Q: What is the hardest part for you being a former politician?

A: The negative part is that people can see you through a cynical lens and are looking for you to have a personal motive.

Q: How do you respond to the cynics who assume you have an agenda?

A: I really don’t care. I think it might come as a big surprise to some people that I will work with anybody who wants to work to improve our community.

Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at

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