Terry Ostan – Father and Leader


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Since starting to work for General Motors Canada over 34 years ago, Terry Ostan has accomplished a lot.  As a scholarship student in the Power Train group in 1983, Terry grew a liking for Innovation while working on non-standard projects and is now a Senior Manager for Innovation and Advanced Technologies. As his career was growing so was his family. Terry is the father to three now adult boys. He gave us the inside scoop to what raising a family was like for him while excelling in his career.

What is your family like?

My wonderful wife Sylvia and I have three sons, Michael, Daniel and Nicholas, and they are as different as three-points on a triangle. Very different and all very special as they each have their own talents. Michael and Daniel both live in Calgary. One works for TELUS and the other for CTV. Nicholas is doing his PhD at the University of Toronto in Bio-Chemistry (vaccine), and is working at the Mars building downtown.

We’ve always been a close family. March break was always fun for us, whether we were going skiing in Whistler, visiting Eastern townships or vacationing in a hot beach destination. We emphasized doing what you like in school so that every day is fun and enjoyable.

“A funny story is my son who lives downtown, his washer broke so he calls me and goes “dad, the washer won’t drain, I’m really sorry”’ and I’m like “Nick, you have no idea how happy I am when you guys call for help or advice.” He’s like “it’s a pain though, you have to drive all the way down here” and I said, “I love it!””

What was it like working and being a dad when your kids were younger?

It was very intense when they were little, we had so many family activities. Teamwork is the only way that you have any hope of being successful. My wife used to work downtown, her commuting and me travelling to Detroit, so we had to do a lot of coordinating and teamwork to make sure we got the kids to their activities. That was the only way.

I really resonate with the quote ‘Some days there is so much going on that the days seem like years but then some years feel like minutes’ because the kids grow up so fast you don’t even notice.”

What’s a favourite family memory?

I think my favourite memories are the surprises. Michael paying to have Daniel fly home from Calgary and surprise us on Christmas morning was incredible. My wife had Michael fly to Mexico to go scuba diving with me. That was amazing. Either they are really great at surprising me or I am really tuned out, but it’s those surprises that are the best for me.

What is something you learnt from your kids about being a parent?

We were always there to help them when they needed it, but talking to my boys now that they are older I learned that I needed to help them how they wanted to be helped and not how I thought was best. When they were younger I used my position of wisdom to help them but it wasn’t always helpful to the situation. For example, when my son was younger he wanted to buy earbuds for his gaming device so I took him and he said, “I want these cheap red ones”. Me being the engineer I said, “No, no, you don’t want those you want these good ones” so I showed him the good ones and he reluctantly agreed and it turns out he wanted the red one’s cause everyone at school had the red ones and he ended up with different ones. He wasn’t buying them for the quality he wanted them to be like everyone else. Little things like that are what kids remember, so you have to listen to what they are saying and help how they are asking.

What are some similarities and differences with being a parent and being a supervisor?

Being a dad is a lot like the change when you become a supervisor but it’s more gradual. When you have a baby your life changes overnight, you can’t do the things you could do before. But the changes are smaller because the baby’s demand’s change over a long period of time. When you become a supervisor that change is overnight because you’re looking after full-grown people and their requirements and needs are more sophisticated than just feeding them. You have to keep them engaged, challenged and motivated but not overwhelmed, it can be really hard. The changes are similar because they happen quickly but work can be more challenging.

What is one thing that you find rewarding in your job?

The people that I have hired and recruited have become so successful. I remember hiring Brian Tossan, Director at our Canadian Technical centres. Seeing him learn and grow and become successful and influential has been so rewarding for me. I feel good because I brought that talent to GM and I like to think I had a little bit of influence on him.

What is one thing that you find rewarding in being a dad?

I’m really proud of all my kids for finding their calling and being successful in following it. You always worry about your kids but I never have to worry if they are doing what they love and I’m really proud of that.

How has your typical day changed as your kids have grown up?

My days are still long but my evenings are free, so I have more time for my wife. When the boys were little I would go to a lot of their events physically but now we virtually connect. We try to connect when we can through skype, FaceTime and WhatsApp.

Something that has really changed is what we used to do when we had young kids like Wonderland and skiing. Our reasons for doing those things changed as the boys grew up and moved away but we want to get back into some of it. We have to remember to keep doing things with each other, my wife and I are actually going to start skiing again this winter!

“I wish I could put my arms around all three of my kids like I used to but I can’t because they have different lives and different schedules. So, when one asks for help, I’m there. I just love doing anything with the kids. Whether they need help fixing their home, finding a new job, picking a new car or even fixing a washer I like doing that with them.”