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 exceling in his career.

What is your family like?

My wonderful wife and I have three sons.  They are as different as three points on a triangle. Very different and all very special as they each have their own talents. Two of my sons live in Calgary.  My youngest son is doing his PhD in Bio-Chemistry.

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.

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, she was commuting and I was 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. One Christmas, my oldest son arranged to fly his brother home from Calgary to surprise us on Christmas morning.  It was incredible. My wife arranged for my oldest son to surprise me in Mexico and he learned how to scuba dive before coming down so that he could join me on my scuba diving excursions.  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 memories for me.

What is something you learned 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 have since 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 one son was quite young he wanted to buy earbuds for his gaming device so I took him shopping and he said, “I want these cheap red ones”. Me being the engineer I said, “No, no, you don’t want those ones, you want these good ones,” so I showed him the good ones and he reluctantly agreed and it turns out he wanted the red ones because 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 the same as everyone else had. 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 demands 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 of Global Innovation. 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 and be present physically. Now we connect virtually. We try to connect when we can through Skype, FaceTime, and WhatsApp.

Something that has really changed are the activities we did when the kids were young 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.”