Kevin Cott rose from extreme poverty to become CEO of a successful managing general agency in Toronto. Like many who approach retirement, he too has contemplated how the legacy of his accumulated wealth — both financial and intellectual — will be accounted for in years to come.
In 1993, Kevin Cott was parachuted in to be the new manager of a 1000-person Crown Life Insurance agency that stretched from Windsor to Toronto, and from Niagara Falls to Sault Ste. Marie. It was not an easy assignment. Cott, a savvy and sophisticated Toronto professional, was taking over after several managerial blunders.
After announcing that the organization was paring down to only those people who really wanted to be there and declaring that hard work would be the only path to the exemption, Cott set out to meet the team. In Kitchener, he encountered Lordy, “the kid from the village”; an African immigrant, working from a strip mall office who was just five years into his insurance career.
“I met this guy and he was rough and he was hard on me,” says Cott of their first encounters. “He had a bit of chip on his shoulder and a strong feeling that he was not getting the advantages or opportunities of other people. But Lordy immediately demonstrated that he believed he could be somebody and he could do something.” Lordy, he says, set out to do things that would take him beyond where he had come from. “His path was, ‘I’m going to make myself something that others don’t believe I can be. Someone who will do what others say they’re going to do – but they’re not going to do it,’” recounts Cott.
Maybe this determination felt familiar to Cott. His own success would not have been assured or predictable based on his early life. Cott was the youngest of six, raised by their mother alone, and in extreme poverty. He vividly recalls the support they received during hard times including toy deliveries from the garbage men at Christmas, “even though we weren’t Christian.”
This, he believes, is where he and Lordy have a commonality, “People have looked at us differently.” Often a critical gaze and communal assistance can spawn the desire to succeed and, ultimately, to give back. It comes from the awareness that nobody ever does anything alone. There is always someone — community, government, family, friends — that helps facilitate everyone’s accomplishments.
Regardless of how self-made you are, there are common infrastructures that benefit the greater community. Then, as you mature personally and financially, you start to look at what you can do for others. “Charity has become a large part of who I am,” affirms Scott. “It’s the money part of course, but it’s also part of my roots.”
Twenty-six years after their first meeting, the two men share common bonds. Cott is CEO of Qualified Financial Services, a managing general agency that provides advisor support including ongoing training, the facilitation of new business and compliance oversight for independent insurance brokers like Lordy. These days, both of them are thinking about retirement and succession, and both of them are considering their legacies.
Together they have already completed one charitable project, a pre-curser to the Two Communities Foundation. 15 years ago, they delivered computer technology to schools in Ghana. Recently, following through on a promise he made Lordy years ago, Cott became the first major donor to the Two Communities Foundation, pledging $25,000 to support the Foundation’s charitable efforts.
“Lordy is looking to create opportunities for people who are in the same position he was in when he was a young person. He wants to go back and give back and give people the tools they need.” In Cott’s estimation, Lordy’s giver philosophy could be summed up as, “You can do it, not because I did it, but because you can do it.”