Bob Burnside says, “I’m always optimistic. I always think the next person I meet will be my best friend; I always think the deal will go well.”
Bob Burnside: One of our 2014 Local Heroes
This positive attitude served him well in his role as founder of R. J. Burnside and Associates, the Orangeville engineering firm that has grown to include 320 employees at 11 locations across Canada and a 12th in Barbados.
It has also served Headwaters well. In his humble, behind-the-scenes way, Bob has devoted himself to the community. A longtime Rotary Club member, he has chaired three major fundraising campaigns for Headwaters Health Care Centre, and represents south Dufferin on a provincial source water protection committee. He is a director of the Gideon National Trust Fund and was the first chair of the board of Highlands Youth for Christ in Orangeville. He’s also on the board of Heroes Camp, a basketball program for at-risk youth.
Bob’s most recent project is the video Every Town Needs a Doc, an affectionate tribute to Orangeville entrepreneur and community leader Doc Gillies. “I wanted to peel back what Doc did and look at how you might replicate that,” says Bob, who financed the production and offered broad direction on the content. (The video is available on Vimeo and you can view at the bottom of this article.)
Surprisingly, Bob doesn’t describe himself as a born leader. “I often do things because there is a need at the time,” he says. When the café at Centre Fellowship Church was struggling, for example, Bob, who knew nothing about the food business, pitched in to help return it to a sound footing and ensure its survival.
Bob believes that his strength lies in the wide network of talented people who surround him. “I’m good at being able to say, ‘Here’s who you should talk to.’ My friends call me the Connector.”
He attributes much of his success to his father, Arnold, who once served as reeve of Amaranth Township and warden of Dufferin County. “My parents were divorced and I mostly grew up with my dad,” he says. “He taught me how to deal with people and that interactions always need to be a win-win for both sides. If there’s a short straw, don’t be reluctant to take it. That approach has made me a lot of friends.”
The help and support of his wife, Nancy, has also been crucial. “I once had 39 nights out in a row,” he says somewhat sheepishly. “The deal always was, I had to be home by 5 o’clock and stay there until 7:30 to help with the kids. Then off I’d go.”
Bob retired in 2000, and the firm is now run by his son, John. For a time Bob remained as chair of the board, but a few years ago he stepped away from the business completely. This has given him more time for both community service and pursuing personal interests, such as family genealogy and travel.
Bob’s community work has been recognized with numerous awards, including the President’s Award from the Greater Dufferin Area Chamber of Commerce and the Dr. David Scott Award, bestowed by Headwaters Health Care Centre.
“I’ve learned my risk tolerance is high,” Bob says. “I’ll tear into things.” For this community, his tearing into things has been, as his father said, win-win.