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Margot and Paul Williamson grin at the camera.
Margot and Paul Williamson in 2017

How to be a millionaire: the art of asking short questions

Paul Williamson firmly believes that everybody is amazing, and that each one of us has an amazing story to tell. The Brantford business leader and community champion takes great joy in bringing those stories out of everyone he meets and spreading acts of kindness where and when it’s needed the most.

Williamson’s approach to giving is much like his approach to building a career and running a company – don’t put a lid on anyone’s potential, ask short questions and be an expert listener.

Williamson and his wife Margot are well known in the Brantford community. The Margot and Paul Williamson Family Pavillion in the Rotary Centennial Waterworks Park was named in honour of their many contributions. Margot’s Place, running out of St Andrew’s Church, is a non-profit organization providing support programs for young mothers in the community. Williamson is the first civilian to be named Honorary Colonel for the 56th Field Regiment of the Royal Canadian Artillery in Brantford. And since Laurier’s Brantford campus opened its doors in 1999, Williamson has supported many efforts to revitalize Brantford’s downtown core with generous support of the Research and Academic Building, Laurier Brantford YMCA, LaunchPad Brantford, student awards and more.

“Laurier and Brantford are tongue-and-groove,” Williamson says of Laurier’s Brantford campus. “I see a dogged persistence on the part of Laurier that I admire enormously. We saw the town getting revitalized when the university came in. This is Laurier-driven and all I’m doing is adding some economic fuel to Laurier’s train.”

Whether it’s by supporting tuition grants for students entering the Faculty of Education’s inaugural class on Laurier’s Brantford campus; by finding a psychologist and covering the cost of six sessions for a young man who spoke candidly about mental health when Williamson asked “how are you really doing?”; or by helping Laurier students, alumni and Brantford community members turn their business dreams into reality through long-time mentorship and funding support to Laurier’s LaunchPad Brantford – Williamson’s goal is to empower others to reach their full potential.

“That’s why The Williamson Group was so successful,” he says. Williamson started the benefits consulting and financial services firm in Brantford, Ontario in 1976. The company grew to about 80 employees before it was sold to the Cowan Insurance Group in 2014.

“Our standard line when someone started was ‘welcome to The Williamson Group, here’s your five miles of rope, try not to run out of it.’ The idea was to let everyone rise to the top and be as great as they could be, and the majority exceeded their own expectations of what they could achieve.”

Williamson attributes his own success to being an expert listener, explaining that most people are never asked questions about themselves, and many of our proudest accomplishments go unrecognized.

“I was talking to one of my grandsons about how to be a millionaire, and you have to be an expert on the art of asking short questions,” he says. “My questions were: How are you today? How did you get into this business? Where are you going from here? And then I’d shut up.”

By asking short questions, providing a listening ear, and empowering others, Williamson makes real connections, and real relationships with nearly everyone he meets.

“So many of us are limited in our ability to give by life’s constraints upon us,” Williamson says, but explains that kindness doesn’t have to cost anything. You can change a life “sometimes just by caring,” he says. 

For Williamson, his family is his proudest achievement. The whole family, children and grandchildren, gather on Mother’s Day every year to celebrate Margot. “The grandchildren couldn’t pronounce Margot when they were young, so we call it Muggy’s Day,” he laughs.

When last gathered, his twelve-year-old grandson asked one of Williamson’s favourite short questions: what’s the greatest thing you ever did?

“So, I said ‘Well, I think marrying my wife and having three wonderful children so I’m surrounded by family.’ And what did he say? ‘That’s a good answer, Papa.’”

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