- Peter Gilgan
2023 Horatio Alger Award Winner — Chairman & CEO Mattamy Group Corp.
“Run toward the fire — don’t run away from the fire. Hit it head on.”
Growing up in a lower-middle-class household, the Gilgan family understood the true value of every hard-earned dollar. Peter’s practical and frugal father imparted invaluable life lessons, teaching his children the art of making the most out of limited resources. “There’d be a bicycle in somebody’s garbage, and he’d salvage it and bring it home,” Peter says. These formative years instilled in Peter an appreciation for the value of hard work and a pragmatic approach to life.
Despite the financial constraints of their upbringing, Peter and his siblings were encouraged to pursue their dreams and aspirations. As one of seven kids in a tight-knit family, he watched his siblings charting diverse paths in life, with some excelling in business, law, and entrepreneurship. It was in this nurturing environment that Peter’s own entrepreneurial spirit began to take shape.
Peter’s journey into the world of entrepreneurship and business was far from conventional, shaped by his early work experiences and an unusual route to education.
He was 13 when he got his first job and he soon found himself working at a plumbing distribution company. The jobs were not glamorous; they involved lifting hefty 75-pound crates, maneuvering them on and off shelves overhead, and the tedious task of packaging small metal components into kits. The monotonous work made him contemplate his future.
Despite the challenges of his early work experiences, Peter’s commitment to personal development and education became the guiding force. As he fondly recalls, “My first job was in grade eight, and I thought, ‘I’m staying in school.’”
In the field of chartered accounting, regardless of their entry route, everyone faced the same daunting examinations. Peter’s journey through this education was a testament to his determination. He firmly believes that “Your first loss is your best loss,” a philosophy that guided him through these challenging times and marked his eventual qualification as a chartered accountant.
His career path took an unforeseen turn when he stumbled upon his true passion—the construction industry. This discovery sparked a fascination, igniting the fires of entrepreneurship. Peter’s vision extended far beyond merely constructing physical buildings; it encompassed the creation of living spaces that went beyond aesthetics, focusing on enduring quality and sustainability.
With this newfound passion, Peter embarked on a pivotal endeavor by founding Mattamy Homes. This company would become a testament to his commitment to crafting not just houses but homes where people could thrive and find genuine satisfaction. He envisioned spaces that fostered a sense of well-being, belonging, and happiness for those fortunate enough to call them home. In his own words, “you start with an idea, and it develops into something that hopefully is a thing of beauty and endurance and sustainability and a sense of personal satisfaction for not only the builder of the project, but also for those who live there.”
Starting Mattamy Homes was no small feat, and Peter encountered numerous challenges along the way. Economic downturns and the unwelcome interference of competitors threatened his progress. Yet, Peter’s unique ability to perceive challenges as opportunities for growth proved instrumental in overcoming these obstacles. He firmly believed that “a good old recession” would be “the basis for significant growth coming out of it.”
Peter’s profound appreciation for the role of education in personal and professional development remains unwavering. He places great emphasis on staying at the forefront of technological advancements, recognizing their pivotal role in today’s ever-evolving business landscape. In his view, technology is a potent enabler that should be seamlessly integrated into every facet of a business, from enhancing customer relations to optimizing internal operations. To him, “Technology is a massive enabler, and you’ve got to load the gun before you get going.”
From his early days as a determined chartered accountant to his transformative venture into the construction industry with Mattamy Homes, he has consistently embraced challenges and emerged stronger. His legacy serves as an inspiration for aspiring entrepreneurs and underscores the importance of education, innovation, and a passion-driven approach to life and business.
Peter is an Officer of the Order of Canada.
What I’ve Learned
Peter’s life story is a testament to the power of resilience, hard work, and a deep sense of purpose. His commitment to philanthropy underscores his belief in giving back to the community and helping others achieve their dreams.
Peter’s generosity extends beyond his entrepreneurial endeavors. He has a deep commitment to philanthropy, driven by a profound sense of gratitude for his own success. Peter and his family actively support charitable causes and have established scholarships that not only provide financial aid but also offer recognition and support to young people striving for a better future. Peter was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada for his exceptional commitment to health care, the well-being of children, and community building.
Peter’s remarkable achievements and dedication to helping others led to his membership in the Horatio Alger Association. He was recommended by David Johnston, a respected figure in his own right. Peter’s inclusion in this group reflects his outstanding contributions to business and society. “I’m incredibly flattered to be asked to become a member of the Horatio Alger Association, and join the folks that have gone before me,” Peter notes.
Peter’s legacy serves as an inspiration to aspiring entrepreneurs and philanthropists alike, reminding us that success is not just about financial gain but also about making a positive difference in the world.