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A striking balance

As a native Canadian with Croatian roots, Matthew Popovacki offers the best of two worlds: North American determination combined with European nonchalance. The result? A cool character who pushes himself to the limits – in business and sport alike.

Text: Florian Flicke


Questions about where he considers his home to be are difficult for Popovacki to answer: “My family is sort of a hybrid of European and North American influences,” he says, smiling. Born in Toronto but deeply rooted to Europe, this fascinating mix of origins, traditions and cultures has created a diverse and fulfilling life for the T.A. Cook manager. His annual summer holiday in Croatia – where members of his and his wife’s family still live – is a good example.

The couple visit Dubrovnik, where they honeymooned and have gone back to every year since 2008. Always returning to the Hotel Excelsior, it is in this beautiful city that Popovacki feels he can best switch off and recharge with friends. Perhaps fittingly, the capital city of Zagreb is also on the couple’s agenda: the city’s name is derived from Croatian legends and can loosely be translated as drawing fresh resources. “The culture there is to strive for a balanced work/life lifestyle.

I am always fascinated and amazed by how people will always find the time to also appreciate and enjoy life no matter how busy they may be.” Indeed, his love for the country has influenced his view and passion for all of Europe, and despite the significant amount of business travel that comes with his job, he still loves traveling in his free time, too. With every transatlantic flight he takes, Popovacki tries to take in another metropolitan city as a stopover.

A Good Fit

It is precisely this mix of North American and European influences that prompted the Canadian to join T.A. Cook in 2014. “I really wanted to work for a global company, so T.A. Cook’s European background tilted the scales in its favor when it came to my decision,” he recalls. “I am a very structured person, a characteristic Germans are well-known for. So I thought it would be a good fit.” And fit it certainly does, even if the timing of his move to T.A. Cook came at the same time as a slump in the worldwide oil industry.

For Popovacki, that was actually more of an incentive than a cause for concern: his entire working life has revolved around achieving improvement in challenging environments. “Product enhancement” and “process optimization” are all part of his daily vocabulary and build on Popovacki’s Economics and Business Administration degree from Brock University in Canada. Working originally for Canada’s largest engine remanufacturer, he spent years on the ground as a welder, machinist and assembler, before moving towards upper management consulting in other branches. It is that initial exposure and understanding that really guides him when managing turnaround projects for T.A. Cook: “Those experiences still help me to this day. I know what executing work is really about when talking with maintenance workers in the industries,” he says.

“Success is the result of sound preparation, hard work and, above all else, the ability to learn from previous mistakes.”

When You Stop Training, You Lose

In both his private and professional lives Popovacki retains a sense of focus: “Success is the result of sound
preparation, hard work and, above all else, the ability to learn from previous mistakes.” These words reveal the athlete in him. An ambitious hockey player in his youth, he could often be found working out at dawn or on the ice with his hockey team, making sure he was as well-prepared as possible. And yet he still decided against pursuing the sport professionally: “At some point I had to weigh up my options and make a decision: should I focus on the chance of attaining a sport contract or invest in an academic route at university?” he reflects, making ultimately what has proved to be the right decision.

However little time his schedule allows for sports in general, hockey has always remained a significant part
of his life and he still plays whenever he can. “The most important thing that I have learned from sport is that when you lack passion and drive for what you do, it will ultimately affect how you prepare and perform. You simply cannot be as successful. If you don’t push yourself, others who are more hardworking, diligent and dedicated will achieve superior results.” This philosophy is not only one for which he himself lives every day, it is also one which his clients have found infectious.

He doesn’t see himself in any way as a “resourced outsider”around his clients but instead as both a team
player and training partner: “When we’re working on a project, we all follow a mutual goal,” states Popovacki. In today’s fast-paced economic environment, it can be easy, he continues, to lose track of how important people are to every business and he is accordingly proud of the many long-term friendships that have developed out of business relationships. A perfect example was his great personal concern when the Fort McMurray oil sands region was threatened by wildfires: “I was incredibly worried for colleagues and friends and wrote a multitude of emails to ask whether everything was ok.” Luckily, he received quick replies confirming that colleagues, friends and their families were all safe.