The speech given by Michael Lee-Chin, Chairman of Portland Holding Inc., to McMaster students on Oct. 7 was more than just inspiring; it was symbolic. By taking us through his journey as a McMaster Engineering alumnus, one that began as a bouncer upon graduation and eventually led to becoming one of the more generous billionaire philanthropists in the world, his past became the representation of the fruits McMaster University wishes to bear in the future.
Speaking directly to students, he urged we “discover a dysfunctionality and make it your cause to change it. It is your passion that enables perseverance, and passion comes from the confidence that you are doing the right thing.»
The environment that allows one to follow their passion is very important, and has been much of the focus of the McMaster administration in recent years. In 2011, President Patrick Deane sent an open letter to the McMaster community outlining the principles that he hoped would guide the university’s future “Forward with Integrity”.
The letter highlighted experiential learning, self-directed learning, inter-disciplinarity and internationalization as the themes McMaster must follow in order to continue to generate leaders who solve the problems of the future.
These themes are very much enshrined in Lee-Chin’s life. He has found a way to use his Engineering degree as a stepping stone to becoming one of the leaders in the mutual fund industry, making his passion for self-directed learning and inter-disciplinarity easy to spot.
He was a pioneer in calling for the reinvestment of profits in developing countries locally, adopting a new method for internationalization. Fuelled by his confidence in doing the right thing, he rose above the perceived dichotomy of “doing good” and “doing well” in business, piloting the program in his home country of Jamaica. His company’s shares increased almost instantaneously.
I believe that the vision has also resonated with the students here at McMaster. Indeed, with this year’s first winds of autumn came a subtle wind of change in culture among students. While I personally may not see what comes of this new culture here in, I am excited by what’s to come from this university after I graduate.
Having attended the McMaster Social Innovation Lab and Entrepreneurship Association club launches, both in their first years, I was impressed with the eagerness shown by students to seek solutions that solve real-world problems. I also see this enthusiasm first hand in SUSTAIN 3A03, Societal Tools for Systemic Sustainable Change.
I believe this course changes the story students write for their script after university life, proving to them that the skills learned in their degrees can in fact be used to do help improve the world. The multi-disciplinary fabric of the course, as well as its self-directed learning nature, have also gone a long way in making me more comfortable to take on problems that I would have otherwise thought were out of the scope of my degree.
At the end of his homecoming, Lee-Chin left us with the most important formula we will learn in our time here: “Fulfillment is a function of doing well, doing good and having fun in between.”
Now knowing where the path Forward with Integrity leads, I think I have found the direction to walk after my graduation ceremony this year.