“If anyone who is successful thinks they achieved that singlehandedly, they are sadly mistaken,” says Warren Spitz, president and CEO of UCS Forest Group and Sauder benefactor.
“It takes a whole lot of influencers for anyone to reach their potential, so a word that really governs me is gratitude,” he explains. “And with that in mind, I feel a responsibility to literally ‘pay it forward.’”
Spitz and his family have stuck to this value set for decades, having led philanthropic efforts both locally and internationally, supporting causes ranging from a major film festival to a medical clinic for youth in Uganda.
In the past few years, the Spitz family – Warren, his wife Maureen, and their adult children Gregory, Kelsey and Matthew – has turned their focus to the Sauder School of Business to support Indigenous education opportunities.
The Spitz family has a long connection and history with UBC and Sauder in particular. Warren and Maureen met at the school as students while he was doing a Bachelor of Commerce and she was doing an MBA, and their son Gregory followed up a UBC undergraduate degree with a Master of Management from the Robert H. Lee Graduate School in 2010, while several more family members—including two of Warren’s brothers—are UBC graduates. After many years of not being in touch with Sauder, Warren says he was glad to be drawn back into the Sauder community after a chance encounter with Sauder alumnus and lecturer Irfhan Rawji. This led to reunions with former classmates and eventually an appointment to Sauder’s Faculty Advisory Board.
Over the last two years, the family has devised and funded the Spitz Fellows Program for the Sauder School by working in close collaboration with the staff of Sauder’s Ch’nook Indigenous Business Education Initiative. The program offers a pathway for Aboriginal women to pursue a Bachelor of Commerce with significantly reduced financial barriers to success.
Having worked for several summers on British Columbia’s central coast in Namu, and later in Bella Bella, to pay his way through university, Warren heard first-hand of the barriers to post-secondary education faced by his friends and co-workers. He says he also has fond memories of the communities on the Central Coast from childhood visits to see his dad, Peter, in the remote logging camps he had established.
Through Ch’nook, Warren, Maureen, Gregory and Kelsey had the opportunity to engage with band councillors, chiefs, educators and others in northern communities to learn more about the issues young Aboriginal British Columbians face when they want to pursue post-secondary education in business. Miranda Huron, Ch’nook Program Manager, says the Spitz family has a true understanding of what the consultation process with communities should look like. “As we were leaving Bella Bella for the airport, Warren stopped the cab to take one last moment to look out on the town and the natural beauty of the environs, and it was obvious that his heart had truly never really left the northwest coast.”
The experience confirmed, shaped and informed the development of the Spitz Fellows Program, the vision of which is to foster the conditions for each Fellow to empower herself to succeed in her educational goals and beyond, and to become the leader she envisions, in both the Sauder and wider community.
To the Spitz family, philanthropy is about doing what is right: leveraging good fortune and personal success to support others in being the best they can be. “When you are fortunate, you have an obligation to help others; it is incumbent upon you to do what you can to find ways to provide opportunities for others and support the community,” Warren says.
The family also actively encourages others to share in their passion for giving back. Last year, Kelsey gave a presentation to the Sauder Philanthropy Program where she discussed with students how to decide what causes to support by paraphrasing American writer and theologian Frederick Buechner: “Find where your deep gladness meets the world’s deep need.” She explains that understanding what means the most to you is important for genuine and authentic philanthropic efforts. “If you are going to really get involved in something you have to feel passionately about it; it avoids opportunism, engenders empathy and becomes a partnership. That’s really how my family feels about the things we support.”
This is a reduced version of an article originally printed in the Spring 2015 edition of Viewpoints Magazine, written by Sue Bugos.