How UBC Sauder alumni are helping shape the future of responsible leadership

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Posted 2018-12-13
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As appeared in The Globe and Mail 

At a young age, Dr. Robert H. Lee was taught by his father that responsibility, ethics and community were important undercurrents in a person’s actions. Since then, he has spent decades ensuring that the next generation embodies these values, particularly those studying at his alma mater, the UBC Sauder School of Business.

“You want the next generation to be better than you and you can do that by leading by example and investing in education, this is why I’ve always invested back into UBC Sauder,” says Dr. Lee.

After graduating with a Bachelor of Commerce in 1956, Dr. Lee went on to found The Prospero Group, a real estate firm with extensive holdings throughout the Greater Vancouver region. He has always been extremely devoted to the service of his alma mater. Among the greatest of his many contributions to UBC was envisioning and founding the UBC Properties Trust, which helps support the university’s mission through optimization of its land assets and has added $1.6-billion in value to the university endowment to date. In addition, he served two terms on the UBC Board of Governors from 1984 to 1990 and was elected chancellor in 1993. In 2006, UBC established the Robert H. Lee Graduate School at the Sauder School of Business in recognition of Dr. Lee and his family’s generous gift to support graduate business education.

Although the term ‘responsible leadership’ wasn’t coined when Dr. Lee first started out in business, the idea of using the power of business to improve a community was always something “that was in the back of my mind,” he explains.

And it’s not just Dr. Lee who wants to give back to the place that gave him his first exposure to the business world.

“My classmates, many of them still contribute to the university in some way because they are connected and want to show the next generation that one can be successful but also give back,” he explains.

Another way UBC Sauder alumni choose to give back to the school is by serving as members of the school’s Faculty Advisory Board, which allows them to impart their experience and expertise.

Responsible leadership is often about embracing a long-term vision,” says Heather Shemilt, a partner at Goldman Sachs and a graduate of UBC Sauder’s Bachelor of Commerce program in the 1980s. Ms. Shemilt sits on the Faculty Advisory Board and contributed to the development of UBC Sauder’s strategy for the next generation of business leaders.

She says that many alumni are involved with their alma mater not only because they are proud of the institution they experienced as a student, but because of the values exemplified by current students. For her, responsible leadership is front and centre in today’s business world.

“It’s about responsibility, not power,” says Ms. Shemilt. “As a business community, we’ve gone beyond the sole focus being the bottom line or driving your revenues – it has to be about being accountable to society, having ethical standards and actively promoting diversity.”

To that end, Goldman Sachs created the Urban Investment Group in 2001, a principal investing business that deploys over $1-billion annually to revitalize underserved communities across the United States. With over $7-billion invested, and more than 300 projects, “the idea is to make a positive impact, while making a positive return,” according to Ms. Shemilt.

“Businesses are the ones that can make a change and by embracing responsible leadership it creates a virtuous cycle,” she says. “By being responsible leaders, customers will take notice, employees will become more loyal to the organization and there will be a better overall sense of trust in the leadership, a better business and a better society.”

Graduates already espousing these values coming out of business school are what she looks for, Ms. Shemilt adds. Over the years, she has seen more and more UBC Sauder graduates come through the doors at Goldman Sachs.

“In recent years, virtually every UBC Sauder student we’ve had in the summer intern program at Goldman has been offered a job and they’re just fantastic and it continues to make me proud,” she says.

Pride in the values and ethics embodied in both the school and its students are what inspire alumni like Dr. Lee and Ms. Shemilt to stay connected to UBC Sauder.

“That’s the future generation,” says Dr. Lee. “If you want our community, our country and ultimately the world to improve then you need to support and nurture people and values, like responsible leadership, that will have a huge impact in achieving those goals.”