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An interview with entrepreneur and community builder Peter Dhillon

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Posted 2021-06-18
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Recognizing 30 years of contributions in business and philanthropy that have empowered hundreds of young people to achieve their dreams and aspirations, local entrepreneur Peter Dhillon was recently presented with an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from UBC Okanagan.

Dhillon’s life and career represent an inspiring case study for business students. Born into a family of entrepreneurial parents who arrived in Canada from India in the 1950s, Dhillon began working on the family’s cranberry farm and learning about business at the age of 11. After earning a Bachelor of Arts degree at UBC, then a law degree in England, he went on to build the largest cranberry growing operation in the country.

While honing his skills as a CEO and corporate director, Dhillon also dedicated himself to philanthropy and community service. In 2015, he partnered with the UBC Sauder School of Business to launch the Peter P. Dhillon Centre for Business Ethics.

He recently took a moment to reflect on his life and career and share a few insights with the UBC Sauder community

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Peter Dhillon’s code of ethics – find a sense of purpose and always do the right thing – has underpinned his success as a business and community leader.

Q. What motivates you to give back to the community?

I have no children and that gave me the ability to look beyond my group of friends and my household to look at community differently. Over time, it hit me that there are three or four causes that I am very passionate about which are healthcare, animal welfare, education and sport. So, I began looking at things where I could build community and where I could help my country. For example, getting involved in bringing the Winter Olympics to Vancouver was a great experience that brought so many people in the community together. More recently, I’ve had the honour of serving on the board of our country’s central bank and that work has been really interesting as well.

Q. Why is it important to you that students learn ethics in the business context?

Ethics is not just a business problem, it’s a problem in almost every discipline - sports, medicine, you name it. So, if you want to help young people build a foundation for good, teaching the right values and giving students a sense of purpose and of doing the right thing is something I support. And based on my experience throughout my career, it’s the businesses that are socially responsible, ethically behaved and doing the right thing that are the ones that succeed.

Q. Do you think students today struggle with ethical decision-making?

I actually think young people today are correcting the direction that we, as humans, were going in. I see them as restoring balance back to humanity because of the values they have. My generation and my parents’ generation were focused one way, but young people today see the world differently and they’re not driven by the same things. So, I am very hopeful that as we work with these younger generations, we will see great things.

Q. What should people focus on when building their careers?

You need to love what you do. If you don’t love your work, you’re not going to be very good at it and you’re not going to want to stick around for very long. I also think it’s important that you research potential employers carefully. Find out whether they have the right values and whether they have a purpose that aligns with what you’re interested in and care about. I can tell you that when you find an organization that shares your values, you will wake up excited every morning and go to work to make a positive difference.

In esteemed company

Peter Dhillon joins 17 other accomplished citizens who were also awarded honorary degrees by UBC and UBC Okanagan. Learn more about the 2021 recipients here.