UBC BCom alum's gift to provide greater opportunities to UBC Sauder students

Kenneth and Sheila McArthur
Posted 2019-07-15

Kenneth McArthur (B.Com. 1961), along with his wife Sheila have made a gift totaling $1 million to UBC, split evenly between UBC Sauder and the UBC School of Nursing. The $500,000 gift to UBC Sauder has facilitated the creation of the McArthur Student of the Year Business Co-op Award, and the Kenneth and Sheila McArthur Centennial Award in Commerce.

Kenneth McArthur—from the Lower Mainland all the way to Wall Street

Born in Vancouver and raised in South Burnaby, Kenneth McArthur describes himself, and his wife Sheila who is from New Westminster, as “the ultimate middle-class kids, with middle-class values.” Ken worked in the sawmills to earn enough money to go to university. His introduction to the world of business, however, came earlier. At the age of 16, his father secured him an office job at the grain company he worked at. This is where he was first exposed to the chartered accountant occupation.

“My dad got me a job as an ‘office boy’ in a grain office,” recalls Ken. “And every so often these guys called chartered accountants came in – I had no idea what they did, but when they came in the world just stopped. So I said ‘I gotta be one of those guys!’ And that is when I decided that I really wanted to get into business as a career.”

Ken got a job at an accounting firm that allowed him to participate in a unique program that we would consider a co-op program today. He wasn’t paid well at the firm, but while he was articling as a chartered accountant (CA) student over the course of five years, the firm would pay his university fees, and release him each spring from May to August so that he could attend university and take commerce courses. It was the combination of classroom learning and on-the-job experience that Ken credits with giving him a wholesome understanding of the business world.

“I was really lucky – it was such a fantastic opportunity for me to have access to a combined program like that right in my own backyard at UBC,” says Ken. “I had really good professors at UBC, and we all had a good relationship with them. But when I was back at the firm, I would get to go in and audit all these family-owned businesses, and I would talk to the owners to try and understand what their business was all about. I did this for so many companies, I acquired a real skill for using numbers to understand business. It was this wonderful balance between theory and practice, and the strength of the relationships that I developed with the small group of students in my program that was very influential at the start of my career.”

Ken’s experience during this co-op program set his career on a successful path that eventually saw him assume the role of CFO, and then COO of Nesbitt Thompson, a prominent Canadian stock brokerage firm. His career saw him travel all over Canada for business, living in Montreal for 15 years, then 25 years in Toronto, and five years in New York City where he managed a firm on Wall Street that he had purchased with Nesbitt Thompson.

“Canada has been very good to me,” says Ken. “When I was on Wall Street in 1966, I met a lot of guys who went to Harvard, and Columbia and all the other great universities, but I never met anybody that made me say, ‘wow, they have a lot better education that I have.’ So I’m a very passionate Canadian, and very proud of the education that you can get in this country.”

Motivated to help students achieve their goals

The value Ken attributes to his co-op experience in the commerce program at UBC led him to decide to establish The McArthur Student of the Year Business Co-op Award to help boost the confidence of students in the UBC Sauder co-op program, encourage them to continue with the program and help alleviate their financial stress.

In addition, Ken believes in supporting Canadian students and giving them a chance to go to school without having to take out huge loans that they could have to end up paying back over the course of their whole working career. He is passionate about helping students achieve their potential and alleviate the financial burden put on them, which led to the establishment of the Kenneth and Sheila McArthur Centennial Award in Commerce.

“I’ve had a number of mentors in my life, and one of the most significant ones was the man that owned our firm when I went to work at Nesbitt Thompson: Dean Nesbitt,” says Ken. “He was a highly principled man that taught us when you have an opportunity to give things back, you ought to do it. People talk about success and that it’s all about hard work, but its good luck and timing as much as anything. You can work as hard as you want, but if you’re not in the right place at the right time, you don’t get the same results. And that’s one of the reasons why we can give back, and maybe we can provide that good luck to some students who wouldn’t have had it otherwise. I just hope that some really bright kids that didn’t know how they were going to get to university will get the opportunity to go.”

Ken’s advice to students entering UBC Sauder today is to ensure that you can adapt and stay current with technology, so you can stay competitive.

“It’s a very fast changing world, and technology is driving everything, so everybody has to be totally literate and comfortable with technology,” says Ken. “Also today, particularly in business, you’re competing with the world. When I graduated, you were competing with the kid sitting next to you in the classroom, and now that’s just not the case – you’re competing with the whole world. I understand this because I have moved around a lot, but I don’t know that students who haven’t traveled often really get that."

"So to get to where you want to be in life, you have to be competitive. Competition is good. Competition makes you change, it keeps you sharp.”

The Awards

The McArthur Student of the Year Business Co-op Award is an $80,000 non-endowed gift offering two awards per year of $2,000 each, awarded over 20 years. The McArthur Student of the Year Business Co-op Award is given out to two outstanding students in the UBC Sauder School of Business Co-op program every year. One award is given out to a new Co-op student after the successful completion of their first work term and the second one to a senior Co-op student. The first of these awards were issued in the spring of 2019.

Kenneth and Sheila McArthur Centennial Award in Commerce is based upon a $420,000 endowment, offering renewable entrance awards totaling $16,800 annually for students in the Bachelor of Commerce program. Recipients are academically qualified and would not be able to attend UBC without financial assistance. In addition to academic merit, consideration is given to qualities such as leadership skills, community service and recognized extra-curricular achievement. Subject to continued academic standing, the awards will be renewed for a further three years of study or until the first undergraduate degree is obtained. The first of these awards will be available in the 2019/2020 winter session.

To learn more about the McArthurs' gift to the UBC School of Nursing, click here to read the article from TouchPoints Magazine.