Brothers Greg, Vincent and Brad Yen grew up in South Burnaby in the 70s and 80s and each decided to pursue a business education at UBC. Their faculty wasn’t the only thing they had in common. They also all served as part of the Commerce Undergraduate Society. Through their volunteerism, each brother contributed to the culture and spirit of their school community. Over 30 years later, they are giving back to the UBC Sauder School of Business once more. Their leadership gift to the Powerhouse Project, one of the first donations toward the school’s expansion, will support the construction of a new, state-of-the-art facility for learning, collaboration and innovation.
Celebrating a shared history and leadership lessons
Growing up in a busy household with his two younger brothers, Greg Yen remembers his parents placed a high value on family and education. The boys took their studies seriously and when it came time to apply for university, all three decided to pursue a UBC Bachelor of Commerce degree.
“My parents created a very supportive environment for us,” remembers Greg. “My Dad didn’t finish high school since he had to work in the family business, but he had a very successful career in real estate. My Mom would do anything for her kids. She wanted to provide the best opportunities for us and the tools we needed to succeed.”
Greg arrived on UBC campus in 1982. Vincent followed two years later and Brad arrived in 1987. Having watched and learned from their father, who served for several years as President of the Real Estate Board of Greater Vancouver, all three brothers got involved in their school community by volunteering with the Commerce Undergraduate Society (CUS). When Greg began his final year, he was elected President of the CUS.
“It was a great leadership opportunity,” he recalls. “A lot of it was trial by fire, but I learned how to organize events, how to manage meetings effectively, how to talk to different constituents and how to listen and incorporate people’s concerns. It was a lot of work, but it was a lot of fun too.”
Vincent served with Greg on the student council and in his final year, was elected CUS President.
“In those days, the whole intent of the CUS was to bring people together,” recalls Vincent. “I met so many people and learned so many business skills that I use to this day.”
Following in the family tradition, Brad became the third Yen brother to lead the CUS in his final year. Having learned key leadership lessons from his elder brothers, Brad had a clear picture of how he wanted to contribute to the student experience.
“I wanted to get as many students as possible involved to create school spirit and participation,” says Brad. “One of the things we introduced was a buddy program where first years were matched with senior students. It was a great way to get the different years to intermingle.”
Saying thank you for a transformative experience
For each of the Yen brothers, their time at UBC was formative. Many of the friendships they created have endured for more than 30 years and Vincent and Brad met their future wives at school. Having each raised families of their own, the brothers are at a stage in life where they want to give back to the community that helped shape who they are today.
Their gift to the Powerhouse Project will support the construction of a $120 million, 11-storey building that will deliver versatile spaces, progressive programming and increased opportunities for learning, research and community engagement. The innovative learning environment will be consistent with UBC Sauder’s position as one of the world’s finest business schools.
The family decided to name the breezeway that will connect the new and existing school buildings because of the symbolism behind it.
“We really liked the idea of the walkway between the new building and the Henry Angus Building because it’s a bridge to the past and to a place that meant so much to each of us,” explains Greg.
Leading by example in educational philanthropy
According to Vincent, the gift aligns with his family’s value system, which includes grassroots volunteerism and philanthropy.
“I feel very fortunate that I have been able to live in Vancouver and work in the real estate industry, which has supported our family for 50 years, starting with my Dad,” says Vincent. “Giving back to the community where you come from is very important and very grounding and we want our kids to experience that,” he adds.
For Brad, whose son Matthew is studying Computer Engineering at UBC, the gift is a nice way to engage the family’s next generation in civic participation.
“Part of our parenting philosophy is that you need to work hard and be contributing members of society. That’s why we like to donate to our educational institutions because they provide an avenue for young people to obtain an education to achieve their goals.”
With the brothers’ children – nine in total – ranging in age from 17 to 26 and in different stages of their university journeys, the donation to the new school is meaningful for the whole family. Their gift will enable even greater opportunities for young people to learn about business and have the kinds of formative experiences they enjoyed during their university years.
“The school gave us so much,” says Greg. “That’s why we’re happy to give back.”