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VIDEO: Laurier chancellor delights crowd at inaugural Conversations with Leaders event
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Laurier Chancellor Michael Lee-Chin and CBC journalist Amanda Lang delighted a crowd of more than 100 people at the university’s inaugural Conversations with Leaders speaker event Tuesday night.
[Watch clips from the event on Laurier's YouTube channel.]
Held at the Toronto Board of Trade, the event featured an interview-style conversation between Lee-Chin, one of Canada’s most successful entrepreneurs, and Lang, a veteran business reporter and television personality.
Lee-Chin recalled his childhood years growing up in Jamaica where his parents worked three jobs each to provide their nine children with the necessities of life.
His parents’ work ethic and devotion to family forged in him a lifelong belief in the importance of role models. “The highest form of leadership is to lead by example,” he said.
Of the 120 students in his elementary school, Lee-Chin was one of only two to go on to high school. From there he travelled to Hamilton, Ontario to study engineering at McMaster University. To help pay his way, Lee-Chin wrote a letter to the prime minister of Jamaica asking him to make an “investment” in one of his fellow citizens by providing Lee-Chin with a scholarship. The prime minister obliged.
“That’s chutzpah,” said Lang. To which Lee-Chin replied: “It was desperation,” explaining that without the scholarship he could not have completed university.
Lee-Chin, who made his fortune in the mutual fund industry, said he became interested in investing while working as a bouncer shortly after graduation. A friend told him that he’d earned $100 in one day through investing. Lee-Chin calculated how many hours he’d have to work as a bouncer to earn that amount of money and decided that investing was something he ought to look into.
He entered the mutual fund industry in 1977 and landed his first customers by introducing himself to people in his neighbourhood. He later drove from farm to farm in the Tillsonburg area of southwestern Ontario explaining the tax and investment benefits of mutual funds.
In 1983, Lee-Chin borrowed $500,000 to buy Mackenzie Financial, a small mutual fund manager. Within four years the stock he purchased for $1 per share had increased to $7 per share, and his initial investment grew to $3.5 million.
He then bought an investment company, AIC Limited of Kitchener, which he grew into a much larger collection of diversified companies. In 1990 these businesses had $8 million under management; eight years later that figure had grown to $8 billion.
Despite his skills and hard work, Lee-Chin said his life has been “blessed” by a number of circumstances beyond his control: being born in an era and in a country where he was free to pursue his fortunes; and having caring and supportive parents who encouraged him to succeed.
Nonetheless, Lee-Chin is an astute student of investment legends such as Warren Buffett. He told the crowd at Tuesday’s event that he has distilled a number of key principles by studying wealthy people. These include:
- Understand the businesses you invest in
- Own stable companies
- Invest in growth industries
- Hold your investments for the long term
He also stressed the need to establish a rational decision-making framework that allows you to make decisions free of emotions. A self-described optimist, Lee-Chin also emphasized the importance of learning from your mistakes, saying “every experience is an education.”
Asked why he continues to work hard despite his personal wealth, he offered one of his favorite maxims: “Success begets complacency begets failure.” As well, he said, it is important to him as a father to continue to be a role model for his children.
A generous philanthropist whose motto is “do well by doing good”, Lee-Chin has a passion for education, which he described as the great “equalizer” among people of all backgrounds. His many charitable gifts include educational support for students.
Laurier’s next Conversations with Leaders event will take place in the fall in Calgary.