Some things are worth the wait, including the opportunity to hear from a Jamaican-Canadian entrepreneur West room speak at a special dinner hosted Thursday evening by business students from the Telfer School of Management.
The Entrepreneurs Club, which is a student-run organization at the University of Ottawa, had to wait more than two years for the worst of the pandemic to pass before it could hold its 31st annual Toast to Success event. He made up for lost time by bringing in Hall, the newest star to join the panel of investors on CBC’s reality TV series Dragons’ Den and one of Canada’s most influential businessmen as a as a voice for equitable change.
Hall received a warm welcome, via video, from a friend of his, Canadian mining executive and philanthropist Ian Telfer, after whom the business school is named. Some 280 people attended Thursday evening’s dinner, held at the Fairmont Château Laurier.
As founder and executive chairman of Toronto-based Kingsdale Advisors, Hall has earned nicknames such as The Fixer and the King of Bay Street. He built his fortune providing strategic advice to companies facing hostile takeover bids. His firm has orchestrated multi-billion dollar deals for Air Canada, Citigroup, Tim Hortons and Petro Canada.
Hall is also the founder of the BlackNorth initiative to eliminate systemic anti-Black racism in Canadian business and address the lack of diversity in corporate boardrooms and offices. “As you look around the room, think of the Black and Indigenous students who are on this program with you and make sure you don’t leave them behind,” the 53-year-old entrepreneur said during his conversation with the fireside with Stephane Brutus, who just celebrated his first year as Dean of the Telfer School of Management. The dean donned a BlackNorth Initiative t-shirt under his dark suit jacket.
Hall also donates her time and money to a number of causes. It was announced by Brutus at the dinner that Hall, the recipient of an honorary doctorate from the University of Ottawa in 2021, has established two full scholarships at the Telfer School of Management for Black and Indigenous students in finance.
Young black professionals like Ottawa lawyers Patrick Twagirayezu and Phédély Ariste purchased tickets to the event when they heard Hall would be speaking. “He’s someone we look up to,” said Twagirayezu, a partner at labor and employment law firm Emond Harnden who, like Hall, had humble beginnings.
“Wes Hall is a prominent leader in the community, particularly for members of equity-seeking groups and for the broader business community,” added Ariste, Partner at Gowling WLG. “We’re just happy to be here and to be able to listen to him, up close and personal.”
The evening was presented by BMO, which was represented on stage by Rick Campagna, regional vice-president of BMO Financial Group. The dinner started on a lively note with a performance by the Ivorian drummer Fana Soro. He had a lot of people in the room standing up, dancing and clapping. The event also included a silent auction of artwork by black artists.
Hall spoke onstage for about 45 minutes, with the room sometimes getting so quiet you could hear a dessert spoon drop. Its history of rags to riches is remarkable. He was raised by his hardworking grandmother in a tin shack on a plantation in rural Jamaica. He moved to Canada as a teenager, working a series of jobs, including junior mailroom clerk at a law firm.
“When you think about this journey, from this plantation to the accolades, it shows you that nothing is impossible,” he told the crowd as some old footage from his childhood, of him with his grandmother , from their hut, flashed on the giant screens. He keeps a picture of those days prominently in his Bay Street office for visitors to see, both to honor where he came from and to honor the country he came to, he said. told the room.
“We should never be ashamed of coming from humble beginnings. We should embrace it because it helps shape the person we become.
These days, Hall rubs shoulders with some of the most powerful people in the country. And he is one of them. He ranks 18th on Maclean’s Power List 2022, a ranking of 50 influential Canadians.
Regarding his philanthropy, Hall used the analogy of a first responder at a fire scene. The married father of five sees his role as getting in and out of as many people as possible when it comes to saving others from a life of poverty.
Speaking of systemic racism, he shared shocking examples of how he and his children faced racial discrimination, despite being one of the wealthiest (and only black) families living in the affluent neighborhood. from Rosedale to Toronto. He was mistaken for a valet and a security guard. Four years ago, while driving his Ferrari down Bay Street, a criminal lawyer gave him his business card in case he needed his services.
“When a black person is a victim of systemic racism, they know it; they have already experienced it. When my kids walk home and see people constantly walking on the other side, they know what’s going on.
Hall also took a moment to encourage budding entrepreneurs in the room to audition for the Dragons’ Den show. He mentioned that he listened to a few laid-back pitches that night, some of which he thought were great. Others, not so much.
“The good thing about Dragons’ Den is that we want both to be on the show. That’s what television is.