“I’ve become something of a psychiatrist to half-a-dozen rich guys who have come to me for advice,” confides Seymour Schulich, the Montreal-born mining magnate who has donated more than $15 million and is in the process of giving away another $10 million. “The people who consult me have made good money in the investment industry and are having thoughts about doing something with it. I mean any fool can give his money away, but the trick is to get some leverage for it. That means forming partnerships with governments, other donors and the leaders of the receiving institutions.”
During a recent interview in his unpretentious downtown Toronto office, the 59-year-old Schulich outlined his donation philosophy. “Everybody wants their life to have some meaning,” he says. “The big mistake people make is trying to fund something by themselves. If it’s significant, you won’t have enough money to do that, no matter who you are. Even John D. Rockefeller couldn’t. What you must do is become a catalyst by providing the large lead gift for a capital campaign which has matching elements. That’s how you get that allimportant multiplier effect.”
Schulich, who grew up poor and Jewish in Montreal, struck it rich in Nevada. A McGill University science graduate, he personally has never discovered an ounce of any mineral, but has instead cut himself into the action through royalty arrangements, and now shares ownership in some of the region’s richest mines, including royalties from Peter Munk’s Goldstrike property. His company, Franco-Nevada Mining, has been one of the biggest price gainers on the Toronto Stock Exchange in the past decade. Schulich, who keeps a six-shooter in his desk as a gag, has lived in the same suburban Toronto bungalow for 22 years with his one and only wife. Yes, he has driven a Cadillac, but it was 10 years old when he traded it in for a Ford. “I’ve never learned how to spend money on myself,” he confesses. “It makes me very uncomfortable.”
Schulich made news in 1995 when he donated $ 15 million to establish a business school named after him at Toronto’s York University. It has since grown to be the largest and most enterprising graduate business school in the country, led by dean Dezso Horváth, a high-octane Hungarian with two PhDs who never lets up and has won Schulich’s admiration because they share the same motto: both men would rather ask for forgiveness than for permission.
Schulich is clearly attached to the Schulich School of Business. “We train 5,000 managers every year and graduate one in three of Ontario’s MBAs,” he says. “And yet we have
the oldest and most outdated facility of all the major business schools in the country. It’s great to have scholarship but if your students are studying in tents, it’s not too good, especially during those Canadian winters. So I’m putting up a lead donation of $5 million to put up a new school building. But it’s not a naming gift, I’m hoping to attract someone who will put up a matching amount to have his name on the building.”
Schulich’s next move, which has yet to be publicized, is his donation of another $5 million to upgrade the coronary unit at Toronto’s Sunnybrook Hospital. It’s an ideal example of his “multiplier” theory at work. The Ontario government has already promised roughly $7 million and a public campaign is expected to raise another $14 million. “What I saw in Sunnybrook,” says he, “is the same thing I recognized at York. Both institutions have lots of room to expand. Sunnybrook isn’t like the downtown hospitals, all hemmed in. Like York, it also has a great leader, chief cardiologist Dr. Brian Gilbert, who can take the project forward and make it significant beyond its geographical boundaries. We’ll end up with 152,000 square feet of a world-class facility devoted to cardiac care. It’s going to be called the Schulich Heart Centre, the last damn thing I’m putting my name on.”
It’s an interesting sidelight to note that most of the money now flowing into Toronto’s health and educational facilities originated in the Nevada gold fields. Peter Munk, who has sponsored a major heart institute at the Toronto Hospital and the Centre for International Studies at the University of Toronto, made his fortune digging up Nevada’s rich Carlin Trend, as did Joe Rotman, the generous patron of the University of Toronto’s newly revived school of management. “After Munk built a heart centre, I felt every guy in the gold business should have one,” Schulich deadpans. “There’s a lot of Nevada money running around Toronto.
“A hundred years from now, it won’t matter how much money you had in the bank, what kind of car you drove, or what kind of house you lived in. But the world may be a better place because you helped some people achieve a better education and improved health care.”
When he is giving money away, an activity that currently occupies much of his energy and most of his thoughts, Schulich always recalls a marvelous French saying which, translated, means: “You can’t tow a safe behind your hearse.” At a time when most governments in this country lack both the imagination and the money to fund worthwhile projects, we need more Seymour Schuliches. How wonderful that we have at least one.
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