Address to convocation
Dr. Scott Hand
President and Vice Chancellor, distinguished guests, graduates and your families and friends, ladies and gentlemen.
Let me express my deep appreciation to the Senate of Memorial University for bestowing this honour on me today.
I am very proud to become a member of Memorial University, which enjoys an excellent reputation as an institute of learning and research.
And I’m especially proud to receive this honour in the province of Newfoundland and Labrador.
This is where I’ve spent some of the most memorable moments of my career.
It’s where I’ve spent some of the most remarkable people I’ve ever known.
This is a special place there’s nowhere else like it anywhere in the world.
So today is a very big day for me and I thank you for it.
Even though I’ve spoken here several times in the last few years, I am always a little intimidated.
Inviting a mainlander to give a speech in Newfoundland is a bit like asking a weekend cyclist to enter the Tour de France.
Even the taxi driver who brings me from the airport can tell a great story, and usually does.
Maybe it’s something in the water.
Or maybe it’s something else you drink.
Now that I’ve lowered your expectations, I want to start by congratulating all of the new graduates who are receiving your degrees today.
Those endless days at the library that sometimes turned into all nighters have finally paid off.
You should be very proud of what you’ve accomplished. This is a big milestone.
But now you’re faced with an even bigger question:
There may be no other point in life where that question looms so large.
And I know it can be a bit overwhelming.
I remember quite vividly when I was in the same position and faced that same question “What next?”
It was way back in 1964 you may be surprised I can remember back that far.
I’d just graduated from Hamilton College, a small liberal arts university in upstate New York, with a bachelor of arts in History.
I didn’t feel ready for graduate school.
And it was too early to “tune in, turn on and drop out.” That only became fashionable a few years later.
The slogan of my day was “The New Frontier.” The spokesman for the generation was President John F. Kennedy.
His vision was the Peace Corps. The concept, which is still going today, was to send university graduates to developing countries to do volunteer work.
The idea intrigued me. I thought it would be great to get out and see the world. But I also wanted to do more than just be a tourist.
For me, the Peace Corps somehow offered the right answer to that big question, “what next?”
So I signed up full of idealism but with very little idea of what I was getting into.
As part of my degree in history, I’d studied Africa. So I asked for an assignment there.
I was sent to UCLA to learn to teach English as a second language.
While there I also learned Amharic, the language of Ethiopia. It’s a totally different script from Roman script it looks more like Arabic.
Needless to say, I struggled.
As I did when I was assigned for teacher training to a school in Watts in Los Angeles.
Students of American history will recall that Watts was the site of major race riots, which took place the year after I was there.
Undaunted, and still full of enthusiasm, one day in early January I board a plane for Addis Ababa.
Now the Peace Corps philosophy with new recruits was simple: sink or swim.
When I arrived in Ethiopia a Peace Corps representative told me I was posted to a remote village called Bonga in southwest Ethiopia.
Then he shook my hand, wished me good luck, and said goodbye.
The first thing I had to do was go to the market in Addis Ababa to buy the basics I’d need to live.
Things like a bed, a chair, cooking utensils, and a lot of canned tuna fish.
Needless to say, all that bargaining put my new skills in Amharic to the test. Looking back, I probably paid too much for the tuna fish.
After that it was many long bus rides across Ethiopia with all my belongings lashed to the top of the bus.
As I recall the chickens, goats, and sheep outnumbered the passengers on most of those buses.
For the last leg of the trip, I had to rent ten mules to pack in my supplies because there was no passable road.
When I arrived in Bonga I had to find a house to live in. In a town with no electricity, refrigeration, or running water.
For two years I lived there and taught grade 7, 8, and 9 English. My only links to the outside world were the occasional letter from my family and the BBC news from my scratchy short-wave radio.
I was a teacher, but in retrospect, I was the one who was learning.
People in the village were some of the most gracious, respectful, and kindest people I’d ever met.
They were deeply religious members of the Coptic Christian faith. You could see their faith reflected in how they conducted themselves, and how they lived their daily lives.
The local judge was eager to learn English and I wanted to improve my Amharic. In the evenings we’d sit on his veranda, talking in English for the first hour and in Amharic for the next hour.
I learned a lot from him much more than just Amharic and from other people in the village as well.
It was a huge education in how people from a totally different culture think, behave and relate to one another.
A number of years later, in 1971, I took my wife Ellen back to Ethiopia to see how my old friends and students were doing.
They’d moved on and grown. Many had become teachers. They were contributing to their country, the culture and their families.
I can’t tell you how gratifying it was.
And, I can’t tell you the impact it has had on how I live my life and, perhaps most importantly, how I’ve approached the world of business for the past 30-odd years.
When my two years in the village came to an end, I returned to the States, and I went into law school at Cornell.
My legal training also gave me important lessons. It taught me to look beyond the obvious.
To consider not just the first, but also the second and third tier consequences of a decision.
And that the first opinion or the loudest one is not always the best.
As luck would have it, when I joined Inco my first job demanded that I apply both new skills I’d acquired B those of the lawyer, but equally important, my knowledge of cultures and the aspirations of people in developing countries.
Inco assigned me to help negotiate the agreement for a new mining project in Guatemala.
Significantly, a major community development program in the local town of El Estor was part of the agreement.
El Estor was easier to get to than Bonga I didn’t need the 10 mules but many of the same conditions existed in both places.
I’m sorry to say that Inco’s Guatemala project was not a success. The community development work that we did there was something I was very proud to be part of. But sadly, the rising price of fuel forced us to abandon the mining project.
It was an important and early lesson for me, even before the issue of sustainability had become global.
The social, the environmental, and the economic need to go hand in hand. As we learned in Guatemala, it’s a principle that’s easier to say than to apply.
Later on, another assignment took me to Indonesia. My job there was to help negotiate an extension to what’s known as our Contract of Work, under which we run our mining operations on the islands of Sulawesi.
Again, it involved more than economics. Our contribution to the community was an important part of the contract.
I was privileged to negotiate the new contract under which we currently operate. I also got to see how we worked with the community, involving local people to determine what they really need and want, not just giving them what we think they need and want.
Today, we have a model community relations program. We’ve built hospitals, clinics, and schools, developed basic community infrastructure, counselled farmers, and supported small business throughout the region.
We’re not perfect there are issues and problems but we’re making a positive difference.
I don’t take an ounce of credit for these programs because they were developed by local people working with our Indonesian team.
However, I do take satisfaction in my role of supporting and encouraging our people to focus as much on our neighbours as we do on our operations. I helped negotiate a framework and our people and the people in the local communities made it happened.
For me, the culmination of this life-long, post-graduate education had occurred here in Newfoundland and Labrador.
You may remember that our Voisey’s Bay project had a bit of a rocky start.
I seem to recall that one of your premiers had a different view of the world than Inco. In fact I think that might be true of several of your premiers.
At that time, we were also sensing some resistance from the leadership of the Innu Nation and Labrador Inuit Association.
Looking back almost 10 years ago, it seems to me that Inco had lost sight of some (of) the fundamental principles upon which the success of our other projects was based.
Fundamentals like listening, respect for the values of others, trust in people, and a willingness to compromise and find common ground.
These were all lessons I thought I’d learned many years ago, but one person in particular jogged my memory about the way things should be Peter Penashue, who was a leader of the Innu Nation at that time.
In our many discussions and negotiations Peter reminded Inco of the needs and aspirations of Aboriginal people, about our need to respect traditions, about the necessity for inclusion and participation. About listening.
Today, because of Peter and other Aboriginal leaders who shaped our thinking, 50% of the onsite workers at Voisey’s Bay are Aboriginal.
Aboriginal joint ventures are providing most of the services required and support to the site. Community initiatives like the Innu Healing Centres are a reality.
We’re working together.
I’m blessed that Peter has become a good friend. He and his wife have visited Ellen and me at our home in Toronto. Our conversations involved lots of talking, lost of listening, and lots of laughing.
I know Peter is very proud that his mother, Elizabeth, is also receiving an honorary degree here this evening. It is a fitting tribute for all she has stood for in upholding and preserving the traditions of her people.
So as you sit here today and ask yourselves that same question that I did 40 years ago “What next?” I want to leave you with three thoughts, based on my own experience, for what it’s worth.
First, I’m grateful for the knowledge that my university teachers imparted along the way. As I look back, I wish I’d spent more time talking to them to gain more from my university experience.
But some of their wisdom rubbed off on me, thank goodness. And, it was an essential part of my success and who I am today.
At the same time, I believe my real education began after my graduation from university when I took that first big step into an unknown world, totally different from the one I’d grown up in.
The lessons that began in Ethiopia and that I’ve been learning ever since about respecting cultures, about what unites us and what makes us different I could never have learned that from a textbook.
And so I encourage you, don’t be afraid to take that first bold step outside your familiar world whatever it may be.
Don’t let fear or inertia keep you from stretching your horizons, learning more of what the world has to teach you.
Believe me, there’s no better time to start than when you are young.
Second whatever you do, be relevant.
To my mind that’s not the same as staying current, which is also useful.
For me, being relevant means actively seeking solutions to issues and problems no matter what situation you are in.
Ask yourself “What’s the challenge here?” “What needs to be done?” And, most critically, “How can I become part of the solution?” And don't wait for permission to get started.
That’s a principle I’ve tried to apply throughout my career. Again, I thank the Peace Corps.
It taught me that I can act, I can take personal responsibility, and I can find ways my ways, using my skills to be relevant and to make things different, and I hope better.
And finally, look at how you can make a difference in this world from within the system. Because like it or not, that’s where you’ll make the most impact.
I make no apologies for being a “Captain of Industry.” I understand and accept that I have a primary responsibility to my shareholders.
But I also believe that as you serve your shareholders, or your business partners, or yourself, you can and you should also serve society and the greater good of people.
In the corporate world where I come from there are plenty of buzzwords for this like sustainability and corporate social responsibility.
But whatever you call it, it starts with being clear on your beliefs and principles.
Not parking those principles when you go to work.
And always looking for those “win-win” opportunities where you can advance the interests of your organization while also doing something that helps other people and builds communities.
If I sound like a teacher, believe me, I’m the one who is still learning these things. Just like I was back in my Peace Corps Days.
This is where my education has taken me at least so far. Learning is a journey, not a destination.
I wish you every success in where yours will take you.
And to Memorial University, thank you, once again, for the wonderful honour you’ve bestowed on me today.