Philanthropist Gregory Belton offers sage advice to Glendon grads

The significant and varied contributions by Gregory Scott Belton, businessman and philanthropist, were recognized on Friday, June 7 during York University’s convocation ceremonies for Glendon’s newest graduates. Belton was at convocation to receive an honorary doctor of laws degree.

York University Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Gregory Belton and York University President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton

The executive chairman of HUB International Ontario, a global insurance brokerage and Canada’s largest property insurance brokerage firm, Belton is an insurance industry leader who has combined business success with social conscience. He’s also an alumnus of Glendon and graduated with a Bachelor of Arts from Glendon College in 1980.

He joined the insurance industry soon after and went on to found HKMB at age 29, which grew to be Canada’s largest privately owned insurance brokerage and was then sold to HUB in 2008, a tremendous start-up success story in a crowded industry.

Belton has worked in a leadership role with many charitable institutions over the years including The Duke of Edinburgh’s Award. As national president, he launched the Charter for Business, which has generated corporate donations of more than $30 million for work with at-risk youth in the community. He was chairman of The Duke of The Edinburgh’s International Award from 2007-16, when he was succeeded by HRH Prince Edward, and is a director of St. Michael’s Hospital Foundation. In 2009, Belton was made a Commander of the Royal Victorian Order by Queen Elizabeth II and in 2016 was made a member of the Order of Canada.

Belton drew on his lifetime of experience both in professional and philanthropic endeavours to deliver some expert advice to the graduands present at the convocation ceremony.

“I have used critical thinking to question how things could be done better if my intuitive sense told me that there was room for improvement,” he said, and advised the graduands to follow his example and not listen what others say cannot be done. “Often they were projecting their own inadequacies and insecurities on to me,” he said. “I can tell you if I had listened to them, I would never have risked failure and the chances I did.”

He encouraged graduands to find their own path and to focus their energies on excellence, to embrace risk and not be deterred by failure. “I learned not to compare myself to others; instead I found my own path and followed my own dreams. I would encourage you to do the same,” said Belton. “Where you end up 10 or 20 years from now may not be self-evident immediately after graduating so you need to be patient. Through trial and error you will find your path.”

Belton said it takes time to learn one’s strengths and weaknesses, then more time to build on those strengths and to learn how to compensate for weaknesses. He noted that academic smarts aren’t always enough and learning how to work with and through others is equally as important.

Gregory Belton delivering his speech to Glendon graduands

Focusing on uncertain times is also self-limiting, said Belton, instead he urged the graduands to live their lives to the fullest and hone their professional and personal abilities.

“I learned the most about myself during challenging times; this was also when I began to develop empathy for others whose lives were far more challenging and uncertain than mine,” said Belton. “There is no doubt in my mind that this led to my life of charitable work.”

He advised graduands not to focus on the obstacles in front of them. Instead, he urged them to look for those opportunities that glimmer in the future. “Take a moment and think about the challenges and obstacles that you overcame to get here today,” he said. “Your intelligence and capacity to learn have led you to this moment – it is not an honour to be taken lightly.”

In closing, Belton encouraged everyone present to take risks, always believe in themselves and refrain from letting the opinions of others define them. “Remember that success in life rarely happens overnight so be patient through the ups and downs,” he said.

York University’s spring convocation ceremonies will be live-streamed. To learn more, visit https://about.yorku.ca/convocation-2019/.

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