‘Find out what really matters’

A leading advocate for corporate social responsibility, John Hunkin presides over one of North America’s largest financial services institutions as president and chief executive officer of the CIBC group of companies. On June 18, Hunkin, a former member of York’s board of governors and a York MBA graduate, was conferred with an honorary doctorate at the Schulich School of Business convocation ceremony on June 18. In his address, he recounted important life lessons and urged graduates to do more towards enriching the lives of those around them.

         Right: John Hunkin

“Finding out what really matters to you in life – now that’s a formidable task and of all the goals you’ve created for yourself, I think it’s the most important one,” said Hunkin. “It needs the same resolve you mustered when you walked onto campus for the first time or when you wrote your hardest exam. You did those things because they were important. Well, so is finding out what you need in life to be happy.

“You’re leaving the microcosm of university life and entering a much larger and more complex community where the choices are more ambiguous, the challenges greater, and the demands on your time and abilities growing. I have a suggestion for you,” said Hunkin. “Make the world a better place.”

Quoting from Robert Putnam’s book Bowling Alone, Hunkin said, “As a society we’re voting less, shoveling the sidewalk of our elderly neighbour less, volunteering at our local hospital less and donating money to charity less. In other words, we are caring less.”

Truly great companies and great individuals, said Hunkin, do not live their lives separate from the life of their community. “What you accomplish can show that our world is not the sum of its tragedies and failures,” he said.

Citing a passion for learning, creating and participating as being key to personal and business success Hunkin said, “These people are giving back to the community and doing the right thing, but I believe that at the heart of it, they’ve figured out that their success depends on others. And they’re right. Aspire to be like the truly successful people who have come before you, people who are enriched by the people they help and work with.”

He closed his comments with a simple observation, “I hope you realize that you have something extraordinary, something that in the context of today’s world, few people have: a life rich with potential, a capacity to learn and the emotional and intellectual ability to help others with what matters.”  

More about John Hunkin

Hunkin joined CIBC in 1969 and held various positions before moving over to investment banking subsidiary Wood Gundy as president in 1988. He was named Wood Gundy’s deputy chairman and CEO in 1990. In 1992, he was appointed president of CIBC’s investment and corporate banking operations and the following year was elected to the board of directors. He assumed the role of chairman and CEO in 1999. In June 2003, the roles of chairman and CEO were separated and he assumed the title of president and CEO.

Hunkin is Chair of the Advisory Council of the Schulich School of Business (where he played a leading role in launching the joint Kellogg-Schulich Executive MBA program); a former member of the York University Board of Governors (having served on its Finance, Property and Staff Resources Committees); and a director of the York University Foundation. He is also on the board of trustees for the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts Foundation and the board of directors of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.