We live in turbulent and unsettled times, but graduates of the Schulich School of Business “ought to be looking to the future with great confidence,” said business leader Dominic D’Alessandro (right) at their convocation Friday.
Besides graduating from one of the country’s great schools where students are exposed to a variety of people and cultures, “you are residents of one of the world’s truly great countries,” said D’Alessandro, president and chief executive officer of Manulife Financial, in a speech after York presented him with an honorary degree for corporate and community leadership.
D’Alessandro, who immigrated to Canada from Italy as a child and whose father died shortly afterwards in a construction accident, sees this country as a land of “incredible opportunity” for those with desire and ambition. He graduated from high school at 14, trained as a chartered accountant, went into banking and turned Manulife into one of the top five life insurers in the world. In 2002, Report on Business magazine named him Outstanding CEO of the Year. A member of the Dean’s Advisory Council at Schulich, he has also led major community fundraising campaigns for United Way of Greater Toronto, the Salvation Army and the Corporate Fund for Breast Cancer Research.
Business school graduates should be optimistic, said D’Alessandro. “There is no shortage of opportunity for those starting a career today,” he told graduands. “Our economy is performing well, our nation’s financial situation is healthier than it has been in decades and career prospects abound.”
And the world is globalizing, he said. “There is now an almost totally open and global market for capital, for goods and services, and as importantly, thanks to the Internet, for information and ideas,” he noted. “With an increase in cross-border investment and trade comes a concurrent increase in opportunity for individuals to exercise their skills anywhere that they choose to.” He added that “the skills that you’ve learned at York may well be put to use one day on the other side of the world.”
Globalization and the rapid economic rise of China and India should not be seen as threats, he argued. “Are we not aware that underlying the growth is the movement of literally hundreds of millions of people out of abject poverty and that never in human history has anything comparable happened? Would we be all less threatened if these countries remained on the fringes and didn’t provide their citizens with an improving standard of living? Isn’t it the case that these emerging economies are creating such a demand for all the resources that we have in such abundance? Not to mention the demand for the services and skills that are also so well developed here in Canada?” Globalization is “making the pie bigger for everyone, not shrinking our share of it,” he said, and employment and career opportunities will increase, he predicted.
Spectacular advancements in science and computing technology are other reasons for optimism, he said. “Technology has created countless millions of career opportunities and that trend will no doubt continue. Prospects in the fields of genetics, biology, nanotechnology, to name just a few, are simply dazzling.”
“You should all be confident about the future,” he concluded, and gave this advice:
- “Remain curious. Never stop learning. If you think that your education ends with the degree that is conferred upon you today then I’m afraid that you risk leading an unsatisfied life.”
- “Be ambitious. Set high goals for yourselves. Nothing much was ever accomplished by those who didn’t.”
- “And always conduct yourself with integrity. Your honour is your most precious asset. Nothing else comes close.”