Embrace the world with humble confidence

Canadian businesses will only succeed if they embrace the world and tackle it with humble confidence, Rick Waugh (MBA ’74) told the Schulich School of Business graduating class Friday. Thirty-three years after his first York convocation, Waugh returned to the University to receive a doctorate of laws honoris causa in recognition of his corporate leadership at home and abroad.

Left: Rick Waugh. Photo by CSi/photograds.com.

Delivering an energetic and animated address to graduands, Waugh, the president & chief executive officer of Scotiabank, Canada’s most international bank, spoke about the current state of affairs for Canadian businesses in a global market. "Embrace the world, it will feel a little uncomfortable. Recognize we are part of a global community. We all have a role to make Canada successful."

Despite concerns about the takeover of some of Canada’s best companies by foreign buyers and the hollowing out of the Canadian economy, "globalization is a reality", said Waugh. Such sales are legitimate and it’s not surprising that international firms see Canada as a great place to invest, he said.

Although Canadians are also buying companies in other countries, there is an imbalance, said Waugh. In the past two years, foreign companies spent twice as much buying Canadian companies as Canadian firms did buying foreign companies. "This is what globalization is all about – seeing the value – and buying Canada," said Waugh.

The imbalance matters because "large, successful Canadian businesses have an important function in our economy and make a big contribution to our lives, and in many ways we just don’t recognize," said Waugh. "I’m a big believer in strong Canadian companies growing internationally but headquartered here in Canada."

"Why should this matter to you?" he asked his audience. The most important reason is that companies headquartered in Canada create opportunities for young graduates, stimulate the local economy and support the local community. "So I like the idea of Canadian companies going out and winning global business and creating jobs right here at home," said Waugh. "It is a win-win-win for shareholders and customers, employees, and our country.

"If we want to be buyers instead of being bought, we have to do something about it," he said. "We need to focus on being the best and the most innovative and we need to focus on growing beyond Canada. You can’t define yourself by building a wall. I don’t advocate protectionism. The only defence in a global world is a good offence. We don’t need government subsidies, we need government to recognize our strategic strengths, what our competitive strengths are and help us build those strengths."

Waugh urged grads to see the world and return to work in Canada. Over the course of his career, Waugh has travelled to over 50 countries around the world. "I can live in this great country and work in a bank with branches around the world. It has been very rewarding. The one trend in my career has been globalization. You will all face the realities of globalization but what is important is that you work and return to build a strong Canada. Embrace the world with humble confidence, if you do that, you will never be disappointed."

As president and CEO of Scotiabank, Waugh is one of the most successful Schulich School of Business graduates. His business experience and savvy, commitment to excellence in management education and international experience make him a role model for Schulich students.

As Canada’s most international bank, Scotiabank, under Waugh’s leadership, has established the Professorship in International Business and created the Scotiabank Student Services & International Relations area in the Schulich School of Business. Waugh has also made major commitments to supporting the community in a number of ways, currently as finance sector Chair for the United Way and as a board member of St. Michael’s Hospital in Toronto.

He holds a bachelor of commerce (honours) degree from the University of Manitoba and a master of business administration from York University. He is also a Fellow of the Institute of Canadian Bankers.