James Gillies looks back to founding York’s business school

Seldom in life do people get the opportunity of putting into action some of the ideas that they have developed over the course of their career – a chance to build something from scratch that is big and bold and contemporary, wrote James Gillies in a National Post essay Nov. 30 about founding York’s business faculty, documented in his new memoir, From Vision to Reality: The Founding of the Faculty of Administrative Studies at York University, 1965-1972.

But such an opportunity came to me one day in November 1964 – 46 years ago – when I had breakfast at the Bel-Air Hotel in Los Angeles with Murray Ross, a charismatic Maritimer who had been appointed president of York University and who was hunting about for a dean to start a faculty of business administration at Toronto’s newest academic institution.

It so happened that I was due for a year’s leave of absence as assistant dean at the University of California Los Angeles. I took the bait, wrote Gillies.

Instead of educating students for business only, York’s new school would provide management education for all sectors. It became, and remains to this day, one of the hallmarks of the school.

We adopted as our unofficial motto the words of the great landscape architect Daniel Burnham, who said: "Make no little plans…. Make big plans." Both the faculty and the students thrived, wrote Gillies. We created a number of new specializations and ground-breaking programs: the first MBA specializing in the arts and cultural industries, established in 1969; the country’s first MBA specializing in the non-profit sector; and the country’s first joint LLB/MBA program.

Somehow or other there never was an appropriate time for me to return to UCLA, wrote Gillies. I stayed on as dean until 1972, when I ran for Parliament, was elected, and then became the senior policy adviser to the prime minister of Canada. After serving in elected office and government for a number of years, I returned to the business school I helped establish – the school where I still work these many years later.

Chrysler ads described as convoluted, ‘stupid’

Chrysler Canada says it is offering a big deal on minivans just for employees and retirees in the Windsor area but the automaker acknowledged Friday that everyone else can get the same bargain, too, reported the Toronto Star online Nov. 26. 

The ads have prompted sharp criticism from Ontario’s regulator of auto dealers and a marketing expert who called the company’s promotion “stupid.” 

Alan Middleton, a marketing professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, said the ads can generate buzz and showroom traffic but risk angering a lot more consumers and damaging the brand. He added that in the Internet age, consumers can easily compare notes on deals beyond their community and their complaints reach far more people. 

Middleton said studies have shown that when people are happy with a product or promotion, they tell four people but when they are angry, their feelings reach 13 others. 

“The strategy in these ads is really stupid,” he concluded. 

Canadians opting to fly from cheaper US airports

One in six Canadians flying to a US destination are now turning their backs on Canada’s airports and taking advantage of cheaper American fares, reported CTV.ca Nov. 26. 

The trend is picking up speed. Over the past decade, the number of trips taken at US airports by Canadians has more than doubled, according to an analysis of 14 American airports by The Globe and Mail

The loss of those passengers hurts Canada’s domestic airline industry, but it also has had a much wider impact. Local companies are losing the revenue that airport traffic generates. 

Fred Lazar, a business professor at York University’s Schulich School of Business, blames Canada’s high airfares on the “ground rent” that Ottawa charges major airports, as well as layers of taxes and security fees imposed by government. 

Lazar warns that Canada is at risk of becoming a backwater for international air travel, as high fares drive away travellers. Airports should be seen as spark plugs for economic growth, he said. With the United Arab Emirates, the United States and China investing heavily in their airports, he asks: “Where will Canada end up?” 

York study offers tip to parents with kids in sports

A Montreal Gazette story Nov. 29 lists six tips for fostering a love of sports in children, including one derived from a York study: know when to push and when to back off.  

There’s no doubt that parental support and encouragement keep kids in sport, but there’s a line between support and pressure that parents should avoid crossing. That line isn’t well defined, but a York University study of athletes who dropped out of a sport and those who stayed in offered a surprising picture of when parents should push and when they should back off. 

According to lead researcher Jessica Fraser-Thomas, a professor in York’s Faculty of Health, all the athletes in the study considered dropping out of sport. Those who did noted that their parents forced them to continue even as their interest waned. Whereas the children who chose to stay in sport, did so after exploring their options with their parents. Allowing your child the freedom to take an occasional practice off or to adjust their training schedule while still encouraging them to remain active seems to be a winning formula. 

Lives of the Saints celebrates 20 years with illustrated edition

When Nino Ricci (BA ’81) published Lives of the Saints 20 years ago, he had low expectations, reported The Canadian Press Nov. 29. 

Two decades later and Ricci’s still astonished by the success of his award-winning novel about the plight of an innocent little boy and his (literally) snake-bitten family in a small Italian village. 

The novel is now being lavishly reprinted in a 20th-anniversary edition (hitting stores Dec. 10), which will feature intricate illustrations from Canadian artist Tony Urquhart.

Ricci actually met Urquhart when he was a 19-year-old undergraduate student in English at York University. Urquhart, a daring visual artist known largely for his unique box sculptures, visited Ricci’s visual arts class as a guest speaker, leaving a lasting impression on the young writer with his pragmatic approach to artwork. 

They reconnected decades later through Urquhart’s wife, Jane, the award-winning author of The Stone Carvers. Urquhart agreed to collaborate on the project largely because he loved Lives of the Saints so much. But neither Urquhart nor Ricci wanted the illustrations to simply depict what’s described in the text. So Urquhart drew inspiration from ancient illuminated manuscripts for his artwork, utilizing decorated capital letters for illustrations that carry a subtler connection to Saints. 

Radio station sorry for airing complaint about principal

York University radio station CHRY, which has a strong following in northwest Toronto, issued a retraction and apology twice Sunday night to the Toronto District School Board for letting a mother at the Africentric school accuse principal Thando Hyman-Aman of physically mistreating her son, reported the Toronto Star Nov. 30. 

The accusation, which was made on air the previous week in highly charged language, had triggered a board investigation Oct. 28, during which the popular administrator was placed on home leave.  

Investigators ultimately concluded the complaint was "unfounded" – but not before the radio station’s discussion show "Cutting Edge" had allowed the mother to make her claims on air.  

The board warned the station it would sue unless it apologized for not muting the inflammatory charge with its time-delay switch, said board lawyer Grant Bowers. 

On air

  • Alan Young, professor at York’s Osgoode Hall Law School, discussed recent changes to Canada’s prostitution laws, on CBC Radio’s “All In A Day” and on “CBC News: Ottawa” Nov. 29.  
  • An arrest warrant has been issued for 26-year-old Naveen Ariaratnam, a suspect in a hit-and-run accident that claimed the life of Vincent Dang, a York University student, reported “CTV News” Nov. 29. Ariaratnam is facing a second-degree murder charge.