‘Your difference is the difference,’ honorary doctorate recipient Frank Vettese tells Schulich grads

Chancellor Greg Sorbara, Frank Vettese, and President and Vice-Chancellor Rhonda Lenton

By Ashley Goodfellow Craig

The first convocation ceremony for York University’s Class of 2022, held in person on June 10 at the Sobeys Stadium, addressed graduands of the Schulich School of Business with the inspirational message that “your difference is the difference.”

Frank Vettese, CEO emeritus of Deloitte Canada and two-time Schulich School of Business alumni (BBA and MBA), delivered a speech to graduands, their families and friends, after receiving his third degree from York University: an honorary doctor of laws.

Vettese served as longtime managing partner and chief executive at Deloitte, and also as the firm’s chief inclusion officer. He was also the first Canadian CEO to be recognized by the UN for commitment to the advancement of women in the workplace.

Frank Vettese
Honorary doctor of laws recipient Frank Vettese

A student at this University 40 years ago, Vettese recalled taking business school classes in a basement with no windows. The University, he said, was in its formative stage and not equipped with the leading-edge infrastructure it has today.

“But, I loved every minute of it,” he said.

Looking back on his education and career, he shared his observations on studying and working as an Italian – and how his ethnicity shaped his success in business.

“In my first year post BBA, a very senior businessperson commented that people from my ethnicity don’t progress through to the senior ranks of large public accounting firms. And you know, I wasn’t particularly offended it as actually offered as a simple observation,” he said. “I realize that today, my personal profile and attributes might be seen as anything but part of a minority, perhaps instead as core to the business establishment. It’s within this contrast that I see our inherit opportunity and hope for our future, notwithstanding that we are not yet where we need to be.”

He described his first job in construction, at age 14, as being “pretty true to the stereotype for the sons of Italians,” and said the experience taught him about taking pride in your work and offered an important life lesson that he still reflects on: that whatever you are doing, whether a summer job or your life’s dream, you need to be all in.

“Look for what contribution you can make, and own it,” he said. 

It’s also important, he told graduands, to have the courage to choose their pathways and to make those choices with conviction.

“Beyond family, this school, this University has been a cornerstone in my life and career,” he said. “It set in motion my personal path for decades to follow.”

As a student, he became familiar with York’s motto: Tentanda Via – the way must be tried, and shared that he didn’t fully understand it until later in life.

“Today I understand it to be the particular gift of this institution – a philosophy that was built for today’s world. Well beyond disseminating technical knowledge. To me, the motto is about mindset; about inclusion; about being nimble and about accessibility. Transcending barriers in our own unique ways. A deliberate shift from merely observing from outside the perimeter to catalyzing progress from within the core,” he said. 

As Deloitte’s inaugural chief inclusion officer, Vettese said he developed an unbridled optimism for the business community and society. He witnessed real progress in diversity and inclusion at the company that led to a culture of belonging, and shift in his own approach to his career personality.

Vettese encouraged graduands to embrace opportunities, approach careers with excitement and passion, and pay it forward. Dreams can come true, he said, in unexpected ways.

“Business is personal. Deeply personal; don’t ever let anyone suggest otherwise, and relationships truly matter. Talent, intelligence and knowledge are wonderful things to have. But how you treat, how you care for, how you make room for, and how you empower others matters the most,” he said. “We are not bound only by what we can see. Achieving our aspirations requires us to have courage, to be generous, be empathetic and to truly, not only embrace, but enthusiastically create change. For me, this is the way that must be tried.

“I wish you every success in business and in life. I want you to understand, and really feel that this community, this University, and your family have uniquely prepared you for anything you choose to take on. And always remember that your difference is the difference.”

Vettese also announced the establishment of a new endowment at York University in his honour of his parents-in-law, who he spoke highly of during his speech. The Andrighetti Community Scholarship will be a needs-based endowment for a female student committed to public service.