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It took him awhile to find his niche. After his first year in engineering, he changed to chemistry and then graduated with a science degree. So, Seymour Schulich, BSc’61, MBA’65, DLitt’04, speaks as an expert when he says, “You don’t make real mistakes before you’re 30.” Use the early years, he advises, to gather experience and practise good judgment.
Schulich’s own career path quickly took an entrepreneurial turn. He pursued his MBA at McGill, thanks to a $1,600 scholarship which, as he often says, “changed my life.” He joined an investment firm. He then parlayed his fascination with gold into a new form of capital, pioneering the concept of royalty payments in the mining business.
Today, he’s a billionaire who manages his philanthropic decisions much as he did the other choices in his life – weighing the pros and cons with both care and zest, keeping an eye on where he can tweak the balance in favour of a win.
To say that Schulich has an extensive portfolio of philanthropic investments is an understatement indeed. By his own estimate, he has given about $250 million to higher education over the past 15 years.
His past generosity to McGill has included $20 million in 2005 to the music faculty (renamed the Schulich School of Music), followed in 2006 by his Golden Violin Award, described as the “Stanley Cup of classical music.” He also established McGill’s Schulich Library of Science and Engineering.
In September 2008, Schulich put his money on some more potential winners at McGill: graduate students in agricultural and environmental sciences, architecture and urban planning, physics, and mathematics and statistics. His $5 million gift creates the Schulich Fellows who will receive anywhere from $25,000 to $100,000 a year.
He enjoys telling how Principal Heather Munroe-Blum invited him to her office and said, “Seymour, I learned a new saying in Quebec: ‘You can’t tow the safe behind the hearse!’” For her part, Munroe-Blum applauds Schulich as “an outstandingly generous benefactor and a champion of higher education.” Schulich is a member of the Order of Canada and has received four honourary degrees, including one from McGill in 2004.
“One hundred years from now, it won’t matter how much money you had in the bank or what kind of car you drove,” says Schulich. “But if you were important in the life of a young person, or in the life of a university, now that will make a difference.”