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It didn't take long on Tuesday evening for the student volunteers to start directing people to the upper balconies of the Mount Royal Centre's auditorium. Madeleine Albright, former U.S. Secretary of State and one of the world's most accomplished diplomats, still draws a sold-out crowd.
Dr. Albright was on hand to deliver the inaugural Peter Brojde Leadership Lecture, organized by the Desautels Faculty of Management's Dobson Centre for Entrepreneurial Studies. Her topic was a timely and important one: the role of business in fighting global poverty.
Peter Brojde came to Canada from Poland in the late 60's in search of a better life. Through hard work and perseverance, he went on to become a pioneer in Montreal's business community. Sadly, Brojde passed away in 2005, but likely would have approved of the choice of Dr. Albright, herself a European immigrant, as the first guest for the lecture series he endowed.
As Principal Heather Munroe-Blum noted in her introductory remarks, "Both of the individuals we recognize here this evening reflect the importance of global engagement and global leadership."
It was the perfect set-up to Dr. Albright's opening anecdote about her meeting earlier in the day with "extraordinarily bright" management students. She noted their "deep commitment to what I would call the right kind of leadership for the private sector": having goals beyond private wealth and caring about the role that corporations play in building communities and nations. Dr. Albright said she applauds this as the kind of thinking she tried to encourage when serving as secretary of state for a country which, she joked, is "affectionately known around the world as Canada's southern neighbor."
For Albright, "poverty is defeated by a strong middle class, which is generated by economic growth, which is fueled by the jobs only businesses can create," and therein lies their role. "Ce net pas un travail qu'on peut faire tout seul—it requires partnerships between the public and private sectors. What matters is that we join forces in relentlessly attacking the international axis of evil: poverty, ignorance, and disease."
Following her initial remarks, the crowd was treated to a conversation on stage between Dr. Albright and Canada's former Ambassador to the United Nations Yves Fortier, a graduate of McGill's Faculty of Law and co-chair of McGill's recently-launched fundraising campaign. Fortier left the UN shortly before Albright's arrival on that scene ("My loss", he said), but they got along like old friends as Fortier posed a few of his own questions before moving on to questions from the audience.
Before the night was through, Dr. Albright once again stressed the important role of the private sector by suggesting that her hosts have a critical part to play as well. "The right kind of business leaders do not fall from the sky. Instead, they graduate," she intoned, "from forward-looking, high-achieving, life-enriching educational institutions such as McGill University."