The Rich 100: Seymour's way

Seymour Schulich thinks Canada’s rich should be giving more money away -- a lot more. Here’s how to do it.

There is no shortage of people in the world who will happily tell you what you should do; there are very few who will take the time to tell you how to do it.

Seymour Schulich is one of the helpful few. And clearly somebody’s paying attention. About 100,000 copies of Get Smarter — a book for 20-to-40-year-olds that’s full of life and business lessons on everything from corporate governance to sex — have been sold since its publication in 2007. Maybe Schulich’s advice carries so much weight because he’s a self-made billionaire. (At an estimated worth of $1.31 billion, amassed through his many investments in gold, oil and other sectors, he comes in at No. 40 on this year’s Rich 100 ranking.) Or maybe it’s his style, which comes out both in print and in conversation: direct, humorous, aphoristic. Either way, fans of Schulich, 69, might be happy to know that he is thinking about writing another book — this one directed at 40-to-60-year-olds — although he’s not sure when or if he’ll get around to it. (For one thing, he wonders if it will do much good. By middle age, he says, “there are some people who make the wrong turn in life. They ain’t never coming back, no matter what they do.”)

In the meantime, he has decided on a new project, and he’s directing his advice to a far more exclusive bunch. That’s why he approached Canadian Business for this story: “I said to myself: What platform do I want? And to me, the best platform is your magazine and this one issue.” Schulich, you see, has something to say to his neighbours on the list of Canada’s 100 Wealthiest People, along with other rich folk who might be reading. It’s a simple message, but one he thinks many of them need to hear nevertheless: give away more of your money.

He’ll even tell them how to do it.

Schulich knows what he’s talking about when it comes to philanthropy. Besides his many donations to health care and charitable causes (about $75 million over the years), he is best known for his highly visible support of education. He has given something like $175 million over the past 14 years to universities in Canada, in Nevada (where his fortune got its start with Franco Nevada Mining) and in Israel (where he gave $23 million to Technion University in 2006). In Canada, what began in 1995 as a $15-million benefaction to Toronto’s York University — creating the Schulich School of Business — has become a veritable educational empire bearing Schulich’s name. Eight years later, $25 million to the University of Western Ontario in London created the Schulich School of Medicine and Dentistry. In 2005, $20 million to McGill University in Montreal (Schulich’s alma mater) got a new name for its music faculty, now the Schulich School of Music. The same year, $25 million went to the University of Calgary, and hello Schulich School of Engineering. This October, Schulich gave $20 million to Dalhousie Law School in Halifax (the home town of his wife, Tanna) — thus another name change. And early next year the Schulich academic family is expecting another addition — this one a school of education at an as-yet-undisclosed university. (Speculation, however, centres on Nipissing University, in North Bay, Ont.)

Schulich, who was born in Montreal and lives in Toronto, calls the collection of schools bearing his name a “composite university.” And when you look at the numbers, they would indeed make a decent-size post-secondary institution by almost any measure. Combined (including Dalhousie law and the soon-to-be-settled school of education), they comprise 15,000 students and more than 2,500 faculty, have annual spending of $270 million, occupy 1.6 million square feet and give out 6,000 scholarships. That makes “Seymour U” roughly the same size, in terms of students, as Wilfrid Laurier in Ontario or Simon Fraser University in B.C.

Why does he give to education? Part of it is rooted in his own experience. He flunked out, he says, of honours chemistry at McGill, and after graduating with a general science degree, worked for a while at Shell Oil as a business analyst. Then he decided to get his MBA degree. He applied for a scholarship to go to McGill’s young business school and got it — $1,600. Tuition was $500, and in his first year Schulich parlayed the remainder into a $5,000 windfall through some savvy investments. It was enough not only to cover his school bills, but also to let him take a months-long trip to Europe. “It changed my life,” he says. “That $1,600 was probably the most valuable $1,600 I’ve ever had in my life.” It left him with a conviction that if he could ever do the same to help other young people in a similar way, he’d do it.

So that’s one reason. The other is posterity. One of Schulich’s favourite aphorisms (he keeps them posted to the door frame in his office) is “You only die when you’re forgotten.”

Schulich has long been a proselytizer for philanthropy. He’s a hiker, and just about every Wednesday and Sunday he takes a stroll through his favourite Toronto park with somebody or other who’s well-known, wealthy or connected. (Recently, he hiked with Michael Ignatieff; he liked him.) The conversation is always wide-ranging, but often Schulich will take the opportunity to bend his companion’s ear about the benefits of giving. “I walk with guys and I say, ‘Fine, you made all this money, but what are you going to be remembered for? You think you’re going to be remembered for your business?’” he recalls. “I’ve had a lot of success getting other guys to step up.”

Among many others, Rob McEwen, founder of GoldCorp., fellow Rich 100 member (he’s ranked No. 89 in this issue) and patron of the McEwen Centre for Regenerative Medicine in Toronto, credits Schulich with helping to get him into philanthropy seriously. “Seymour Schulich had gotten me involved putting some money into the Schulich School of Business, where I’d done my MBA, and that would have been the first what I’d call ‘large donation’ that I made,” McEwen recalled in an interview. “And he said, ‘You won’t believe what happens when you do this. All sorts of good things come to you. And it’s all very unexpected.’”

Schulich still doesn’t think there are enough rich people in Canada doing their part. He’s reluctant to name names, but contends that some of Canada’s richest dynasties have simply not ponied up in a significant way. “These guys punch so far below their weight,” he says. “They do one little thing and everybody says, ‘Oh, look at what they did.’ Well, what they did relative to what they’re worth amounts to jack squat. And when you look at the comparables in the U.S. — in the U.S. guys give away serious money.” He doesn’t buy the theory that a lot of rich Canadians give money anonymously — “It’s bullshit, and I’ll tell you how I know it’s bullshit. I know all the fundraisers in the country, and if a guy is giving anonymously, believe me, the fundraisers know it. So you ask them, ‘ These guys, what are they doing?’ And the answer is sweet bugger all.” He goes on: “These guys, if they gave just 10% of their money away, first of all it’s tax effective, and second of all it’s going to do an enormous amount of good.”

So maybe you’ve got a few million dollars in your pocket and you’re convinced: How do you get started? Schulich has some advice. Much of it, of course, pertains to educational gifts, but behind his formula for philanthropy — which he’s worked out with the help of Gowlings lawyer Robert Finlayson over the past 15 years — are some general principles that could apply to any gift.

Schulich has a few things he strenuously avoids. He’ll only do one benefaction per city — he doesn’t want any brand confusion, he says. He also avoids giving to research, at least in Canada: “Research is lottery tickets. And if I’m a betting man, who am I gonna bet is gonna find anything — the Americans or the Canadians? But it’s like a toy that all the academics want.” He does not give endowments: “Endowments are a curse, because the game becomes for universities to create bigger and bigger endowments. It becomes an objective in itself, when the real point should be to get money into the hands of people who are going to do something with it.” That’s why Schulich strenuously negotiates minimum payouts from his benefactions — he aims for 7% a year. “We say to universities, ‘We don’t care if youburn the money up. If you burn the money up, go out and raise more money. You got enough here for 15 or 20 years at 7%. If you burn it up, you burn it up. But I want this money working.’”

Schulich has four basic criteria that he negotiates before a benefaction (and yes, he does it pretty much on his own); every one of his gifts adheres to them. Here, for the first time in print, is Seymour Schulich’s formula for philanthropy:

First, every benefaction has to be matched, at least to some degree, by money from government or the private sector or the university’s own operating expenses. Dalhousie law has 12 years to raise $10 million in matching funds. At the University of Calgary, the provincial government matched his $25-million benefaction — after some delay. “It took them a while to cough up the money, but they did eventually,” Schulich recalls.

Rule No. 2: Half the money goes to scholarships, to be awarded according to some combination of two of student need, ability or community leadership; they have to be at least large enough to cover fees. At Dalhousie, the Schulich grant will create 24 scholarships this year and 41 next year.

Third? As Schulich puts it: “Having been at university and seeing that half my professors are involved in research and had no interest in teaching and were therefore lousy teachers, we try to incentivize teaching. We create teaching awards that are voted on by the students.”

Last, the terms of the benefaction mandate that half the cash flow goes into a fund to be spent by the dean to upgrade the school, in areas that are identified by students and faculty — anything from professional recruitment and faculty travel to minor capital upgrades and fund raising. The decisions on how to spend are left to the dean; the idea is to create “academic entrepreneurs” and let them lead. “I don’t get involved after the contract is signed,” Schulich says. “They’re on their own.”

So why the name? If this is all about bettering education, why attach your handle to every school you give to? One reason is about legacy — Schulich wants to be remembered, and that concernhas grown more acute now that he’s “looking down the gun barrel at 70.” The other is that the name works: the Schulich brand helps the university raise money, by attracting other donors, and it helps faculties perform better than they would through government funding alone. “Human beings have a herd instinct,” he says. “I think people say, ‘Jesus Christ, somebody comes along and pours in all this money, this thing has to be good.’” The terms of the benefaction with Western, for example, required the school to raise $17 million in 15 years; it managed that in three.

Now if only he could convince more wealthy Canadians to follow suit. Clearly, if he’s going to do that, it won’t pay to be bashful. “Look, here’s one rich guy who’s done something that no one else has ever done, and he’s done something that a lot more of you guys can do,” Schulich says. “I don’t really care what people give money to. My own feeling is we’ve been great beneficiaries of what this country has given us, and we should try to leave the country a better place.”