University of Calgary

Memoir of a tiger

Community leader Dick Haskayne
chronicles his career in new book

By Nicole Ouellet

Foresight and guts—that’s what it takes to be a tiger. A “northern tiger” as Calgary business mogul Dick Haskayne would put it. His book, Northern Tigers—Building Ethical Canadian Corporate Champions—A Memoir and a Manifesto, was officially launched at the University of Calgary on May 3 and will be launched in Toronto on May 8.

The book chronicles Haskayne’s enormously successful career from his Depression-era roots as a butcher’s son in Gleichen, Alberta to his rise to the top of nine major Canadian companies, including Home Oil, TransCanada Pipelines, Hudson’s Bay Oil and Gas, MacMillan Bloedel and Fording Inc.
He credits his success to his down-to-earth roots and candid advice he received growing up.

“One teacher was a little more direct than others: ‘If you don’t go on to university, you deserve a swift kick in the ass.’ That was language I understood. Everything important I know about life and business today, I learned in Gleichen.”

The manifesto is representative of Haskayne’s commitment to speaking passionately about corporate ethics in business and the need to “create companies that are true domestic tigers—enterprises firmly based in Canada and strong and quick-witted enough to withstand predatory takeovers by foreign corporations.”

Haskayne says the book is also representative of how crucial it is that large companies who are based here stay for good. “We’ve lost a few tigers and that is tragic.”

It took just one year to complete the book with co-writer Paul Grescoe, author of numerous business biographies chronicling western Canadian entrepreneurs. Grescoe researched material for the book while Haskayne set up the meetings with subjects to interview.

When asked how it feels to look back on his life’s work with the launch of his memoirs, Haskayne smiles. He says he recognizes that everything he has worked for or given to others has come back to him in ways he never dreamed of. “The more I’ve done for people in life, the more I have gotten back in return.”

Haskayne’s philanthropy to the U of C alone is among the most generous in the university’s history. In 2002, Haskayne made a major contribution of $16 million which included 8.7 million for 220 acres in the Bearspaw area.  Last year, the land was sold to the city for $20 million, bringing the total endowment to $27 million. All proceeds of the sale will go to the Haskayne School for recruitment and retention of top professors, student financial aid and technology. 

In addition, the Haskaynes sold an adjacent 90 acres to the city and made a gift of half the value. Both parcels will be used to extend the city’s bike and pedestrian paths, and will eventually extend to Cochrane as part of a provincial park, to be named Haskayne Park.

In the book, Haskayne recounts how having U of C’s business school named after him has boosted his profile in the community. During a purchase at a jewelry store, the clerk, after seeing his name on a credit card asked: “Are you related to the Haskayne School of Business?” He assured her he was and she then insisted on giving him a discount after telling him someone in her family was a student at the school.

Throughout the manifesto, Haskayne reiterates the importance of philanthropy and getting involved in a greater cause. “One of the benefits of being involved in community and charitable activities is the relationships you develop in those endeavours.” 

His contributions have been recognized across Canada and internationally. In 2004, he received the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship from the Woodrow Wilson International Center for Scholars of the Smithsonian Institution—only the fourth Canadian so honoured. That same year, he was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame and into the Calgary Business Hall of Fame. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and in 2006 received the Alberta Order of Excellence.

Haskayne doesn’t have plans to write another book but will devote his time and energy to reaching out to potential donors in Calgary to give back to the U of C and to work with government on setting policy on business ethics."

I really want to work behind the scenes now and do what I can to reach out to other organizations in the city and give back to the community, including the university.”

A few words of wisdom

Selected excerpts from
Northern Tigers


When accepting the Woodrow Wilson award:
“We have entered a time of extreme cynicism that naturally results from a great many widely publicized corporate scandals. Some people are so critical that they suggest the term ‘corporate ethics’ has become an oxymoron.”

On the book’s themes:
“Another theme (of the book) is what I view as the enormous need for private philanthropy—not simply the largesse of corporations and governments, but personal contributions of time and energy as well as welcome cash to charitable, social, cultural and educational institutions.

“But the overarching theme is that, in a ruthless global economy, Canadians increasingly need to develop our companies into powerful, influential northern tigers that make all the major decisions at home, not in some far-off foreign head office. If we don’t, we’ll continue to lose a lot more MacMillan Bloedels.”

Qualities of a tiger:
 “Strength, nimbleness, single-mindedness, and most important of all, a deep respect for their habitat, their home ground.”

On going to school:
“I liked the idea of regular school so much so that as a five-year-old, I sat longingly on the steps of the Gleichen elementary school, day after September day. Because I was born late in the year, I couldn’t start classes until the following term. I kept bugging the druggist and school-board chairman, who finally said, “Oh hell, let him go.” He gave me a pencil and paper, and I ran to school without bothering to tell my mom.  She sent the whole town out to look for me.”

On business practices:
“Meet a need, price the product or service fairly and deliver it efficiently—it works whether you’re distributing milk, oil, coal or financial services.”

On the value of post-secondary education:
“By then I was pumped up about the value of post-secondary education and my own place in the world.  Working toward my CA, I wrote a rousing challenge to high-school grads in the Bow Valley Central yearbook, urging them to attend university if at all possible and trumpeting the virtues of the chartered accountant (of the male gender, you’ll note) …The fact still remains, that no matter what career you choose, you will never make a success of it unless you are prepared to WORK.”

On community involvement:
“One of the benefits of being involved in community and charitable activities is the relationships you develop in those endeavours. A prime instance in my life was my years chairing the university’s board. It’s a non-paying position, yet I spent as much time on it as any one of the corporate chairs I’ve held. In retrospect, I felt I made a contribution during a difficult era in its history because of the budget cuts it had to face.”

On being recognized as the namesake for the Haskayne School of Business:
“I’ve had a few amusing encounters because of the profile my name now has in the wider world. Once, I took some of my grandkids to the Cowboys bar in Ron Mathison’s Penny Lane mall and was greeted by a big bouncer, obviously a student in his off-hours, who was wearing a button with the Haskayne School’s name.