Navjeet (Bob) Dhillon embodies the immigrant success story: a Sikh, born in Japan, he spent his early years in Liberia where his family lost everything after the coup; today, he’s a respected community and business leader, a generous philanthropist and the founder, president and CEO of Mainstreet Equity Corporation.
In addition to his professional accomplishments, he’s amassed awards, accolades and sought-after appointments. And while some would see these as career pinnacles, for Dhillon they’re all part of the experience.
“If you enjoy the journey, you’ll never reach the finish line,” he says, making it clear he likes what he does. Considering he’s on the job more than 70 hours a week, that’s important. “It’s not work for me.”
But that doesn’t mean it hasn’t been hard.
“The day I went public, the real-estate index crashed; seven, eight months later, the tech bubble happened; in 2009, they pulled a large portion of our debt — all our mortgages got pulled; then oil dropped,” he explains.
It was Dhillon’s unparalleled work ethic and dogged determination that ensured Mainstreet not only survived but thrived in the midst of these economic setbacks. “We are countercyclical investors: we bought back shares, we refinanced at a lower interest rate and we doubled down because we are believers.”
Dhillon is now channeling that same innovative and transformative spirit into the University of Lethbridge, specifically the newly-named Dhillon School of Business.
Earlier this year, the University announced the transformation of its Faculty of Management in recognition of a $10-million gift from the entrepreneur.
“Education is what drives successful global nations and Canada is unique in that there is so much opportunity here,” says Dhillon, who holds an MBA from the Ivey School of Business at Western University. “The U of L is a world-class university that the world needs to discover.”
Along with a new name, the business school will focus on education for today and tomorrow, building on its current curriculum by expanding its focus on finance and business innovation, entrepreneurism and internationalization. It will provide new and exciting opportunities for faculty, students and community partners including Fintech, Blockchain and Crowdfunding.
“What separates us from other business programs is the ability to pursue new trends and marry them to existing strengths, including liberal education and experiential learning. Putting all that together is powerful,” says Dr. Bob Boudreau, dean of the Dhillon School of Business. “Institutions around the world are going to have to pay attention because the Dhillon School of Business is on the move.”
For Dhillon, giving back is an important part of his journey.
“I wouldn’t have achieved the success I’ve had if it wasn’t for education. I’m a first-generation Sikh immigrant and I’m very fortunate that I’m in a position to make this contribution. This is my way of giving back to Canada. Supporting innovative education is key to launching Canadian talent in today’s connected world.”
And while he’s keenly aware of his position as an industry leader and similarly a pioneer for his community, he shakes off any formal application of the title.
“Canada is a country of pioneers — the Scottish immigrants in the Maritimes, the Chinese railway workers, the Ukrainian farmers in northern Alberta, the Sikh lumberjacks in British Columbia — those were pioneers,” he says. “They paved the road and I just learned how to drive.”
Learn more about Bob Dhillon
Learn more about the Dhillon School of Business transformation