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My first career lesson: just show up
Oak Bay News owner David Black received an honourary Doctor of Laws from the University of Victoria today. The following is a transcript of his speech.
Today is a great day for me. The doctorate is a wonderful honour from a University I have watched grow and flourish into a world-ranked institution. It is also embarrassing because I don’t feel my work is completed yet. Nevertheless, I would like to pass on to the graduating class some lessons I have learned thus far in my career in the hopes they may be of some use.
My story is not complex. I received an Engineering degree from UBC and an MBA from Ivey in London. In 1975, I started my own business by buying a small weekly newspaper in Williams Lake. Over the years, with the help of a terrific wife, a father who mentored me, and the hard work of a great many employees, we have grown to 200 publications with revenues of half a billion dollars.
I had no plan in 1975 to grow the business like this. My only thought was to publish the best paper I could. I worked long hours because we were in debt and we had a growing family. Over time I came to be an expert in every phase of the business. Because of that I fell in love with publishing.
My first career lesson for you then, is just show up. If you are like I was at your age, you have no idea what career will appeal to you. You don’t have to know. Just dive into something. Work hard. The more skill you develop, the more you will enjoy the work. You will know when, or if, it is time to move on to something else.
I mentioned my wife and father and what a help they were to me. My second piece of advice is to surround yourself with bright people, both as workmates and friends. Listen to them and help them in return.
With my four children on our companies’ boards of directors and an excellent management team in place I thought, now that I am over 65, I would be easing back somewhat, enjoying more sailing, and babysitting grandchildren. My only real career regret was that I hadn’t had a chance to practice any engineering.
It’s funny how life unfolds. Instead, over the last two years I have embarked on one of the biggest engineering projects in Canada’s history and I am working harder than ever. When not working on Black Press, I am consumed by trying to build a BC oil refinery, pipeline and tanker fleet at a total cost of $32 billion. So my third career message for you is that you cannot know your future. By all means plan. But don’t assume things will go as expected.
I will tell you a little about the refinery project because it leads to my final and most important piece of advice. The project is called Kitimat Clean. The refinery will convert Alberta’s bitumen to gasoline and diesel, products which float and evaporate if there is a spill at sea. Bitumen acts differently. If it is spilled off our coast it will sink and we won’t be able to recover it. It will also blanket the intertidal zone and we won’t be able to remove it. The damage could last for hundreds of years. I got into this project to help ensure this doesn’t happen.
A world-scale refinery has other great advantages for us all: it will create 10,000 new permanent jobs in BC and it will generate billions of dollars of new taxes annually for government coffers.
My children and I are concerned about the environment like most of you are, so we decided to spend an extra $3 billion to build the refinery with new Canadian technology, cutting CO2 emissions by five million tonnes per year. This is equivalent to avoiding the annual emissions of 1.2 million cars. The refinery will be so clean it will more than compensate for the extra CO2 emissions in the oilsands.
Clearly we need to ratchet down our use of fossil fuels. But that does not influence whether to build a refinery in Canada. Asia needs more refined fuel every year. If we don’t build the refinery in Canada it will be built in Asia. By shipping our bitumen to Asia for refining, we not only put the ocean at risk and lose the enormous value-add benefits, the planet will end up with twice the CO2 emissions.
Unfortunately for a variety of reasons, our big oil companies are not interested in a new Canadian refinery. The president of one of our largest oil companies told me that he agrees it is viable to refine bitumen in Canada, and that it is nation building at its best, but that no oil company in Alberta will do it. In fact, some oppose it.
So it came down to this. If I thought it important enough, I would have to spearhead it. That is what I am doing. I hope by setting high standards we can show the way forward for responsible management of Canada’s bitumen from an economic and an environmental point of view.
My final message to you today is simple. When your big challenge or opportunity arises, do the same. Do it better. When you know something is wrong step up. Take a risk. Challenge tradition and fight vested interests. Use your education, experience and networks in a positive way to benefit yourself and your family of course, but whenever you can, always try to improve the world around you as well. The satisfaction that gives you will fulfill you.
Go to it graduates and best wishes for the future.