I’m applying to head back to school in the Fall of 2013. They asked for 500 words on diversity.
Growing up in Canada, I was exposed to prejudice against the french-speaking Quebecois. Notwithstanding this prejudice, I decided to attend McGill University, an English school in the middle of a French city. At McGill, I worked closely with Quebecois students. I was 21 when I graduated and began to notice that my friends didn’t align with my prejudices.
My next move was to the United Kingdom. I worked in the most diverse group of finance professionals in the City of London. There were six partners, one executive and myself. In the 90s, Private Equity was dominated by white men with accounting backgrounds. My boss, Jon Moulton, fit the profile of our peers, a 40-something accountant. However, he valued diversity and built a team that contained the only female partners in our sector. In addition to the Brits, the team was composed of a Singaporean, an American and myself, a Canadian.
My two-month internship was extended twice and I deferred Business School. At 25, I was given the opportunity to become a partner in the firm via a transfer to Asia. I still hadn’t put the pieces together on the role of diversity in my life.
In 1993, I moved to Hong Kong and joined another unique team. Based in China, half the partners were Indian. We were responsible for a large geography and I worked in Australia, Thailand, Singapore, Japan and India.
By the late-90s, I noticed that the prejudices, that I first heard as a child, had followed me around the world. Marked by language, skin color, investment sector and nationality, tribal rivalries endured. As an English-speaking white-man from Canada, I passed through these communities. I was never an insider but I was tolerated and exposed to what the locals really thought.
Sitting here today, at 44 years old, I’ve learned what my first boss, Jon, must have seen. If the goal is performance then diversity, by its very nature, gives advantages unavailable to tribal, or homogeneous, competition.
Ultimately, the attraction of working in finance faded because the game is emotionally void. We made a lot of money for our investors but we didn’t improve people’s lives. So, in my 30s, I shifted toward athletics. Just like the beginning of my business career, I gave myself a two-month window to try life as an elite triathlete and started down a new path.
My two-month trial ended with a top performance at a race called Ironman Canada. I returned to my firm in Hong Kong and negotiated an extended leave of absence. I never looked back and started a life that mixed coaching with high-performance sport.
Helping others through coaching brought far greater satisfaction. Hopefully, my letters of recommendation will confirm my ability to improve the lives of those around me. This trait is the greatest gift that I’ve been given.
By being true to myself, and working with others, I find that the my community improves. I hope to have the opportunity to bring this virtue to your university.