Stephen Jarislowsky

One of the Canada’s foremost entrepreneurs and philanthropists

“When I went to university in 1946, it was the first time in my life that I began to make decisions for myself; after attending boarding schools and then serving in the army. In 1946, I wrote an essay to myself, titled Essay on Understanding. In that document, I reasoned that the only person who can think through and understand an issue affecting me, is me. Once I gained understanding of an issue – I should then do something with it. I had an obligation to act.” That philosophy has been a guiding principle for Stephen Jarislowsky ever since; providing a reference template for his business and philanthropic activities.

Stephen Jarislowsky has achieved a remarkable entrepreneurial success; guiding the investment firm he co-founded into a financial powerhouse. During our wide-ranging conversation, I learned that he considers his initiatives on corporate governance, dedication to business ethics, championing of entrepreneurship, funding to universities and community projects to be his most valued contributions and accomplishments.

Born in Germany, Jarislowsky moved to the United States with his family and went to school in Asheville, North Carolina before studying mechanical engineering at Cornell. Following the U.S. entry into WW II, Jarislowsky joined the army in 1944. His ability as a creative thinker served him well. It was during basic training that he requested that he be allowed to take the language test; partly because he was already able to speak French, German, Dutch in addition to English. There was a bit of pragmatism on his part, for he insisted that his name was supposed to be on the list of candidates for the test. He pointed out that if he failed the test the Army had nothing to loose and if he passed they had something to gain. He prevailed, passed the test – and was sent to Chicago to study Japanese so that he could work in counter-intelligence. After the war, he remained in Japan with the occupation forces for a year, continuing to serve in counter-intelligence.

Jarislowsky continued his studies after the war, attending University of Chicago in 1946 and 1947, and Harvard Business School from 1947 to 1949. He worked for three years as an engineer for Alcan from 1949 to 1952, and then briefly returned to the U.S. before settling permanently in Montreal and starting Jarislowsky, Fraser & Company Limited on June 6, 1955.

He served on a variety of company Boards for the next thirty years, including; Canfor, Southam, Velan Valve Inc, Abitibi, Swiss Bank Corp. and Goodfellow Lumber Inc.

A passionate defender of shareholder rights, Jarislowsky co-founded the Canadian Coalition of Good Governance with Claude Lamoureux in 2002. Jarislowsky believes that ethics are essential to good governance, and an effective company Board of Directors should not be controlled by the management of that company.

Jarislowsky contends that the same application of ethical standards of good governance could be applied to the realm of politics. Politicians must act, and see themselves as acting, as Trustees of the assets of the country to be used for the betterment of the population. He perceives that politicians have a conflict of interest when they spend public money to fund programs that in turn attract favour with voters. He suggests that a collaboration of experts such as professors of ethics and politics, in consultation with activist groups, generate the ethical standards for politicians.

Issues about the harm or benefits of the power of voting blocs such as unions and others, the idea of obligatory voting, the concept of debt being imposed on future generations, could be discussed and conclusions drawn. As part of this enterprise, he believes firstly that ethics should be taught in schools as a separate subject. And secondly, he believes that the facts about political actions should be widely disseminated.  Then the voters would be equipped to measure whether politicians and policies measure up or fall short.

“You have to make mistakes;

just keep them small”

. . . S. A. Jarislowsky

Jarislowsky is justifiably proud of The Navigator Project – another common sense management system he championed at the Montreal General Hospital. When asked how long it took for a patient between a lung cancer diagnosis and the beginning of treatment, Dr David Mulder responded that it was 82 days. Jarislowsky thought that it would be good to shorten that delay. In a trial project that included the Agence de la santé et services sociaux de Montreal, the Montreal General Hospital Foundation and the Jarislowsky Foundation; a committee of the best physicians, technicians and nurses worked on the problem, meeting every three months. By establishing better communications between everyone involved and shortening the time delays between tests and examinations, the committee was able to reverse the order of the numbers; taking the delay from 82 to 28 days. This saved a lot of resources, but more importantly – fewer patients died because their cancer was getting treated much, much faster.

With such a successful outcome in treating cancer, hospital administrators began applying the Navigator methodology to other diseases. The Princess Margaret Cancer Hospital in Toronto adopted the same process – and experienced vastly improved patient results as well. A big part of the thinking for this project came from the concepts of good governance, and putting those concepts into action. This philosophy of identifying the issues, doing the work of gathering information for analysis; and then taking action harkens back to Jarislowsky’s Essay On Understanding that he wrote to himself as a young man.

Through his foundation, Jarislowsky has funded thirty-six University Chairs, all focused on the pursuit of excellence in different areas of education and research. The following partial list illustrates the broad scope of the fields of study. The chairs include: Economic & Cultural Transformation at Memorial University, Financial Policy at Queen’s, Environment and Health at McMaster, Families and Work at Guelph, Religion and Conflict at Assumption in Windsor, Public Sector Management at the University of Ottawa, International Business Administration at Laval, Urology at McGill, Finance at University of Alberta School of Business, Biotechnology at Saskatchewan, Technology and International Competition at École Polytéchnique de Montréal, History at Concordia, Public Sector Management at Ottawa University, and Global Health at Carleton.  All of these chairs are tasked with the pursuit of excellence in their respective fields of study.

With his well-documented business interests and commitment to university research, it might be surprising to learn that Stephen Jarislowsky is also a supporter of the performing and visual arts. His foundation established the Gail and Stephen Jarislowsky Institute for Studies in Canadian Art at Concordia – an example of the several arts organizations supported by his foundation.

Stephen Jarislowsky has received Honorary Doctorates of Law from Canadian universities, including; McGill University, Queen’s University, University of Alberta, McMaster University, Université de Laval, Concordia University, the University of Windsor, the Université de Montréal and the University of Ottawa.

He was awarded the Grand Officer of the National Order of Quebec, and is in the Canadian Business hall of Fame. Jarislowsky also holds the International Entrepreneur Award from the University of Manitoba.

He has been awarded Companion of the Order of Canada, the highest rank. The wide-ranging contributions that Stephen Jarislowsky has made on Canadian society are in the citation for his award, which states: “for his contributions as a leader in Canada’s investment sector, notably for championing the highest standards of corporate governance practices for public companies, and for his sustained philanthropic support of educational, cultural, healthcare and charitable activities throughout the country.” 

Related Posts