Eric Newell doesn't do things in half measures
By Zanne Cameron
You'd be hard pressed to find a name as synonymous with success in business and commitment to community as Eric Newell, CEO of Syncrude, and current chair of the University of Alberta's Board of Governors. The man whose firm handshake and broad smile are evidence of an active and positive mindset, has a record of achievement in both that is as long as your arm.
Newell is a man who puts his money where his mouth is. "If You're going to be involved, you should do it with both feet," he says. But Newell's connnitincia to education and community goes far beyond the doors of his company and support of education in hightech and trades directly related to the oil patch. "Syna-ude is the country's largest individual employer Of Aboriginal people," lie says with significant pride. Syncrudc also has contrihutcd $500 million to a research project aimed at involving Aboriginals in health care and education. Among Newell's many personal community commitments, lie is co-chair of the Alliance for Responsible Environmental Alternatives and a director of the Canadian Millennium Scholarship fund. "Ninety-five per cent of our scholarships are needs based," says Newell emphatically. "We give about 285 scholarships a year based on financial need alone, not grades."
A family man
Newell, a values-driven person, tries to live the kind of values and ethics he learned from his parents, who were children of the Depression. "My father was one of 12 children and had to quit school to work at 15," says Newell. The senior Newell, who became a banker in Victoria, B.C., encouraged his children to get a good education, and he put family and people before everything else. "He was such a kind and gentle person," reflects Newell. "To him people were the most important thing. He was always helping people out." Newell's mother is still going strong at 90. "She lives in the same house she lived in 50 years ago."
Newell took his parents' advice and pursued his education. He obtained his master's degree in management science from the University of Birmingham in the 1968 England of miniskirts and the Beatlcs. After graduating, lie worked for an engineering, firm in London Under Sir Frederic Warner and was involved in the initial Thames River clean-up project "I helped design the big barrier scheme that prevents London, [built under the 100-year flood line] from being flooded." Newell's environmental awareness goes back to his Undergraduate years wlien he worked on summer jobs such as Surveying for the B.C. forest service.
With the support of his Wife, Kathy, a strong practising Catholic, Newell has maintained his family as his number-one priority throughout the years. He attributes his family's success to patience, tolerance, and a healthy sense of humour. "My first community commitments revolved around the kids—coaching hockey, being a Cub leader, helping with the figure skating club.
Also, we've lived in Fort McMurray for the last 14 years. So when my kids were entering those important formative teenage years, we weren't moving around. They really need you to be there during those years." As well, Newell's family has a strong commitment to faith. "We've always gone to church on Sundays." In a wonderful gesture of marital quid pro quo, Kathy, whom he met in New Jersey, is getting her Canadian citizenship this year, and Newell is converting formally to Catholicism. "It's harder to become a Catholic than a Canadian," quips Newell.
Among his numerous commitments, Eric Newell, an advocate for partnership between education and business, is co-chair of the Conference Board of Canada's National Council on Education. He is an officer of the Order of Canada, the chair of CAREERS: The Next Generation Foundation, and a leader in the Alberta partnership between the classroom and the workplace has been on the U of A's Board of Governors for five years.This is his third as chair.
It's not surprising that the man who is so dedicated to education and the communitv does not regard his time Oil the Board as work.
"We are blessed with great Student leaders. You know, I was involved in the student
executive during the '60s, and in those davs the administration didn't want anything to do with the students. The U of A has the strongest relationship seen between its students and the administration. It's a tremendous environment to be in." Newell is committed to strengthening ties between the Senate, alumni, and the Board of Governors at the University. "The only significant problem is that now that Lois Hole has gone, there is no one to give hugs at convocations and awards ceremonies," he says with a chuckle.
A firm handshake and a broad smile will have do.
Published Spring 2001.