From OAC student to international banker, Bill Brock traces path to success
“A day for a celebration”: That’s what Bill Brock calls the day in 1958 when he graduated from the Ontario Agricultural College (OAC), one of the founding colleges of the University of Guelph.
He was among the first in his family to attend high school, let alone university. His parents – and their parents’ siblings and spouses – had all left school after eighth grade. “Going to university was a bit of a dream, as my family did not have the resources to help fund my education, and there were no student loan programs,” says Brock.
Brock’s experience and insight have been invaluable for the University and for its members.
He put himself through OAC with various jobs during summers and the school year. “It changed my life,” he says. “Besides learning in the classroom, I learned how to progressively build my self-confidence – a very important factor given that I was younger than most of my classmates.”
After finishing the fourth year of his agricultural engineering option, Brock completed his accredited mechanical engineering degree at the University of Toronto. Having begun work with a major oil company, he soon realized that he needed a business education to keep up with his peers. He earned an MBA from Western University.
After joining the Toronto-Dominion Bank, Brock spent the next 37 years at home and abroad, including 13 years in London, Hong Kong and Singapore. He spent the last 20 years of his career with the executive team at the bank’s Canadian head office.
After returning to Canada in the mid-1980s, he decided to make one major volunteer commitment – to the University of Guelph. For nearly 25 years, he volunteered in various roles, including serving as a member and ultimately chair of the Board of Governors.
During his five-year term as chair, U of G and other institutions confronted a major challenge. “The world changed for all universities in Ontario,” he says. “The Ontario government slashed its funding in the early nineties, and it became clear that this would not change and that universities would now have to fundraise on a major scale.”
Besides relying on student fees and government transfers, the University needed to secure revenue through fundraising campaigns and other means. Two campaigns in the late 1980s and the early 2000s raised more than $100 million in total for the University. Brock served as vice-chair and lead volunteer for the first campaign and was the largest volunteer fundraiser for the second.
For the latter campaign, Bill and his wife, Anne, donated funds to establish an endowment for the Brock Doctoral Scholarships, one of the top awards of its kind in Canada. A recent donation from the couple brings the total endowment to $2.5 million and will allow future scholarships to increase to $150,000 from the current $120,000.
Two campaigns in the late 1980s and the early 2000s raised more than $100 million in total for the University.
U of G president Franco Vaccarino says providing one of the largest awards for a PhD student in Canada – particularly with the recent endowment increase – means that “the University of Guelph can offer a scholarship that attracts the best who can become the foundation of tomorrow’s faculty.”
More than 10 PhD students have received the awards. Jesse Stewart, a professor in Carleton University’s music department since 2008, was the inaugural recipient at U of G. He says the award opened the door to his academic career.
Before receiving the award, he had taken a “soul-crushing” job to make ends meet. Says Stewart, “I had a brand-new baby at home and had been trying to make a living by playing music, which was spotty at best.”
Hoping to return to university, he applied for the Brock scholarship. Receiving the funding was “like winning the lottery. I couldn’t believe it. Everything I’ve done since, including getting the professorship at Carleton, is because of the Brock scholarship.”
Calling the Brocks “tremendously generous and wonderfully kind people,” Stewart says they are “a wonderful example of giving back and working to benefit others as they’ve benefited.”
Brock also spearheaded the creation of the Heritage Trust in the early 1990s to develop surplus real estate owned by the University on and off campus and leased to third parties. He chaired the trust for about 10 years. The Heritage Trust has generated more than $133 million and now provides about $10 million a year to the University.
Acting on behalf of the University, Brock negotiated the purchase of the Cutten Club, the golf club adjacent to campus. Now called Cutten Fields, the club was leased to its members for 40 years; after that term ends, U of G will determine the future for this large tract of land.
“I recognized some 35 years ago that my successful struggle to go to university had resulted in an outstanding career,” says Brock. “I will be forever indebted to the University of Guelph for the change and opportunity it brought to my life.”
The U of G president says Brock’s experience and insight have been invaluable for the University and for its members.
“We are deeply indebted to Bill and the deep connection he has to the University,” says Vaccarino. “His support and leadership have been integral to the success of this institution and its national and international reputation for excellence.”