Thompson family gift brings Ivey, Engineering together for students

John Thompson knows a good idea only goes so far. Now, the former Western chancellor hopes to provide Western Engineering students with the skills they need to turn that good idea into a great success story.

Announced Monday, John (BESc’66, LLD’94) and Melinda (BA’64) Thompson have donated $3 million to the Faculty of Engineering and Ivey Business School to incorporate business and entrepreneurial education into the Engineering program, including the integration of Ivey’s case method of learning.

The gift will change the face of Engineering education at Western, broadening the scope of students in the Integrated Engineering program. Going forward, these students will learn all areas of engineering, while also being exposed to management, leadership and innovation from one of the country’s top business schools.

“In my career, I found there was no end of good ideas in terms of new products or services; there were tons of ideas coming from engineers, just no shortage of them,” said Thompson, who served IBM in senior leadership positions in Canada and the United States. “But what differentiated those ideas from other good ideas, what made those ideas successful, was surrounding them with solid business concepts – how to brand it, how to distribute it, how to form partnerships.

“When you look back at the great successes – those new and innovative ideas that changed everything – most have that business foundation as a major reason for their success. Certainly, you have to have a good engineering idea, but success doesn’t happen in the marketplace unless you can surround it with sound business concepts.”

The $3 million gift covers a broad spectrum including:

  • $1.5 million, matched by Western, to create the John M. Thompson Chair in Engineering Leadership and Innovation at Western Engineering and the Ivey Business School;
  • $250,000 to support the chair, allowing it to be filled before the chair fund is fully endowed;
  • $500,000 toward the John M. Thompson Visiting Industry Fellowship in Engineering Leadership and Innovation at Western Engineering;
  • $250,000 to support two annual awards of $5,000 each for students in year five of the concurrent HBA/BESc program;
  • $250,000 to support five annual awards of $2,000 for students in engineering who are in the Certificate in Leadership and Innovation program; and
  • $250,000 to support the John M. Thompson Case Studies & Curriculum Development Fund.

“The whole thing is complimentary,” Thompson said. “There’s no one particular thing that excites me more than another, but it’s the way all the pieces complement each other. It’s all about innovation and leadership. After all, most engineers end up in a corporation somewhere, and as they move up, they will need these skills.

“A lot of engineers I know, who have been successful in the long run, had to go on to get an MBA. This gives a bit of an advantage to Western students.”

Western leadership echoed Thompson’s excitement for the gift’s potential.

“This significant gift allows Western to offer a truly unique Engineering education that prepares students for dynamic careers in their chosen field,” said Amit Chakma, Western president and vice-chancellor. “With an improved understanding of business fundamentals, Western’s Engineering graduates will gain a competitive edge, be in higher demand by employers and possess the skills needed to evolve into the business leaders of tomorrow.”

“The opportunity to inject more thinking about innovation into the Engineering curriculum, as well as incorporate the case-study method from Ivey, is something that is unique and, at the same time, will help differentiate Western students from others coming into the workforce,” said Andy Hrymak, Engineering dean.

The dean credited Thompson’s vision for the gift, as well as his colleagues at Ivey, including Dean Carol Stephenson and faculty members, who supported the interdisciplinary initiative. The teamwork will build a better tomorrow for Western students, he said.

“This builds on the kind of things that makes for a successful person in the industry,” Hrymak said.

Even beyond business, Thompson stressed the need for Engineering students – all students, even – to expose themselves to a wide spectrum of ideas outside their chosen discipline. Only through that broad exposure can students “accelerate their careers.”

“My hope for this gift is that it helps students graduate with an understanding of the world they are moving into. Having more diversity beyond pure engineering has helped me a lot,” Thompson said. “It wasn’t just studying business. Arts made me a better communicator and widened my horizons. I learned to write and to speak thanks to arts, and that gave me a bit of a leg up on other engineers who were purely engineers.”

The Thompsons are longtime supporters of Western, funding scholarships and awards as well as campus-defining structures like the Thompson Engineering Building. Thompson sees the legacy of his latest gift, however, as appealing to a different aspect of the university’s mission.

“People like to give to buildings because they are bricks and mortar. You can see them; they are tangible,” he said. “Buildings are about improving the quantity of education. They allow us to bring in more people – more faculty, more students. On the other hand, chairs are about the quality of education. They allow us to bring in the top people – top faculty, top students.”

Thompson most recently served as Western’s 20th chancellor from 2008-12, in addition to serving on the President’s Council, chairing the Western Engineering’s advisory board and co-chairing Western’s Renaissance Campaign from 1989-94. His professional career has included leadership positions with IBM and TD Bank Financial Group.


Western has set its sights on becoming a world-class leader in research with a goal of creating 100 new endowed chairs by 2020. Seven chairs have been created under the program:


Thompson chair 2Adela Talbot, Western News
Melinda and John Thompson admire a piece of Iroquois pottery, a gift from Western and gesture of gratitude for the couple’s donation of $3 million to the Faculty of Engineering and Ivey Business School.