Nobody ever expected a former wrestler, defensive tackle and door-to-door tree and shrub salesman to be installed one day as a university chancellor. But Jack Cowin, BA’64, LLD’00, accomplished just that a half century after his own Convocation from Western.
“Life is about relationships and how you make them successfully. It is important to remember where you came from and who helped you get to where you are in life. Home will always be home wherever you wander,” the internationally renowned businessman and philanthropist told graduates from King’s University College, the Faculty of Information and Media Studies and Faculty of Social Science at the Thursday, Oct. 22, morning session of Western’s 306th Convocation.
“Whether you think you can, or whether you think you can’t, you are probably right,” said Cowin, who was described by a former university roommate as ‘the people’s chancellor.’
As the honourary and symbolic head of the university, the Chancellor presides at Convocation ceremonies to admit candidates to degrees, diplomas and certificates, as well as serves as an ex-officio voting member of the Board of Governors, university Senate and certain committees of both governing bodies. The position traces its roots to the founding of the university, and its inaugural Chancellor, Bishop Isaac Hellmuth.
In the role, Cowin expressed his desire to help focus the university on a shared future.
“We have a number of stakeholders; but whether it is a sports team, or an academic institution, there needs to be an alignment to achieve the shared goals and objectives of those stakeholders,” Cowin said. “My primary goal, as Chancellor, is to try and endeavor to assist in gaining this alignment so as to develop a culture of cooperation and a shared understanding of what we want this university to become, assuming all stakeholders have a shared goal of a pursuit of excellence.”
In 1969, a 26-year-old Cowin moved to Australia with his family to establish a business with the support of loans from 30 Canadians. He took the fast food industry by storm, beginning with Kentucky Fried Chicken, then his own burger chain, Hungry Jack’s, and next with Dominos Pizza. The business expanded into food processing and now exports to 29 countries and employs 16,000 staff throughout Australia.
The group is also a major shareholder in three companies operating in Canada and the United States with a joint venture in Malaysia. In addition to operating 350 restaurants in Australia, the company operates five manufacturing facilities producing frozen value-added meat products, as well as processing fresh vegetables.
Today, Cowin is also a director of the Network Ten television business; Chandler McLeod, a listed recruitment company; Sydney Olympic Park and Fairfax Media. He is also Chairman elect and the largest shareholder of Domino’s Pizza (Australia) and the largest shareholder in BridgeClimb, a major tourist attraction in Sydney, Australia.
Cowin plans to use this international perspective in his new role of Chancellor.
“If we are to become a world-class institution, we have to have an increased awareness of what goes on outside, in a growing, competitive world. We cannot just be a southwestern Ontario school doing business in our own backyard. We need to develop skills and knowledge to successfully participate in a global community,” he said.
“The choice is ours if we are going to raise our standards and continue to educate future generations and equip them to be able to adapt to a changing world.”
From his reservoir of experience, Cowin closed his remarks with “a few words of instruction” gathered from a lifetime of successes and mistakes. His listed included:
- Look after your health;
- If you lose you integrity, no amount of success will be meaningful;
- Control your own destiny;
- Be prepared to take some risks in life;
- Make saving some money a compulsory habit;
- Never, never, never give up if you think you are right;
- Don’t get caught up in your own self importance;
- Have a bias for action;
- Be wary of diversions and distractions; and
- Life is about dealing with people.