Rick Konrad does not believe in half-measures. He is not interested in a role as part booster, part strategic thinker, part fiscal manager, part mobilizer. Instead, the incoming Chair of Western’s Board of Governors wants to be all these things – all the time.
“We’re unifiers; we’re cheerleaders; we really should be helping lead the charge to greatness,” he said. “It’s not a matter of being great again. We are great – and we’re going to be greater.”
Konrad, BSc’75, begins his two-year term on Jan. 1, 2020. Most recently serving as Vice-Chair, he has been part of the university’s Investment Committee since 2008 and served on several key Board committees since 2014. He was also part of the Presidential Selection Committee that brought Alan Shepard to his post this year.
Konrad’s work on the Board has only reinforced his belief that the body, and the university, should be an environment of consensus, understanding, wise and informed decision-making, and mutual respect.
“The Board is incredibly caring and diligent, very intent in their decision-making. They really dig deeply. From my experience in industry, I’ve seen members of boards happy to take a cheque. They’re part of a ‘hallelujah chorus,’ and don’t want to debate anything quite often because they didn’t really want to work at it.
“By contrast, on Western’s Board, we’re all volunteers and there is avid discussion. That’s the place where you settle issues. We come to an agreement, but there’s good, healthy debate. It’s not a glad-handing situation.”
To the Board, Konrad brings not just his enthusiasm but investment acumen as part of his 40-year career as an asset manager. He is managing partner at The Roosevelt Group Inc. and was founder of Blueprint Financial Planning and Value Architects Asset Management. He has also held partnership or founding roles in Ryan Beck & Co., Lincluden Management and Sceptre Investment Counsel, where he was responsible for several billion dollars under asset management.
He holds Certified Financial Planner and Chartered Financial Analyst designations, earned his Masters of Science in Finance from Northeastern University and has completed the Harvard Business School Executive Program on behavioral investing.
It’s not such a different path from his Western undergraduate degree in Biophysics, he insists.
First in his family to attend university, Konrad said Western offered him a broad perspective on how to analyze and factor the human element into his research and reasoning.
“What’s interesting about biophysics is you’re applying mathematics and physics to very uncertain things, to psychological principles, and it’s kind of that way in life. There are no set rules. You have to have large error bars in what you’re pursuing, and people’s biological systems behaviour isn’t necessarily as predictable as pure Newtonian mechanics.
“The ability to think, to listen, to be curious – those are the things instilled in you with a good academic guide. That’s what I have had. I love this place.”
With a passion for good governance, Konrad is also one of two Board appointees to Senate, which guides the university’s academic policies. It’s an additional role top officers of the Board rarely seek, but he was insistent.
“It was a great opportunity for someone who is a leader – I was Vice-Chair at the time – to listen, to learn. I spend a fair amount of time getting to know faculty and staff and students. Senate is a mélange of a lot of interests. The Greek term was ‘agora,’ a meeting place. I’m a great believer in bicameral governance. It’s listening; it’s collaboration; it’s hearing what everyone is doing and what everyone is thinking.”
As part of the Presidential Selection Committee, he took part in a lot of listening sessions with students, staff and faculty and was impressed with the passion people expressed for Western’s place and future. “We all bleed purple,” he said.
Although far from a reluctant leader, he hadn’t expected at this stage in his life – with two adult children, a supportive spouse and thriving businesses in two countries – to get this involved. Or to enjoy it this much.
“One of my favourite people is Frank Hasenfratz, LLD’16, of Linamar Corporation (and father of current Western Chancellor Linda Hasenfratz, BSc’89, MBA’97, LLD’19). When I called Frank to tell him that I’d just turned 65 he said, ‘That’s great – you’re halfway through your career.’ I think the best is yet to come.”
Konrad credited his two immediate predecessors – Paul Jenkins and Hanny Hassan – and the “tremendous amount of talent” on the Board for putting students’ needs at the forefront.
“What is an institution? What is a university? It’s nothing more than a place that develops humans to be better people.”
A priority during his term will be helping President Shepard sculpt a new strategic plan, one that outlines Western’s inspirational and aspirational strengths and ensures an exceptional teaching, learning and research environment.
“It’s going to be a consensus plan; it’s going to draw from the entire community,” Konrad said. “It’s a lot of listening sessions and it’s my most important responsibility.
“Whether you’re buying a Tesla magnet for the Brain and Mind Institute or securing experiential-learning opportunities for someone in the Arts & Humanities, we all have a place in learning here. There’s no reason we cannot continue to sustain a high level of learning and a high level of research on this campus.”
Admittedly, he said, this will be a time of understanding funding priorities in a tight fiscal environment, and managing investment risks. Western is in a solid financial position because of prudent management, he said.
Throughout this term, he hopes the community will understand there’s a common purpose throughout the university.
“I want people to realize we put students at the very front. That’s the most critical thing – ensuring they have a good educational experience.”