Business leader gives thanks to God

A man speaks at a lectern.
Prem Watsa speaks about how his faith has shaped his life.
 on June 1, 2015
Michael Hudson

Prem Watsa says building company has been a ‘labour of love’

One of Canada’s foremost business leaders spoke passionately about his faith at the Bishop’s Company Dinner, held May 7 in Toronto.

Prem Watsa, chairman and chief executive officer of Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. and a long-time member of St. Paul, Bloor Street, said being a follower of Jesus Christ has shaped every part of his life, including how he built and runs his business.

“I have been blessed my whole life,” he said. “When I look back, I see that the most important decisions of my life I had no control of. They have been blessings from above.”

Born and raised in India, Mr. Watsa immigrated to Canada in the early 1970s and settled in London, Ont., where he attended the Ivey Business School. In 1985, he took control of a small trucking insurance company and, two years later, re-organized and renamed it Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd. The company today has assets of about $40 billion.

“Fairfax has been a labour of love for many people in our company,” he said. “We have a fair and friendly culture, treating all people well. We have prospered, but not at the expense of our founding principles.”

Those principles include valuing the company’s employees and their families. “We don’t want our employees to work at the expense of their families,” he said, adding that employees often have long careers at the company.

He said Fairfax donates one to two per cent of its pre-tax profits to the communities in which it does business. Last year, it donated $19 million to those communities. Over the years, it has donated $130 million.

“When a business does well, its customers benefit, its employees benefit, its shareholders benefit and also the communities benefit,” he said. “At Fairfax, we have a saying – Doing Good by Doing Well. We never forget that we have to do well over the long term so that we can do good in our communities.”

He added: “Business has a huge impact in the world, and with the good Lord’s help it can be a calling.”

The 54th annual Bishop’s Company Dinner began with a reception at Holy Trinity, Trinity Square, followed by dinner and a silent auction at the nearby Marriott hotel. It was attended by 425 people and raised $150,000 to help clergy and their families in need and to provide scholarships for theological students.

The Rev. Stephanie Douglas Bowman, the incumbent of Christ Memorial, Oshawa, and her husband Michael spoke about how funds from the Bishop’s Company Dinner had helped them pay for the educational testing of one of their children in preparation for a move to a new church and a new city.

Standing at the podium, Ms. Douglas Bowman thanked the audience for its support, saying, “What makes the Bishop’s Company so remarkable is the recognition that clergy care doesn’t just mean supporting the priest.  It means caring for their families, too.”

As in previous years, scholarship recipients were announced at the dinner. Allison Dean and Vinaya Sagar Dumpala received the Terence and Alice Jean Finlay Bursary, which is given to two students, one each from Trinity and Wycliffe colleges, who are engaged in studies that celebrate and enhance the understanding of the diversity of the church. Mary-Catherine Garden was awarded the Kirubai Scholarship, given to a Trinity College divinity student who is specializing in liturgy and worship. Donald Beyers and Monique Taylor received the William Kay Bursary, which aids students who are engaged in theological education that will lead to ordination. John Sundara and Rebecca Spellacy received the George & Eileen Carey Bursary, awarded to Anglicans pursuing post-graduate theological studies.


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