At the end of June, Lindsay Gordon stepped down as UBC’s 18th chancellor after six years of exemplary service to the university. As the honorary head of UBC, he presided over all major ceremonies and convocations, but his contributions in the role have had more than just ceremonial significance.
Gordon, who is past president and CEO of HSBC Bank Canada, has made a real difference to the mission of UBC by serving as co-chair of the start an evolution campaign, which raised more than $1.6 billion and engaged more than 130,000 alumni. He is also a keen supporter of the current Blue & Gold Campaign for students. And as a UBC double alumnus, Gordon has played an active part in many other areas of UBC life, including his service on the board of alumni UBC, the Board of Governors and the University Senates.
The following edited highlights are from a recent interview that took place shortly before the conclusion of his second term.
“Six and a half years ago, or thereabouts, I was surprised to get a call from Judy Rogers, who was then the chair of the alumni UBC board, asking me if I would be willing to serve as chancellor. It didn’t take me long to say I’d be thrilled. As well as being a great honour, it was an opportunity to pay back a debt of gratitude, because UBC has played a critical role in any success I’ve experienced in my life.
“Being UBC’s ‘volunteer in chief’ is quite a time-consuming exercise, and it’s been very much a team effort with my wife, Liz. Probably the most important quality for a chancellor is having passion for the institution — a passion for UBC and its important role in society. I’ve certainly put my heart and soul into being chancellor, and it’s been very fulfilling, very enriching. It was six years of my life that I will never forget.
“There have been a few surprises along the way. For example, I hadn’t appreciated how complex the university is. Yes, it’s got 65,000 students and almost a three billion dollar budget, but even though I’d been associated with UBC for quite a few years, I hadn’t appreciated the degree of complexity. So there was a pretty steep learning curve, initially. Secondly, I did not anticipate a presidential crisis less than one year into my first term [resulting in the resignation of president Arvind Gupta]. But I think the positive out of that, the learning that came out of that, is that the governance at the university today is much stronger than it was six years ago. A third surprise was that I never envisaged I’d be ending my six years in the middle of a pandemic and doing a virtual convocation as opposed to the real thing. But all of these surprises were good learning experiences.
“I think the reputation of UBC is very strong. To see the university go from strength to strength is very gratifying. It’s a tribute to the leadership, to the executive team, to the deans, the faculty, the staff, the students, and the alumni. There are a few areas of progress I’d emphasize in particular, starting with student financial aid and student well-being, which is a subject close to my heart. I came to UBC on a bursary from England — many, many years ago — so I know that student financial aid is really important. The Blue & Gold Campaign for students places a renewed focus on that as well as on student well-being. To be surrounded by youth, particularly for an old guy like me, is very motivating. They represent the future. They’re at the leading edge, so I think you learn from students about the issues that exist today every time you interact with them. Being part of a team that helps advance them is satisfying.
“I’m also happy to see the progress the university has made on Indigenous engagement. It’s a journey, and there’s still a long way to go, but it’s progressed significantly compared to where we were at when I first came into this role. And UBC’s position as a leader in sustainability — both now and, I think, going forward — is also a significant accomplishment. The focus tends to be on climate action, divestment [from fossil fuels] and things like that, but it’s much more. And the pandemic has brought into focus the importance of social sustainability. Lastly I’d acknowledge the continuing growth of the Okanagan campus. Now with 10,000 students, it’s going from strength to strength and is a very important part of the university. One university, two campuses.
“My heartfelt thanks go to everybody that has supported me in this role and I’ve had the privilege of getting to know. It’s been a wonderful and memorable opportunity. Although we look forward to having more time to spend with our children and grandchildren, Liz and I certainly plan on staying involved with UBC and doing whatever we can to help support our alma mater.”
Thank you, Lindsay Gordon, for your exceptional leadership as an ambassador for UBC.