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By Lisa Pendergast

Mark Dobbin grew up surrounded by business.

During a career spanning three decades, he has played an integral role in stimulating the economic, cultural and social prosperity of Newfoundland and Labrador.

Mr. Dobbin’s leadership began in the aerospace industry with Sealand Helicopters, a company founded by his father, the late Craig Dobbin, which eventually became CHC Helicopters. Mr. Dobbin spent 17 years at CHC, becoming vice-president, and ultimately chair from 2006-08.

Mr. Dobbin’s success continued with Vector Aerospace Corporation and now Killick Capital, along with his involvement on numerous boards along the way. He is also a dedicated volunteer, mentor and philanthropist, with the arts and education in this province being prominent among the many areas that he supports.

Contributor Lisa Pendergast spoke with Mr. Dobbin, Memorial’s 2016 Alumnus of the Year.

LP: How did you discover your interest in business? When did you realize it was what you wanted to do?

MD: My father was a businessman before me and he was involved in a number of different companies. Business was not separated from the rest of our lives, it was really interwoven throughout everything. So, from a very young age, I was very aware of business and participated in discussions around the supper table frequently. And, I guess from about age 10 or 12, I decided that I wanted a career in business.

LP: What do you remember most about being a student at Memorial? Is there a particular moment or experience that stands out?

MD: The camaraderie. I had a very good set of classmates. We were a very tight-knit group as we went through the faculty, which was then the School of Business. Everybody studied hard, partied hard and spent a lot of time together. We helped each other as opposed to trying to compete and it was a great time.

LP: Mentoring local entrepreneurs and growing the provincial business community is clearly a passion of yours. Why is that important to you? Tell me about the mentors that you’ve had in your own career. How did they influence you?

MD: I’ve been very fortunate in my career, being involved with a number of companies that ultimately proved to be successful, both in terms of employment generation and ultimately, value creation. It’s been very rewarding. And I really enjoy learning from the younger companies and the technologies, and the approaches they are applying to business. So it’s been a two-way street, in that I feel I’ve had success and helped others do the same, but have also gained so much knowledge and insight from the expertise of others.

In terms of the mentors in my career, the most important mentor to me has been my father. He was a very successful businessman and I spent a lot of time with him, through my upbringing and entire adult life, up until his death 10 years ago.

LP: You’ve been involved with many different companies in a variety of sectors — but obviously the aerospace industry stands out among them. What excites you the most about aerospace?

MD: Aerospace is an interesting sector for a number of reasons. First of all, it’s global, and it’s very large, but within that, there’s a real community, so over time you get to know most of the key players, like I did with the helicopter industry. Likewise, we have invested heavily over the years in the maintenance, repair and overhaul industry and within that sector, all of the same characteristics that I described are applicable.

Aerospace is also a very dynamic environment for mergers and acquisitions, an ecosystem where people are constantly creating and growing companies and, as they get to a certain size, they tend to merge with others, or get bought out. It’s a long-term cycle and I quite enjoy mergers and acquisitions work, so it’s pretty suitable for that.

LP: You’ve been a dedicated supporter of Memorial in many ways. As deputy chair of Memorial’s Dare To campaign, you helped raise almost $68 million in the largest private sector fundraising campaign in the history of the province. Why do you believe supporting our university is important?

MD: I think the university is very important, almost a centerpiece, of our society and our economy. The world economy is going through some pretty tense transitions right now and the Newfoundland and Labrador economy, the Canadian economy, is going to have to adjust to that. The way we are going to do that is through innovation and a transition to a more knowledge-based sector. That is impossible without Memorial.

LP: What advice would you give to a Memorial student in 2016? What do you think is the greatest advantage of being a student of today?

MD: Follow your passion. Whatever your career is, you’re going to be doing it for a very long time, so find something you like doing. You will be more successful, more rewarded and happier.

I think the greatest advantages are that students are at an age and in a position to adjust to rapid changes. At that stage of your life, you are learning the latest in technology, you are already in a state of transition, so you can adjust to change and the opportunities in many fields. The barriers are much smaller than they used to be.

To start a company now requires significantly less capital and you can reach a global market much more quickly than you could even 10 years ago. Likewise, in other disciplines, the technology, the attitudes of society, they are just so much more progressive, so I think it’s a fabulous time to be a student.

LP: How did it feel to be named Memorial’s Alumnus of the Year for 2016?

MD: I was pleased and humbled. I’ve had so many interactions with many alumni of Memorial University, people who are doing great things, achieving so much in their careers and giving back to society. So, to be selected from that group is quite humbling.

Mr. Dobbin will be honoured during the 35th annual Alumni Tribute Awards on Thursday, Oct. 13, at the Sheraton Hotel Newfoundland in St. John’s. Tickets are on sale now and can be purchased online or through the Office of Alumni Affairs and Development at 709-864-4354, toll free at 1-877-700-4081 or email rsvpalumni@mun.ca.

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