Karl Smith is trying to give Memorial University as much as it has given him — and he’s doing a fantastic job.
He’s had a lifelong volunteer relationship with Memorial. Included among numerous examples are Mr. Smith’s contributions as a member of the Faculty of Business Advisory Board for over a decade, as well as his work as a member of the Advisory Board’s Resource Committee. In addition, he was instrumental in the growth of Memorial’s Calgary Affinity Newfoundland and Labrador Dinner. One of the university’s most successful alumni and fundraising events, the event has raised more than $560,000 for the Calgary Affinity Dinner Entrance Scholarship to date, funds that have provided more than 28 students with much-needed financial support.
Mr. Smith is a chartered accountant and has also achieved excellence in his career, working primarily in the utility and financial sectors. He is currently the executive vice-president and chief financial officer of Fortis Inc. and has held executive positions with FortisAlberta Inc. and Newfoundland Power.
Contributor Lisa Pendergast spoke with Mr. Smith, this year’s recipient of the J.D. Eaton Alumni Award, which recognizes outstanding volunteer contributions to Memorial.
LP: Tell me a little about yourself. Where are you from? How did you first decide to come to Memorial as a student?
KS: I was born in Stephenville Crossing, N.L., which I still call home. I also lived in Corner Brook for a number of years until high school. I was fortunate that Grenfell Campus, then known as Sir Wilfred Grenfell College, opened the year I started university. I attended there, which was an amazing experience, and it also made the transition to university easier. I always thought that I would attend university, as I did well in high school and a number of my friends were going to university. Memorial made perfect sense, especially with respect to cost.
LP: Prior to being named executive-vice president and chief financial officer of Fortis Inc., you were working as the president and chief executive officer of FortisAlberta Inc. in Calgary. It’s not very often that people have an opportunity to move back to N.L. from Alberta. Tell me about that. Was it a difficult decision?
KS: Moving to Calgary was a big decision for me, but one that I am very happy to have made. We lived in Calgary for seven years and loved it. After about five years, I started thinking about returning to Newfoundland and Labrador. In hindsight it was inevitable that I would return “home.” Again, fortune shined on me, as big changes were happening at Fortis, which presented me with the perfect opportunity to return. I returned as EVP and CFO of a much larger Fortis at a very exciting time in our history.
LP: How has Memorial influenced you?
KS: Memorial has had a huge impact and influence on my life. I appreciate that more and more with the passage of time. My time at Memorial laid the foundation and prepared me for the opportunities I was presented with later in life. It prepared me for the workplace and was the launch pad for what, I think, has been a good career. During my time at Memorial, I also made a number of lasting friendships that endure to this day. I was fortunate to share the classroom with a number of people that went on to stellar business careers.
LP: The J.D. Eaton Award recognizes exceptional contributions to Memorial University. Why has it been so important to you to volunteer and support Memorial like you have?
KS: I view my time at Memorial as a critical part of whatever success I have achieved. I consider the education and the experience at Memorial as second to none. Memorial instilled a sense of confidence that I carried throughout my life. As such, I have a great affinity for the university and am grateful for my time there. I am acutely aware of the transformational possibilities that Memorial presents to its students. I am also a hugely patriotic Newfoundlander and want to see the university continue to thrive and contribute to our home province.
LP: Tell me about the annual Calgary Affinity dinner. How did you get started with the event? Is there a highlight for you over the years?
KS: I am very proud of my involvement with the Calgary Affinity dinner and what we have accomplished in terms of the scholarship funding. There are a dedicated group of Memorial alumni in Alberta who have been very supportive of the event. All involved are very proud of the money we have raised for scholarships. The highlight for me was the very first event I attended, which took place within a month of me landing in Calgary. The celebrity guests that year were Gen. Rick Hillier and Rick Mercer. You can only imagine the atmosphere in the room. I was never more proud to be a Newfoundlander.
LP: What would you say to young alumni to encourage them to volunteer on behalf of Memorial?
KS: My advice is to think of your relationship with Memorial as a lifelong affair. There are many ways to stay involved, not all of which require a lot of time. Simply stay in contact and look for opportunities to stay connected. Life gets busy and I understand that, but at some point in your career you will be able to get involved. Your education at Memorial will give you a distinct advantage that will help you build a good life. I think as alumni we owe it to the students that follow us to make Memorial the best that it can be.
LP: What do you think will define the Memorial of the future? What’s the key to success for our university?
KS: The key to the future success of our university is the maintenance of its unique culture. I think of Memorial as the little red engine that could. It punches above its weight and hopefully will continue to do so. It will require a committed community of Memorial boosters. We have a unique culture as Newfoundlanders and Labradorians that is evident at Memorial. The university will need to evolve, as we all do, and must continue to think big.
Mr. Smith 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 firstname.lastname@example.org.