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Creating a ripple

Aubrey Dan backs namesake department with second $5-million gift

by Cory Habermehl, MA'05 | June 26, 2018

Aubrey Dan
Aubrey Dan donated $5 million - his second such investment - to support the Dan Department of Management & Organizational Studies.

Aubrey Dan, BACS’85, isn’t most people.

At age five, he began working for 10 cents an hour at his father’s pharmaceuticalcompany and had to negotiate for a raise. He rose through the ranks to become the Director of Sales at 24, and went on to build a Family Investment business with a globally diversified portfolio. He also spent years producing Broadway shows. One of them, Memphis, won a Tony Award.

And now, the 54-year-old Canadian businessman and philanthropist has created a lasting legacy at Western, thanks to a $5-million gift – his second such investment in little more than a decade – that will thrust the DAN Department of Management & Organizational Studies further onto the global stage.

The gift established three endowed research Chairs and two distinguished public lectures.

“It’s like the little pebble you drop into the pond to create a ripple,” Dan said. “That’s really what I am. Just that little pebble, trying to have a positive effect on others.”

His success in life, and ultimately his desire to give, is rooted deeply in one core belief – people are everything.

“If you look at the management and organization of business, relationship management is critical. People are the foundation of the whole thing,” he said. “If you understand how people work, it doesn’t matter what your specialty is, that is the common denominator.”

Dan knew the importance of people and relationships when he began working in sales for his father’s pharmaceutical company, Novopharm, while studying Social Science at Western. He organized his classes so he could work one day a week because he’d inherited a territory where his competitor held a 70 per cent market share.

Some people would have slowly built their clientele. Not Dan.

“I worked like crazy. I learned every pharmacist’s name; I bought them all flowers on Valentine’s Day; I visited each one every 28 days and built personal relationships.”
A year later, he’d reversed the percentages, and held 70 per cent of the market himself.

“I was selling the exact same thing as my competition – same price, same bottle, same everything,” he said. “So, you have to rely on your personality, engage with people and don’t be scared to show yourself.”

Dan first started helping Western students understand his people-centric approach to business in 2006, when he made his first $5-million gift to Western to establish the Aubrey Dan Program in Management and Organizational Studies in the Faculty of Social Science. Massive student enrolment, strong work by faculty and ongoing support from Dan helped turn the program into a full department in 2013.

He and Western are a good fit, for many reasons.

“The people at all levels are open to ideas, and I love that,” he said. “There’s a receptiveness and openness to being progressive here; I’ve always loved thinking about how to stay on the cutting edge.”

Aubrey Dan celebrates his gift with Western students and leaders
Three endowed research Chairs; two endowed distinguished lectures; one amazing department. Aubrey Dan’s gift to Western’s DAN Department of Management & Organizational Studies will help put the department on the world stage.

To help keep Western on the cutting edge, he directed $4.5 million of his latest gift to establish the three endowed research Chairs in Consumer Behaviour, Change and Innovation, and Corporate Governance – the latter of which will be appointed jointly by DAN Management and Western Law, and is intended to lead to the creation of a new module in Management and Legal studies, pending approval. With $1.5 million dedicated to each Chair, and dollar-for-dollar matching funds from Western, the Chairs each have a $3-million endowment for a total of $9 million.

“You need to look at all the opportunities to understand people, understand how they think,” he said of the Chairs. “The more you understand them, the more you can figure out how they make decisions and how you can help them. It’s good for businesses, and for consumers.”

Focusing on change and innovation is also particularly relevant to developing the next generation of business leaders.

“Here’s a whole research component for how to improve change, because change is the only constant in life. Through the social sciences, and through this research, we’re going to give people the tools to be leaders who affect change. I like the faculty because it deals with change every day.”

Dan believes the Chairs have the potential to elevate Western further onto the global stage.

Aubrey Dan interviews on stage at the Toronto Centre for the Arts
Aubrey Dan interviews on stage at the Toronto Centre for the Arts.

“In theatre, and the arts, they have the Tony Awards, the Oscars, the Genie Awards – they’re awards of excellence for that sector,” he said. “This type of work will help propel Western to a higher ranking, where others are eager for our intellectual capital. That, right there, is its own award of excellence we can export around the globe, democratizing education.”

Dan draws many comparisons between theatre and education, which makes sense. A significant portion of his career has been spent in the industry. Starting out as a typical theatre-goer, he gradually delved deeper into the genre, to the point of becoming smitten. If all the world is a stage, Dan felt Canada’s was a little too empty.

“I’d seen all these amazing shows in New York, and started asking myself how we could get more Broadway in Toronto,” he said. “And when I ask a question, I find the answer.”

Wearing his private equity hat, he started a theatre production company and went to New York to identify shows to bring north of the border. He secured his longest-running show, Jersey Boys, in 2008. Over the span of the two years it ran at the Toronto Centre for the Arts theatre, more than 1.2 million people saw the Dan-produced show.

And while he has never graced a theatre stage as an actor – he maintains he can neither sing nor dance – he does address DAN Management students annually, returning each year to personally award 25 academic scholarships, which he also funds.

“It’s a privilege,” he said. “You see families gathering around students who’ve been working hard, doing their best. They’re not my children, but being the starter fuel to help their individual rockets to fly into space, so to speak, to achieve their maximum potential, is very gratifying and rewarding.”

“I tell the students each time I’m there, no matter what business you’re in, be personable and make that human connection. Building a great business all comes down to being a champion of the people.”

For more information, or to support the Faculty of Social Science, please contact Maija Craig, Executive Director, Development, Faculties and Divisions, at 519.661.2111 ext. 88811 or

This article appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Impact Western
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