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Going global

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

Keith Gibbons believes international exposure provides invaluable experience in business, and in life. He's donated $100,000 to establish the Keith and Cathy Gibbons Global Opportunity Award.

The yelling woke Keith Gibbons, BA’76, and his friends.

It was an early morning in 1973. Having set off from Western’s campus the day before, he and five pals were in Florida for the last weekend of Spring Break. With no hotel room booked upon arrival, they tried to spend their first night sleeping on the beach.

“Sure enough, the police saw us and we were told to move along around midnight,” said Gibbons. “But we happened upon this couple in their 50s or 60s who had just left a bar.”

They struck up a conversation, and the couple offered their living room floor to the students for the night. All was well until the next morning.

“The woman woke up, and it seems she’d had more to drink than we thought because she didn’t remember a thing,” said Gibbons with a smile. “She just starting screaming, ‘Get out! Get out!’ So we grabbed our stuff and ran.”

It was Gibbons’ first trip outside of Canada.

Since that time, he has traveled extensively around the globe in a career involving senior level roles at London Life and spice giant McCormick Canada, where he served as CEO until his retirement in 2016. Despite decades of travel, that first trip stands out.

“We’re still talking about it 40 some years later,” he laughed. “It was fun.”

Gibbons believes there are many unique lessons to be learned from international travel. And so, eager to ensure today’s students can experience those lessons, he has donated $100,000 to Western to establish the Keith and Cathy Gibbons Global Opportunity Award.

Global Opportunity Awards are $1,000 or $2,000 scholarships for international learning provided through philanthropic donations that are matched dollar-for-dollar by Western. The scholarships enable more students to participate in exchanges, study-abroad programs, international field courses, summer programs, international community engaged learning, field research and more.

“There are so many tremendous benefits to international travel,” said Gibbons. “It helps you become more adaptable – you experience different cultures, ethnicities, different ways of doing business, of communicating with people – you have no choice but to adjust your way of thinking. I wanted to help create opportunities for individuals to be exposed to things that are totally different from what they grew up with.”

Raised in the northern Ontario town of South Porcupine, Gibbons didn’t have many opportunities to travel far from home.

He came to Western with aspirations of a career in law, but soon realized numbers were more to his liking. After graduating with a BA in Math, he obtained a CA designation and began his career.

While an early role at Clarkson Gordon (now Ernst & Young) provided some opportunity to travel, it was his time at London Life and later at McCormick as CFO and then CEO of Canadian Operations where his globetrotting really got going.

“I had responsibility for our operations in Asia, as well as here at home, so I spent a lot of time travelling, particularly to cities in China” he said. “One year I spent 60 per cent of my time overseas – I took a trip every other month.”

Gibbons spent much of his career traveling the globe, including a great deal of time in China.

The lessons and resultant benefits were almost immediate.

“You’re immersed in a different place with different people, so you learn to be flexible very quickly. I became much more receptive to different opinions and to this day believe I’m a better listener. I appreciate more perspectives and am far more adaptable in my approach to working with people and solving a problem.”

One of his passions, said Gibbons, has always been looking at different philosophies and approaches to business. Travelling to new cultures offered him ample opportunity to indulge that interest.

“I remember in Taipei Taiwan with one of our partners, on the street he was always a couple steps in front of me. One day, he asked if I ever wonder why he was going faster than me? He said, ‘Because I want to get to the next corner first. Right around that corner is another opportunity, and I want to be there before you.’”

The comment stuck with Gibbons.

“That was probably 1995 and I never forgot the conversation,” he said. “I applied it wherever I could – new product development and speed to market, new or different distribution opportunities for McCormick – everywhere.”

The rate of change in certain cities and countries was also particularly enjoyable.

“It happens almost right in front of your eyes – you take one trip to a big city, and six months later you’ll see buildings that were never there before, or highways, or high-speed trains – the pace of change is so rapid; it’s really exciting to see.”

Gibbons’ gift of $100,000 is an endowed donation, meaning combined with matching funds from Western, it will provide four $2,000 awards each year to students from any area across campus, for as long as the Global Opportunity Awards program exists.

He hopes to see the students benefit personally, but also make a difference in whatever country they choose to visit. As a believer in social responsibility, he is hopeful many will use the award to work on relief or community-oriented projects that give back to a community or region.

In addition to benefiting individual students, Gibbons – who is also a member of Western’s Board of Governors – knows the value an international perspective brings to the university as a whole.

The first objective of Western’s current International Action Plan is to increase the participation of Western Students in international experiences from 3 to 10 per cent.

“I understand Western’s strategic direction when it comes to international growth and internationalization, and I truly believe it is the right way to go. I felt providing some assistance to that goal would be one way of me helping to contribute to its success,” said Gibbons.

His strong affinity for Western stretches back to the days of that much-talked-about trip to Florida as an undergrad. In fact, he credits the school for much of his success, which was a key factor in his decision to support the university financially.

In the future, he hopes to see more endowments like his aimed at providing students international opportunities, and hopes his gift is the beginning of many wonderful global experiences for students.

“Forty years from now there’ll be a lot of individuals out there who benefited from this, and who gained that broader point of view. When these people are done postsecondary schooling, whenever that may be – one, two or even three degrees later – having an international perspective will only benefit them, no matter what they’re pursuing,” he said.

“And none of them will have had to sleep on someone’s floor.”

For more information, or to make a donation to support or establish a Global Opportunities Award, contact Sheri Cole, Director, Leadership Giving 519.661.2111 ext. 88856 or or visit

This article appeared in the Summer 2018 edition of Impact Western
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