For Klein, there’s no contradiction between doing well and doing good in the world
Saul Klein can’t help repeating himself this lunchtime. Just into his second five-year term as dean of UVic’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, he’s talking about myriad international tenures over the past four decades and how they propelled him to his current pivotal role. Whether he calls it social justice, social consciousness or social purpose, Klein is evangelical about instilling that ethos in students and companies.
He comes by his passion for this “different view of a business school” honestly. Soon after Nelson Mandela was elected president of South Africa, Klein spent five years teaching business in Johannesburg (“phenomenally interesting place to be, although it bordered on anarchy”) in the 1990s, following a two-year stint in “authoritarian-controlled” Singapore.
Then there were formative years in his native Rhodesia, now Zimbabwe. “It was such a privileged life but also one that was screwy,” the 59-year-old recalls of the troubled country, which he left at 17 to study economics at Hebrew University of Jerusalem and avoid conscription into its national army. “I took away from it a broader sense of social justice creating a society that has more opportunity, that’s more equal, and that’s why Canada is such a great place to be.”
With its place in this social purpose narrative and its unusual international lens, UVic was a natural fit for him to join as a professor of international business in 2001, the Oak Bay resident explains. (Compared to the national average of 3 per cent, he notes proudly, the business school sends 80 per cent of its undergraduates to study abroad.) He and his American wife, Susie, a speech language pathologist whom he met at a conference in Spain, also wanted to return to North America with their son, Zak, who now studies political science at UVic. Klein has an MBA and a PhD in marketing and international business from the University of Toronto, and during the 1980s he taught business at Boston’s Northeastern University and Wake Forest University in North Carolina.
“We all want our graduates to be financially successful, but that’s not the ultimate measure of success,” he says between bites of tuna salad at Yew Seafood + Bar at the Four Seasons hotel in downtown Vancouver. Short-term profit maximization can lead to “undesirable social consequences” such as greater inequality, which can be a breeding ground for protectionism, he adds.
Klein suggests that B.C. businesses need to guard against such leanings, citing the current U.S. administration and Britain’s decision to leave the European Union. Diversity is the province’s strength, he avers. “B.C. is a trading economy—we’ve been a magnet for migration, which has been a wonderful advantage,” Klein says. “It’s important that we know how to operate in a global world—that we’re selling internationally, dealing with diverse multicultural workforces and a social purpose around that global vision. Business has to be part of the solution.”
For Klein, part of the solution includes serving on the board of the National Consortium for Indigenous Economic Development (Canada), where he says UVic acts as a “neutral zone” to build connections between First Nations, business and government and helps with entrepreneurial training in Haida Gwaii, among other areas of the province. At the university—which made the Financial Times’ top 95 master of management programs in September—he also launched the Gustavson Brand Trust Index. Published annually since 2015, the index canvasses more than 6,500 Canadian consumers on how much they trust nearly 300 companies, highlighting the importance of community engagement and corporate social responsibility. “We’re trying to show that there doesn’t have to be a trade-off, that doing well and doing good are aligned,” Klein says.
THREE THINGS ABOUT… SAUL KLEIN1. Having checked off more than 70 countries (including India five times), he’s on the road every month working with international partners. “I like the experience of trying different things.”
2. His migration lineage is long: his grandfather left Lithuania for several years to train horses for the British Army in southwest Africa during the Boer War, and his father quit the then–Soviet European country for Rhodesia at the beginning of the Second World War. “He had wanted to go to South Africa, but they had quotas on Jewish migration,” Klein says.
3. Klein has long been addicted to the works of Indian authors such as V.S. Naipaul and Arundhati Roy (pictured). “Perhaps there’s an ex-colonial piece to why I’m fascinated–there are similar experiences,” he observes.