UWI confers doctorate on entrepreneur & philanthropist Wes Hall
November 16, 2017
Rescued by his father from the tough streets of Jamaica, Wes Hall didn’t immediately recognize opportunity when he came to Toronto in 1985.
After turning 18 two years later, he gave up the comfort of his dad’s home for the streets of Toronto, choosing to fend for himself rather than conform to the rules laid out by his father.
Very few people then would have given Hall a chance of amounting to something.
Lying on the bed he made in a rooming home and finding it uncomfortable while washing dishes in a restaurant to make some money, Hall got his act together and worked hard to complete high school.
His first job was in a mailroom where everyone wore jeans and T-shirts except him.
“I was always dressed in a suit and tie and they all laughed at me,” he recalled.
Little did his colleagues know that Hall was dressing for success.
Last week, the boy who was raised in his maternal grandmother’s tin shack without electricity and plumbing in Golden Grove, St. Thomas and went on to become an influential Bay St. power broker, was conferred with an honourary doctorate by the University of the West Indies (UWI).
What is even quite remarkable is that he achieved incredible success without a university education.
“You have accomplished something which I never did,” he told the graduates. “Twenty years ago, no one would have thought, let alone this esteemed group, that anyone would want to hear anything that I would have to say.”
The proxy specialist and catalyst for shareholder activism shared his journey and what he has learnt along the way with the graduating students.
“The advantage I had over other kids growing up in Golden Grove was love,” he said. “I had a grandmother who loved me very, very much. She was my role model. We had very little food and even less money. She would wake up at 4 a.m. every morning and do her best to piece a life for all of us. Many days, she didn’t have enough for herself. She would drink some tea, go to bed hungry, get up at 4 a.m. and start her day all over again.”
At age 11, Hall’s mother showed up in his life for the first time and took him to live with her in May Pen. He didn’t know that his father, who was a factory worker in Toronto, was sending child support money back to Jamaica and insisted that his mother care for him.
The unification didn’t go well as his mom and stepfather, who he claims both physically abused him, threw him out of their home when he was 13.
Hall’s father tracked him down three years later and sent for his son.
“My dad possessed some of the same qualities that my grandma had,” he related. “He got up before the sun was up, went to work and always reminded me he didn’t want to get a call from my school saying I was in trouble.”
Finishing high school in 1988, Hall completed a non-certified course in accounting & finance and the law clerk program at Centennial College.
Beginning as a junior mailroom clerk at one of Canada’s top business law firms, he was a relationship manager at CIBC Mellon, a business development and sales manager at Georgeson Canada where he saw the huge potential in advising on proxy wars and the founder of Kingsdale Shareholder Services that offers an array of specialized services, including strategic and defensive advisory, proxy solicitation, governance advisory and proxy analytics, information agent, depositary, communications, voting analytics, shareholder identification, asset reclamation/asset reunification and stakeholder surveys.
The company’s name changed to Kingsdale Advisors at the beginning of the year.
Hall also owns QM Environmental which is a leading environmental and industrial services provider and Titan Supply which manufactures and distributes rigging and wear products serving industries in the oil, construction and transportation sector.
Earlier this year, he collaborated with hotel developer Daniel Buechler to build the Harbor Club four-star hotel in St. Lucia. Located in Rodney Bay next to the marina, the world-class luxury hotel is set to open early next year.
Named after the former Barbados & West Indies fast bowler who his dad adores, Hall reminded the graduates there are no shortcuts in life and no such thing as ‘overnight success’.
“That’s a myth,” he said. “Success is a series of little decisions and little moments that you piece together and you move beyond your comfort zone. You can choose to stay in bed a little longer, you can choose not to read that extra chapter, you can choose to take time off from work and your life will be fine. But you will never achieve greatness.”
He urged them to make decisions that will take them outside their comfort zone.
“Make decisions that let you go to sleep at night feeling like you have done something meaningful that day,” he added. “A string of those days leads to a rewarding life. Now that you have your degree, you can say mission accomplished and settle on the logical course your life should take on or you can say I want to leave my mark on my community, my country and the world. If your name isn’t on a building, it could be. If a medical procedure isn’t named after you yet, it could be. If the world doesn’t remember you yet, it’s up to you.”
Education and health care are two things that the 2016 UWI Toronto Benefit Gala vice-chancellor award recipient and SickKids Foundation board director is very passionate about.
Hall donated $1 million to the SickKids Caribbean Initiative to help build health care capacity in the region and $20,000 to the UWI Toronto benefit gala this year. As a board member of Capitalize for Kids, he has helped to raise over $4 million to support life-changing children’s brain and mental health programs.
He also played a major role in bringing Kenrick Bogle to the Hospital for Sick Children in September for successful life-changing surgery.
The five-year-old boy was hospitalized since birth at the Bustamante Hospital for Children in Jamaica with tracheoesophageal fistula which is an abnormal connection between the trachea and esophagus. He can’t walk, talk or eat on his own because of the condition.
Introducing Hall to convocation, UWI Mona campus public orator Dr. Michael Bucknor said his story reaffirms the truism that one’s beginning do not define one’s destination even as it simultaneously recognizes that journeys of struggle can be sources of success.
“…He migrates equipped primarily with his native intelligence, innovativeness and his desire to work hard and, bolstered by focus, indefatigability and a faith in himself to achieve, becomes a billion dollar superstar in the stratosphere of big business,” said Bucknor. “…Wes Hall is a man motivated, minted and married. He’s an exemplary corporate citizen who is not just fueled by the need to make money, but influenced with the desire to build community.”
Canada’s Minister of Immigration, Refugees & Citizenship Ahmed Hussen congratulated Hall on his honourary degree award.
“I believe that this significant distinction is well deserved in light of your outstanding contributions towards entrepreneurship, innovation and philanthropy,” said Hussen who is also the Member of Parliament for York South-Weston. “…I believe you to be eminently deserving of the title of ‘Doctor’ and it serves as a testament to your generosity, industriousness and leadership abilities.”
Last year, a documentary about Hall’s life premiered at the Toronto Black Film Festival.
Skeptical at first about pursuing the project because he cherishes his privacy, Hall relented after his family – his wife of 15 years and five children – approved the idea.