Making giving back part of the job

Business leader David O’Brien bestowed with an Honorary Doctor of Laws Nov. 4


Business leader David O’Brien.

Best known in Calgary for his time as president and chief executive officer of Canadian Pacific Limited, David O’Brien relocated the head offices of CP and Canadian Pacific Railway from Montreal to Calgary in 1996, bringing increased opportunity to the city.


Recognized regularly as a premier business leader in Canada, David O’Brien has been made an honorary alumni of Mount Royal — for the second time.

In 2000, O’Brien received an Honorary Bachelor of Applied Business and Entrepreneurship — International Business from Mount Royal. On Nov. 4 at Mount Royal’s first drive-through outdoor convocation ceremony, O’Brien was bestowed with an Honorary Doctor of Laws.

Receiving that first honour made a lasting impression, as he saw first-hand the deep bond students had formed with their new alma mater.

"Clearly, the University plays an important role," he said. 

In the two decades since, O’Brien has watched MRU flourish as it has expanded to become a vital part of the Calgary community and economy that it serves. 

“MRU has now grown into a much more important institution offering a range of degree and diploma programs. I more frequently meet graduates of MRU in my work as it has risen in prominence. MRU graduates play a significant role in our community,” he said.

Returning to Mount Royal for a slightly cooler, yet unique, outdoor November convocation ceremony, O’Brien said he is grateful for the Honorary Doctor of Laws distinction.

“This recognition matters to me because it validates the contributions I have made in my career,” O’Brien said. In his address, he shared a message to graduates on the importance of giving back to society and making a difference as they proceed through life.

“My message to you is to use your education to not only serve yourself, but to serve others," he said. "That is how to realize your highest potential."

Later in his life, O'Brien began to concentrate more on giving back, which has been very rewarding, he said. One project of which O’Brien is particularly proud is his involvement as chairman of the Centre for Affordable Water and Sanitation Technology (CAWST), a not-for-profit in the international water and sanitation sector. Over the last seven years he has donated in excess of $40 million to enable CAWST to expand to more than 80 countries across the developing world. This work has reached more than 20 million people living in poverty, providing them with cleaner water and sanitation.

Best known in Calgary for his time as president and chief executive officer of Canadian Pacific Limited (CP), O’Brien relocated the head offices of CP and Canadian Pacific Railway from Montreal to Calgary in 1996, bringing increased opportunity to the city. In 2001, he split CP into five public companies, which included Canadian Pacific Railway, PanCanadian and Fairmont Hotels. After the split he negotiated the merger of PanCanadian with Alberta Energy to form Encana Corporation (Ovintiv Inc.).

Following his esteemed professional career, O’Brien was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame, the Alberta Business Hall of Fame and was appointed an Officer of the Order of Canada. Taking on the role of chair of the Board of Directors for Encana (Ovintiv Inc.) from 2002 to 2014, while simultaneously acting as chair of the board at the Royal Bank of Canada from 2004 to 2014, O'Brien has also served on the boards for Fairmont Hotels and Resorts, Inco Limited, TransCanada Pipelines Limited, Molson Inc., and the C.D. Howe Institute. 

O’Brien earned a Bachelor of Arts with a major in economics from Loyola College (now Concordia University) before completing a Bachelor of Civil Law at McGill University. Education and the celebration of academic achievement remains important to him. He provided his sincere congratulations to all graduates on their achievements.

"The education you have received makes all things possible. Make sure you use it wisely," he said.

Nov. 2, 2020

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