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Inspiring future leaders: a charter alumnus’ legacy

Photo credit: SFU Archives IMC-80046_011
Photo credit: SFU Archives IMC-80046_011

Investing in education was not just a good deed; it was a logical choice—an investment in the future.

In the bustling mid-1960s, Brian Martin embarked on an unconventional journey that would shape not only his career but also his lifelong commitment to philanthropy.

After a brief stint in accounting in Calgary’s oil and gas sector, Brian found himself yearning for more. Following a conversation with and gentle nudge from his colleague, Richard F. “Dick” Haskayne, later a legendary Canadian business leader and a mentor who saw potential in Brian's ambitions, he soon enrolled at Simon Fraser University—drawn by the promise of a unique educational experience and an opportunity to chart his own path.

“There was no other university in Canada that I’m aware of that had a semester system,” says Brian when asked what attracted him to SFU.

So, with my background in accounting I was able to waive a bunch of programs and crushed the program within five semesters and graduated with Honours in Economics in May of 1967 as a proud charter student.

As he reminisces about those early days, Brian speaks of SFU with high regard, recalling the construction chaos and the promise of a flourishing academic community. “Simon Fraser had elevated their program to a different level than what we had seen typically in the Canadian university ranks at that time.” Despite the challenges, he found reassurance in the dynamic economics program and the vibrant campus culture. SFU became his launching pad—an introduction to and foundation for a world of possibilities.

His next destination was business school at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), which propelled him into a successful career in consulting and venture capitalism. “Simon Fraser gets a lot of the credit,” he notes, “because by making the break, and getting there to SFU, all those other things would not have happened.”

Amidst the hustle and bustle of his professional life, Brian never forgot his roots. He remained steadfast in his commitment to giving back, inspired by his own experiences as a student struggling with student loans and his empathy for that situation. He has become one of SFU's most loyal supporters whose dedicated philanthropy has spanned more than three decades.

Brian's donor journey began with a simple phone call from one of SFU’s student fundraisers and an invitation to support students in pursuit of their dreams. “You guys keep calling every year and the phone call makes a big difference to me.” What started as a modest contribution turned into a lifelong commitment to empowering the next generation of leaders at SFU. For Brian, investing in education was “not just a good deed; it was a logical choice—an investment in the future.”

Today, as Brian reflects on his legacy, he finds comfort in knowing that his decision to leave a gift in his will to SFU will impact students for years to come. Having celebrated his 83rd birthday, his commitment to giving back and to the transformative power of education remains unwavering. In Brian's eyes, philanthropy isn't just about writing a cheque; it's about making a meaningful difference in the lives of others and ensuring that future leaders have the same opportunities that he did.

This story is part of our summer 2024 edition of Engage, our magazine celebrating the impact of SFU’s donor community.
To read more stories, please visit the Engage landing page.