By Neale McDevitt
Marvin Corber has carried a secret with him for some 60 years and on Oct. 29, he decided to tell all during the Convocation in which he was awarded an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from McGill.
“Truth be told, I don’t have an undergraduate degree from McGill,” Corber told the graduating Class of 2014 during his address at Place des Arts.
Corber went on to explain that, following his first year as a Commerce undergraduate at McGill in 1949, Corber landed a summer internship at a local accounting firm. When the job was drawing to an end and Corber was preparing to return to school, he went to the office of the managing partner to thank him for the opportunity.
“’Where did you get the idea that we had hired you as a summer student?’ Corber recalled the managing partner asking. ‘We hired you to work here permanently.’” Seizing the opportunity, Corber continued working while going to school at night. He became a Chartered Accountant but never finished his degree. “I stand before you today to say that, after some 60-odd years, I still remain a McGill undergrad,” said Corber. “And that may be a record breaker.”
After becoming the youngest partner in that accounting firm’s (today called Richter) history in 1958, Corber went on to serve as its managing partner from 1989 to 1996. He is also a dedicated volunteer and fundraiser, who has participated in successful campaigns for educational, health care and community service organizations including the Cummings Jewish Centre for Seniors, the Jewish Rehabilitation Centre, Mount Sinai Hospital, Sun Youth and Centraide.
One of the secrets to success, he told graduating students, is the human touch. “Get out from behind your desk. Put down the social media paraphernalia for a while and find the time to sit in the same room with the people with whom you want to work,” said Corber. “It might take an hour more than planned but it will offer you untold rewards.
“That extra hour will allow you to understand people, to learn from them and touch their hearts.”
To illustrate his point, Corber recounted a story from his days as a Chair of fundraising campaign for a non-profit organization. Despite his work commitments, Corber eschewed the traditional canvassing phone call to meet with a regular donor face to face.
Almost immediately during the meeting, the donor admitted that, because his business had experienced a challenging year, he would have to decrease his regular gift.
“I told him that I fully understood. People have setbacks,” said Corber. “I said ‘Thank you for the support over all these years. It has made a big difference in the lives of so many people.’”
The next morning Corber received a call from the same donor. The man said he hadn’t slept all night and Corber feared the worst. But the news was good. “’You are the first chairman who has ever come to see me. I have always been canvassed over the phone,’” Corber remembered the donor saying. “’I was impressed with what you said, and even more impressed you took time away from your business to come and see me.’”
Rather than further reducing his regular gift, the donor had decided to increase it by 10 per cent.
“It taught me a lesson,” Corber told the Class of 2014. “Spending time with people, connecting with them in a personal way, is often one of the most important things you can do.
“Real face time is not some tool you can buy online or some strategy you can master that will speed communication,” Corber said. “Quite the opposite. Spending time with people is low-tech and outcomes are unpredictable. But these encounters brim with opportunity. When they go well, they are the stuff that opens up unimaginable possibilities.”
To read about and watch the Convocation address given by Robert Winsor during the morning ceremony, go here.
Watch Marvin Corber’s address below.