University of Manitoba - University Governance - Israel H. Asper, LL.D., May 27, 1998
Israel H. Asper, LL.D., May 27, 1998

Israel H. Asper

O.C.; BA., LL.B, LL.M.(Man.)

A proud native of Minnedosa, Manitoba, Israel Asper, the third child of Russian Jewish immigrants, grew up hearing and rejecting the words, "If you're so good, why aren't you in Toronto?" Still fiercely loyal to his home town and Province, Mr. Asper ('Izzy to his friends and colleagues) has built one of the most successful broadcasting companies in the industry in terms of profit, programming, and production - CanWest Global Communications Corp. - which is headquartered in Winnipeg. Mr. Asper and Babs, his wife of 42 years, reside in Winnipeg. Their children, Gail, David and Leonard are all senior executives with CanWest Global.

Mr. Asper's path to his many achievements has been varied, to say the least. At various times he has been a lawyer, tax advisor, politician, writer and author, teacher, entrepreneur, and philanthropist. Almost as legendary as his business acumen is his love for jazz and his love of the piano (he claims to have had only one paying gig in his life - at a piano bar in Minneapolis when the pianist didn't show up). An avid admirer of George Gershwin, he also possesses one of the largest collections of Gershwin memorabilia.

Mr. Asper attended The University of Manitoba where he obtained his Bachelor of Arts in 1953, Bachelor of Law in 1957 and Master of Law in 1964. During his university days, he was editor of The Manitoban, a member of the Student Union Executive, a member of the Championship Debating Team, and was Valedictorian of his class. Opting not to enter his father's small business in Minnedosa, Mr. Asper spent several years as a tax and corporate lawyer with the law firm he helped to found, Buchwald Asper Henteleff. For several years he penned a regular column on taxation for The Globe and Mall and in 1970, authored a text on taxation which became a Canadian non-fiction best-seller.

In the early 1970's, during his five-year tenure as Leader of the Liberal Party in Manitoba and MLA, Mr. Asper sensed an enormous deficiency and at the same time, opportunity within the world of Canadian television broadcasting. The power of television was ever-increasing and Mr. Asper believed that to have only two national networks in Canada was a gross injustice to the Canadian TV viewing public. In 1974 he set out to rectify the situation and began to accumulate the building blocks for the CanWest Global System by acquiring stakes in TV operations in Winnipeg, Vancouver, Regina, Saskatoon, Atlantic Canada, Quebec, and Ontario - all start-ups or financial turnarounds.

In 1991, he decided to test whether the CanWest style of management could be exported from Canada. Following a successful initial public offering of CanWest stock in Canada, the company acquired significant interests in TV3 New Zealand and Network Ten Australia. Both operations were in receivership and both have been turned around to become the Cinderella stories of the industry. Today, through the entrepreneurial efforts of Mr. Asper, the market capitalization of CanWest Global is in excess of $4 billion. Notwithstanding these successes abroad, Mr. Asper continues to pursue his dream of a third national television network in Canada.

Although his business interests take him around the globe, his commitment to the Winnipeg community remains as strong as ever. His civic service has included memberships on the Mayor's Advisory Committee on Winnipeg 2000, the Board of Directors of the Associates of the Faculty of Management, the Board of Governors of the Jewish Foundation of Manitoba. Other volunteer activities have included Governor, Hebrew University of Jerusalem, Board Member, Canadian Council of Christians and Jews, Member, The Canada West Foundation, Director, Council for Canadian Unity, and Honorary Patron, Misericordia Hospital Foundation.

Mr. Asper's achievements have been recognized by a wide variety of local, national, and international bodies. His awards include Queen's Council (1975); University of Manitoba Alumni Jubilee Award - Outstanding 25 Year Graduate (1985); Honorary Fellow, Hebrew University of Jerusalem (1985); Honorary Lieutenant-Colonel in the Canadian Militia (1986); Canadian Association of Broadcasters Gold Ribbon Award for Broadcast Excellence (1992); B'nai Brith International Award of Merit (1993); and The University of Manitoba International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award (1997). He was twice elected Manitoba Business Entrepreneur of the Year (1989, 1991); and was inducted into the Order of Canada (1995); into the Canadian Broadcast Hall of Fame (1995); and into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame (1997).

A significant part of Mr. Asper's character is his belief that those who succeed should contribute back to their community through volunteerism, leadership, and financial support. His commitment to his community has led to the creation of The Asper Foundation and the CanWest Global Foundation, two charitable foundations whose mission is to provide leadership and financial support for the improvement of the quality of life in Manitoba. Among the major contributions of the foundations was the establishment of the Asper Centre for Entrepreneurship in the Faculty of Management. Mr. Asper's most recent major undertaking was as Honorary Chair and principal benefactor of the Asper Jewish Community Centre which opened last year. The Centre honours his immigrant parents and the thousands of other immigrants that helped create the culture and heritage that we enjoy today in Winnipeg and in Manitoba, and we honour Mr. Asper today for his many and varied achievements.