Arthur A. DeFehr, LL.D., May 28, 1998

Arthur A. DeFehr

B.Comm.(Man.); B.A.(Goshen Coil., Indiana); M.B.A.(Harv.)

We live in an era when the word "globalization" has assumed great significance. It is appropriate therefore, that we honour Mr. Arthur DeFehr, a Canadian who has a truly global perspective in both his personal and professional life. He is currently the President and CEO of Palliser Furniture, the largest furniture manufacturer in Canada. The company also has a strong presence in the U.S., employing a total of 3,300 people at 8 different locations in the two countries. The firm has a subsidiary in Taiwan, and is establishing two factories in Mexico.

Born in Winnipeg in 1942, Art DeFehr attended the University of Manitoba, where he received his Bachelor of Commerce degree in 1964 and earned the Isbister Scholarship in the process. The next stop was Goshen College (Indiana), where he earned his B.A. (Economics) in 1965. He received his M.B.A. from Harvard University in 1967, graduating in the top 1% of his class, and was named a Baker Scholar in his first year in the program.

Although he had originally planned on a career in the Canadian Foreign Service, his involvement in anti-Vietnam War activities and the civil rights movement- he marched with Martin Luther King - apparently made him a "security risk." So, he returned to Winnipeg and joined Palliser Furniture.

He now travels extensively to Eastern Europe and Southeast Asia as part of his business interests. But he is also strongly committed to charitable and economic development work in other countries, and this commitment has been driven as much by his strong Christian faith as it has by his business interests. From 1972-74, he directed the Mennonite Central Committee's agricultural development and refugee program in Bangladesh. While there, he and his wife adopted their two daughters, Tara and Shanti. In 1976, he was instrumental in founding the Canadian FoodGrains Bank, a church-supported organization which collects grain from farmers for overseas famine relief. He was also involved with the Canada International Development Agency food mission to Ethiopia and Sudan during1984-85. He is currently president of International Development Enterprises Canada, an organization which promotes irrigation projects in Bangladesh, India, Nepal, Vietnam, and Cambodia. In all of these activities, he has been strongly supported by Leona, his wife of 33 years.

Art DeFehr is not reluctant to act on his beliefs, even when doing so puts him at odds with powerful organizations in the countries where he works. In 1980, for example, he organized the "Land Bridge" project in Thailand and Cambodia, which involved transporting seeds and tools. The project saved thousands of lives, but since it ran counter to the political views of some important groups-including the UN and the Red Cross-it received little publicity. And during 1982-83, when he was the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees in Somalia, he found himself at odds with the government over ways to solve the country's problems. Recently a Somali official has acknowledged that a report DeFehr submitted was a blueprint for holding the country together.

Even leisure activities are seen as an opportunity to help others and to become more conversant with the lifestyles of people in different cultures. The DeFehr family spent one Christmas in a UN shelter for street children in Guatemala, and another in a village on the Amazon River after travelling there by dugout canoe.

In addition to his charitable and development work, Art DeFehr is also very involved in educational endeavours. He is the founder and current Chairman of Lithuania Christian College, the first degree-granting, Christian liberal arts college located in the former U.S.S.R. He has been instrumental in the founding of the new Mennonite University which opens this year in Winnipeg, and he served as the Chairman of the Board of the Mennonite Brethren Collegiate Institute from 1988-91.

In spite of the immense amount of time he has given to his business, charitable, and educational interests, he has somehow found time to serve several other organizations as well. He was the president of Furniture West, an industry trade association, from 1975-89. He also chaired the Review Committee of the Manitoba Arts Policy Review in 1991. He is a member of the World Presidents Organization, the World Economic Forum, the Habitat for Humanity, and the Mennonite Economic Development Associates.