Sir George Sayers Bain was born in Winnipeg to an Irish mother from a middle class conservative family and a Canadian father from a socialist, Scottish working class background who was a skilled tradesman at the Canadian Pacific Railways and a president of his union local. Professor Bain attended Miles Macdonnel High School, where he served as student president, before going on to the University of Manitoba to complete a BA. (Hons.) in Economics and Political Science and then an M.A. in Economics. In 1962-63, he served as a Lecturer in the Department of Economics at the University and, from 1956 to 1963, was active in the NDP and its predecessor, the CCF, serving as a delegate to the NDP's founding convention in 1961, and then as president of the Manitoba NDP in 1962- 1963. In the latter capacity, he managed the NDPs campaign in both the 1962 provincial and the 1963 federal elections.
In 1963, Professor Bain was awarded a Commonwealth scholarship, and left Canada for Oxford to take a Doctorate of Philosophy in Industrial Relations. From 1966 to 1969, he was a Research Fellow at Nuffield College, Oxford, and in 1969, at only 30 years of age, he was awarded a chaired professorship at the University of Manchester Institute of Science and Technology. A year later, he moved to Warwick University, becoming Deputy Director of its Industrial Relations Research Unit. This was a period of considerable industrial unrest in Britain, and the British Social Science Research Council had designated Warwick as the primary centre for industrial relations research. Thus, Professor Bain came to be at the hub of a vital and exciting field of study.
Professor Bain was appointed as Director of the Industrial Relations Research Unit in 1975, and then as Chairman of the School of Industrial and Business Studies at Warwick in 1983. In 1989, he left Warwick to become the Principal of the London Business School, holding this position until 1997. In 1998, he became President and Vice Chancellor of The Queens University of Belfast, and continues to be in this position.
Professor Bain's accomplishments are legion. As an academic, early work he did on white collar unionism and on labour union growth came to be of seminal importance to the field of industrial relations and is still referenced. As an administrator, he is credited with helping to forge the industrial relations research unit at Warwick into the world leader in its field, with raising the Warwick business school to first tier status in Britain, with moulding the London Business School into one of the two or three top business schools in Europe, and with revitalizing The Queen's University of Belfast so that it is now ranked within the top 20 of Britain's more than 170 institutions.
In addition to his scholarly and administrative accomplishments. Professor Bain has served on a number of government bodies and commissions in both Canada and Britain. Most noteworthy in recent years has been his role as Chairman of the British Low Pay Commission, formed in 1997 to provide recommendations for and subsequently oversee the implementation of Britain's first national minimum wage. Professor Bain was able to achieve consensus among both labour and business representatives on the Commission, issuing recommendations that were enacted almost in their entirety by the British government, with minimal if any negative economic or political consequences.
Professor Bain is known to be proud of his Winnipeg roots, including his education at the University of Manitoba. He continues to describe himself as a democratic socialist, defining this term not in a dogmatic way but rather in accordance with three ideals associated with the French Revolution: equality, especially of opportunity; freedom, including freedom from want as well as freedom to act; and fellowship, or recognition of the importance of community.
In 2001, Professor Bain received a knighthood from her majesty Queen Elizabeth II. In addition to his position at The Queen's University of Belfast, he presently holds a number of appointments on government bodies and corporate boards. Along with his wife, Gwynneth, he returns often to Winnipeg, where his father continues to reside.