Saint Mary’s University revealed Wednesday that Halifax businessman Rob Steele, CEO of Steele Auto Investments Ltd., has made a sizable donation to the university and its Sobey School of Business.
Talks with SMU president Robert Summerby-Murray about the gift began about a couple of months ago, Steele said in an interview.
“I really wanted to focus on the business side of the school and give it sort of an entrepreneurial focus, you know, with the hope that some day the program will produce some successful individuals out of that program that could go on to some stellar careers and hopefully give back.”
Steele’s $2-million gift in the Sobey School of Business Master of Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation program will enable it to double the size of the program, create new resources for research in the area of entrepreneurship and provide scholarships and awards to student entrepreneurs, the university stated in a news release.
Over 10 years, three major initiatives will be supported by the gift:
The Steele MTEI Scholarships will support creative and motivated students who have chosen the MTEI program to help them achieve their goal of being an entrepreneur.
The Steele Entrepreneurship Awards will be given to MTEI student entrepreneurs who are in the earliest stages of starting businesses.
The Steele Professorship in Entrepreneurship in the Sobey School of Business will be a new post to provide additional capacity and support to expand and broaden entrepreneurship research at the Sobey school.
The Master of Technology Entrepreneurship and Innovation is described as a comprehensive, cross-sector program that combines the knowledge of a management program with marketing, leadership, finance, accounting, communications, economics and information technology.
Steele said he has a connection to Saint Mary’s, first as a student in the MBA program in the 1980s. But, he says, he never completed the degree.
“I probably should at some point,” he said with a chuckle.
Steele’s father, famed investor and businessman Harry Steele, received an honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the university in 1983. In 2018, Rob Steele was awarded his own honorary Doctor of Commerce degree from Saint Mary’s.
Steele said the connection to the university has extended into business, to some extent. He recruited former Saint Mary’s president Kenneth Ozmon to become chairman of Optipress Inc., which was a spinout of the printing and publishing assets of Steele’s then company, Newfoundland Capital Corp. Ltd., and Cameron Publications Ltd.
“We consolidated it all into Optipress and then did an (initial public offering) on it,” he said.
“Transcon (TC Transcontinental Inc.) ended up buying that company, but Ken Ozmon was the chair of the board.”
Another former Saint Mary’s president, Colin Dodds, headed up the university’s MBA program in the 1980s, and Steele said he considers Dodds a mentor and a friend.
“So my connections to SMU go way back.”
Before Wednesday, Steele indicated he was preparing to make a large donation to a Canadian charity. His company, Steele Auto Investments Ltd., was required to make an announcement about its investment in AutoCanada Inc., a company that owns car dealerships in Canada and a small part of the United States.
According to securities rules, if Steele’s ownership of AutoCanada was to go over 10 per cent of the outstanding common shares, he would have to declare his intention to acquire the company. Therefore, Steele donated AutoCanada shares to Saint Mary’s University to reduce the degree of control he had in AutoCanada from 10.04 per cent to below 10 per cent of outstanding shares.
It was also revealed in that Nov. 3 declaration that the AutoCanada shares being donated were part of a $2-million gift in support of a then-unnamed charity. As a result, Steele donated 17,391 common shares of AutoCanada Inc., representing about 0.06 per cent of common shares outstanding, to Saint Mary’s University.
According to a spokesman for the university, in keeping with university practice for handling gifts of securities, the AutoCanada shares were sold when they were received by Saint Mary’s.
Steele said the inclusion of shares as part of the donation was nothing significant. It is a tax-efficient way to donate to charity, he said, and isn’t a complete writeoff but the person making the donation pays less tax.