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If the first, most important lesson he learned in business was to
trust his own advice and instincts, the second, paradoxically, was
to know when to bow to the expertise of those they employed. This
was no walk in the park as Wallace once conceded: "The problem
with entrepreneurs -- as anyone who works for one will verify -- is
that they can get hidebound when questioned about their decisions
or motivations. It's a syndrome that forms the basis of entire course
curricula in countless MBA programs."
Having conquered half the world with McCain Foods by the mid-
1990s, McCain found himself doing it all over again as a principal
investor in, and chairman of, Maple Leaf Foods (though he insisted
repeatedly that he never assumed anything more than an advisory
role to the firm's president and CEO, his son Michael). Later he
would say, "It continues to delight me that the McCain name now
dominates in not one, but two Canadian-based, international food
conglomerates. As the Chairman of Maple Leaf Foods, I have had
the singular pleasure of observing the transformation of that com-
pany since my sons, Michael and Scott, and I became involved with
it some six years ago."
"In the end, I don't believe that one person's experiences provide
much direction for another's progress through business or life. I do
believe that what distinguishes true leadership in any endeavour are
those qualities of mind and spirit that ultimately can't be taught,
but only recognized -- and once recognized, nurtured by those who
have been fortunate enough to discover these in themselves."
It was as good a statement of his own philanthropic purposes as he
ever made. Apart from his abiding devotion to Mount Allison, he
demonstrated an unfailing commitment to educating tomorrow's
leaders by contributing time and money to a number of universi-
ties, but also supported arts and culture through the national Ballet
School (for which he and his wife raised in excess of $50 million). In
due course, he became a Companion of the Order of Canada and an
inductee of the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.
Even so, he never let his success convince him of his infal-
libility. "I remember one time when I was Mount Allison's board
chairman, we were giving an honorary degree to Bishop Desmond
Tutu," Crawford says. "The Bishop was a controversial figure in the
business world at the time, and Wallace wasn't too happy. But, he
spent some time with the Bishop at the Marshlands Inn. He came
away really impressed. And when he learned that the Bishop had to
get to Washington the next afternoon, he made his airplane avail-
able to him."
One of McCain's favorite aphorisms came from Sophocles: "One
must wait until the evening to see how splendid the day has been."
For those who depended on his warmth, wit, and generosity,
Wallace McCain's own days were splendid, indeed.
Alec Bruce is a Moncton, NB-based writer on business, politics, and
current affairs. He won two Golds in the 2010 Atlantic Journalism
Awards for best magazine article and best commentary.
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Wallace and Margaret McCain at the Student Centre Opening
Wallace and Margaret McCain
Wallace relaxing on an Antarctic cruise
Wallace, Margaret, and Scott McCain at the opening of the Wallace McCain Student Centre, 2008