Alex Campbell named Distinguished Entrepreneur

Peter B. Gustavson School of Business

- Dianne George

The accolades continue to build for Victoria’s Dr. Alex Campbell Sr., OBC. The University of Victoria’s Faculty of Business and its board of advisers have selected him as its Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year for his achievements in the retail food industry and as an outstanding philanthropist.

The annual award acknowledges an inspirational entrepreneur who has had a significant and positive impact on the global community through his or her business leadership. In 1999 Campbell received the Order of BC and in November 2009 was awarded an honourary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Victoria, the university’s highest form of recognition.

“We’re delighted Alex Campbell has accepted this award,” says Dr. Ali Dastmalchian, dean of business. “He’s renowned for his commitment to service excellence and for putting his customers first. He is an excellent role model for our students and a wonderful benefactor to many worthy organizations.”

Campbell has had a long association with the Faculty of Business. He was one of its first advisory board members, sitting from 1991 for almost eight years.

Campbell is the co-founder, chairman emeritus and former president and CEO of Thrifty Foods. The grocery legend began in 1977 when he and Ernie Skinner opened the first Thrifty Foods store in the Fairfield neighbourhood of Victoria. The enterprise grew to include 20 stores across Vancouver Island, Salt Spring Island and the Lower Mainland. Thrifty Foods employs more than 3,700 staff, making the company the largest private employer on Vancouver Island. The store that began it all is now one of the top grocery stores in Western Canada in sales per square foot. In 2007, Campbell sold the business to Sobeys, a chain of grocery stores with roots in Stellarton, Nova Scotia, and similar values.

From the beginning, Thrifty’s has been famous for its generous community support. Thousands of seniors have benefitted from Sendial, a program where volunteers shop for food and arrange for delivery to housebound seniors. Every year, the company supports literacy through the Times Colonist Book Drive and 400 community groups receive five per cent of cardholders’ grocery purchases through the Smile Card program. Campbell’s leadership of the BC Cancer Foundation’s Advisory Council helps the foundation’s efforts to raise $2 million annually to support cancer research on Vancouver Island.

Campbell’s accomplishments in building Thrifty Foods have earned him many accolades including National Entrepreneur of the Year for Service Excellence, Pacific Retail Entrepreneur of the Year, and the Food Industry Association of Canada’s Knight of the Golden Pencil, among many others.

“Perhaps what most sets Alex Campbell apart from other entrepreneurs was an early commitment to corporate social responsibility,” says Dr. Brock Smith, business professor and champion of the faculty’s entrepreneurship program. “Long before that phrase was coined, Alex Campbell did right by people, his suppliers and his community in recognition that honour, fairness and helping others are hallmarks of a leader and the duty of successful companies.” Smith says that Campbell was an innovator and early adopter of practices such as “fair trade” dealings with suppliers, employee minority share ownership, employee home ownership grants, buying local and developing carbon-neutral strategies.

Campbell is the seventh UVic Business Distinguished Entrepreneur. He will receive the award at a gala, black-tie event on June 1 at the Victoria Conference Centre. He joins an select circle of distinguished entrepreneurs: Sir Terence Matthews, a technology entrepreneur and investor in telecommunication ventures (2009); Clive Beddoe, a founding shareholder and executive chair of WestJet (2008); David Black, founder of Canada’s largest privately owned newspaper publishing company (2007); Gwyn Morgan, who established EnCana Corp. as the country’s largest energy company (2006); Dave Ritchie, chairman of Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers (2005); and Jeff Mallett, former president and chief operating officer of Yahoo (2004).

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Keywords: award, entrepreneurship

People: Alex Campbell


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