David Foster, 2015 Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year

Peter B. Gustavson School of Business, Fine Arts

- Moira Dann

Most university lectures start with an illustrious speaker at a podium, poised to impart knowledge to students. That clich&e#180; was turned upside down by this year's Gustavson School of Business Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year, David Foster, when he recently spoke to Business and Fine Arts students: not only was this class far from a traditional lecture, but the students were engaged and energized right from the start.

After the screening of a video about his career, Foster sat behind a keyboard ("I'll play if you beg me … and even if you don't.") in a lecture theatre.

"So. Business. Let's talk. Questions?" It didn't take long before a brisk, incisive, vibrant interchange got underway.

The world-famous, award-winning (16 Grammys) record producer/songwriter/talent-spotter/musician/philanthropist/ was asked: What is the changing role of a music producer in this era? Foster said the transition brought on by the internet is a big problem because "if the songwriters don't get paid, there won't be songs."

"When a person can have 100 hits on YouTube and get a cheque for $200, it's just wrong." He said that while buying a CD is almost a thing of the past, there has to be a new model hammered out where everyone involved gets paid; he invited students to come up with a solution. "If you figure it out, you'll be a billionaire."

Foster attributed his success to hard work, drive and being savvy about money. "A lot of artists go for the bling, go for the Ferrari, I call it 'One hit, six bodyguards.' And it's not genre-specific. … I've always been able to save money. If I made $25, I knew half of it had to go to the government and out of the other half, I've always been able to save. I've lived at my means, or below." He told students to "be proud of paying taxes" because it's a small price to pay for living in the greatest country in the world.

He agreed with another student who said "comfort kills ambition" as it's another way of expressing what could be Foster's mantra: Good is the enemy of great. He said there's always somebody willing to work Saturday and Sunday when you don't. ("I still think taking the weekend off means not working Saturday night.")

Foster was asked about creative block and he quoted rockabilly great Ronnie Hawkins who advised him: "Retreat and attack from a different direction." He said he's faced with that right now and he's approaching from another direction with a Disney album featuring artists you wouldn't expect. One student noted that "in entrepreneurship [class], we call this a pivot point."

He was also asked how he decides on his next project. "I don't know… My gut? The feeling that: I gotta have this." That's how he felt when he first saw and heard Celine Dion, Michael Buble, Josh Groban and Andrea Bocelli. He also advised the young entrepreneurs to "work on something you think millions of people will want."

Foster said being born and raised in Victoria has been his secret weapon because being a Canadian in the U.S. music industry he had to "work twice as hard to be taken half as seriously."

The lively session was punctuated by laughter and Foster playing music; there was an impromptu performance of "My Girl," with a camera operator singing lead and the audience joining in the chorus. He told students the most important ingredient for success isn't passion, or attitude or determination or doing what you love-it's networking.

"Think about Bill Gates in college, and all his buddies getting together. Two minds are better than one." Here at UVic is where students can start making those connections that can help you meet the very person you need at the right time. He said nothing pleased him more than being in a room full of "youth with intent."

As the hour-long classroom event wrapped up with an extended round of applause, one student uttered this assessment: "That was pretty neat."

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Keywords: award, business

People: David Foster


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