Sobey family empire donates $18 million to Saint Mary’s University

Saint Mary's University is seen in this undated file photograph. File/Global News

The Sobey family empire has donated $18 million to Saint Mary’s University – the single largest gift in the school’s history – aiming to boost business education in Atlantic Canada and position the Sobey School of Business among the country’s top commerce faculties.

The donation from the Sobey family, Sobey Foundation and Sobeys Inc. announced Thursday renews a long-standing philanthropic relationship between the Nova Scotia-based grocery giant and the Halifax university, a legacy dating back more than four decades.

Paul Sobey, Saint Mary’s outgoing chancellor and the former head of Empire Co. Ltd. – the Stellarton, N.S.-based parent company of Sobeys Inc. – said the family remains committed to the university.

He said his grandfather, Frank H. Sobey, the supermarket chain’s founder, did not have access to formal university education. But he instilled in his family a belief in the power of education, a value that has stayed with the family through generations, Sobey said.

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“Now’s the right time to renew our relationship and take a real leading role because we have faith and confidence in the leadership of the university,” he said.

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The money – the largest gift in the institution’s 217-year history – will go towards attracting top students to the school’s commerce program, expanding its faculty, and a new building dedicated to entrepreneurship and innovation.

Saint Mary’s President Robert Summerby-Murray called the donation “game changing.”

He said it will help attract “the brightest and best students and faculty” and ensure the university is delivering a top notch business education and entrepreneurial, innovation and leadership skills.

“We are educating for the future,” Summerby-Murray said. “We are looking to ensure that our graduates are creative, that they are all entrepreneurial and that they see a future.”

He added that the record-breaking investment is “a firm affirmation” of the school’s approach to education and will place the university in a leading position nationally.

The university plans to introduce a new Sobey Innovators Scholarship Program, which will support 150 students over 10 years.

It will also expand its business faculty with two new endowed chairs, five professorships and two new post-doctoral fellows.

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The donation will also be used towards capital investments, with a new 43,000-square-foot expansion to the Sobey School of Business building.

The new Sobeys Entrepreneurship and Innovation Hub, named in recognition of the company’s gift, will be dedicated to entrepreneurship and research innovation. The Nova Scotia government also contributed $11 million towards the new building.

Harjeet Bhabra, the dean of the Sobey School of Business, said the donation represents the “next stage” for the business faculty’s “distinctive approach to business education, entrepreneurship and innovation.”

The Sobey School of Business is Atlantic Canada’s largest business school.

In 1975, Frank H. Sobey donated to the university’s development fund, and the powerful family has donated repeatedly since then.

In 1992, the commerce faculty was named after Frank H. Sobey — renamed the Sobey School of Business in 1997 — and in 2015 the David Sobey Centre for Innovation in Retailing was established.

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