Welcome to Association of Indian Institutes of Technology Alumni, Canada

Press Release

10th June, Toronto

Indo-Canadian billionaire Prem Watsa inspires with his story at Pan-IIT conference.

At the glittering Dinner Gala of the Pan IIT 2014 International Conference held at the International Plaza Hotel, Toronto, more than 600 IITians, leaders from industry, Government and Academia from Canada, USA and India were in attendance. As the Keynote Speaker,      Mr Prem Watsa, the Indo-Canadian self-made billionaire who recently made waves with the acquisition of Blackberry and an IITian, shared his life story, his management philosophy and displayed his philanthropic side. It would be an understatement to say that he left a deep impression on everyone and certainly made all Indians and IITians proud.

Earlier in the evening, IIT Alumni Canada bestowed “Distinguished Alumni Awards” on Mr Prem Watsa and 4 other IITians. These included Mr Vasu Chanchlani, founder Sigma Group of companies,  Mr Asim Ghosh, CEO Husky Energy, Mr Anand Aggrawal, property and real estate developer from Ottawa and Radhe Mohan Mathur, Vice-Chair of London Hydro. Present at the elite gathering were Directors and Deans of several IITs who travelled to Toronto for the conference, celebrated Silicon valley entrepreneurs like Arjun Malhotra and Umang Gupta, highly successful investments managers like Mohanish Pabrai, Mr Steve Gupta, President &CEO Easton’s group of hotels, Mr Sabi Marwah, Vice Chairman, Scotiabank, Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell, Markam Mayor Frank Scarpitti and senior members from the industry and academia.

As the Chief Guest for the evening, His Excellency The Right Honourable David Johnston, Governor General of Canada, peppered his  delightful speech on entrepreneurship and the ties between India and Canada with highly entertaining anecdotes. He ended it with one of George Bernard Shaw’s famous lines, an ode to entrepreneurship, “But I dream things that never were; and I say: “Why not?”

Markham Mayor Frank Scarpitti spoke about his city, his visits to India and his many invitations to companies in India to set up shop in multicultural Markham while Brampton Mayor Susan Fennell shared Brampton’s plan to develop two universities, one for regular education and another for research and development.

The Pan IIT conference with the theme  “Innovate, Integrate and Transform – Let’s Co-Create Our Future” had 7 Plenary sessions and 7 breakout sessions over a range of topics like Global challenges in Energy and Environment, Entrepreneurship, Social innovation, Paradigm shifts in Business and Finance, Science & Technology diplomacy and Infrastructure for sustainable future and innovations in Technology.

Mr Prem Watsa CEO of Fairfax Holdings and a self-made billionaire was the keynote speaker for the evening and recounted his awe-inspiring story. Mr Prem Watsa came to Canada with $100 in his pockets in the 70s, more a techie from the Indian Institute of Technology (IIT) Chennai than an investor. In anecdotal fashion, he narrated that after studying in university, he landed a job in the investment world within 18 months of entering Canada, without any related study or work experience in that field, because the other three candidates didn’t show up!

He mastered the subject of finance after many years and in 1985 started his company with the help of a few investors by raising $3 million. Today he is known as Canada’s Oracle of Omaha, Warren Buffet. Fairfax Holdings annual revenue now exceeds $ 6 billion and has more than 8000 employees worldwide. He built his empire on three simple principles - looking after his clients, treating his employees well and making money for his shareholders. He highlighted his key philosophies- Think long term, trust your people, treat your employees fairly and never compromise your integrity. He also highlighted the need to give back to the community and revealed that he donates 1-2% of his profits to philanthropic activities.

He runs his company in a decentralized fashion with many presidents who are encouraged to think and act independently, much like entrepreneurs rather than job holders. He also emphasizes that he will not sell his companies so that they can concentrate on the long term and organization building. His head office only has 25 employees.

He then pointed out an IIT alumni in the crowd, Mr. Mohnish Pabrai a highly successful investment manager in the US who has started a foundation to help the poorest of the poor in India to get into IIT through a program called Dakshana. Bright children from 600 Jawahar Nehru Vidyalayas, the model government schools in every district in India, are selected through a test after 10th Standard. About 250 students most of whom are too poor and backward to afford a decent education are coached for two years. An astounding 70% pass the IIT entrance exam.  He plans to increase the number to 1500! Prem Watsa contributes $1 million every year to the program.

The stimulating evening was made even more memorable with a four-course dinner and international themed entertainment that included dances from Brazil, Middle East and Bollywood and to top it all off Canada’s top Pink Floyd tribute band - Floyd Factor.

Earlier in the day Hon. Admiral Nirmal Verma, The High Commissioner of India to Canada and Hon Jason Kenney, Minister for Employment, Social Development and Multiculturalism addressed the gathering at the opening session of the conference. While Adm. Verma talked about the IIT system and how the IITs have become a global brand amongst employers, academicians, scientists and industrialists, Minister Kenney expressed confidence that India is set to enter a period of rapid economic growth under the new Modi government. Dr. Kevin G. Lynch, Vice Chairman, BMO Financial Group, in his keynote address at the opening of the conference spoke at length about the forces shaping technology, development and finance in the context of the conference theme - Innovate, Integrate and Transform.

Dr Khaliq Zaman, President IIT Alumni Canada thanked all delegates for joining the conference in such large numbers with great enthusiasm. Conference Chair Dr Venkatesh expressed happiness at the excellent feedback on the quality of speakers and level of discourse at the conference.

For more information please contact:

Vijaykumar Nagrare

Director IITAlumni Canada

Cell 647 460 0565


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