'You do good by doing good'

Bill MacKinnon, community leader

Bill MacKinnon:

  • Chief Executive Officer, KPMG Canada
  • Chair, 2008 United Way Toronto Campaign

Director of:

  • Toronto East General Hospital
  • C. D. Howe Institute
  • Toronto Board of Trade


Bill MacKinnon has been the Chief Executive Officer and Senior partner at KPMG Canada since 1999. He believes that "you do good by doing good" and has been involved in community service throughout his professional life. KPMG continues to be among our most generous corporate supporters. They have received United Way of Canada's Thanks a Million award for several years in a row in recognition of combined employee and corporate annual contributions in excess of $ 1 million to United Ways across the country.

The following interview with Bill MacKinnon was printed in our quarterly newsletter, Community Matters: Fall 2008

CM As a longstanding supporter of United Way Toronto, you have served in many senior capacities— Chair, Major Individual Giving Cabinet; Deputy Chair, Campaign Cabinet; and Chair, Youth Challenge Fund Fundraising—culminating in your current role as Chair of the 2008 United Way Campaign. What has been the driving force for such dedicated involvement?

BM I think there are several forces. For starters, I have a tremendous admiration for United Way agencies because of the extraordinary work they do and because of how good they are at it. They are a tremendous group of professionals and volunteers—smart, efficient, good people—who are great providers of the programs and services that our communities need. I also believe in the adage, from those to whom much is given, much is expected. I’ve had an extraordinary life and I’ve been very lucky. I got the two things you really need to succeed: parents who cared and great opportunities. That makes a big difference. Finally, I think that as you mature, you begin to realize not just how lucky you are but how the world is, in certain ways, an unfair place. You realize that you have an obligation as a human being to try to make it more fair. If you care about the community you live in, you also want to make that community a better place. As citizens, we have a great responsibility to each other. It’s a moral issue, a personal issue and a social issue.

"If you care about the community you live in, you also want to make that community a better place. As citizens, we have a great responsibility to each other. It’s a moral issue, a personal issue and a social issue."

CM At KPMG, corporate social responsibility is not a catch phrase; it is a living, breathing commitment. How do you foster such an environment? How do you get new employees to take up the challenge?

BM Actually, I believe that the new generation of people we’re asking to join KPMG is far more worldly than most previous generations. They are much more aware of the world, whether it’s the environment or politics or social issues. I was not on a plane until I was 20 and most of the young people who join us have been on four continents before they start working. Their expectations are higher. They look at companies and want to know what the culture is and how focused the business is on social issues. At our end, we work hard to connect with our people and make sure that they accept both the challenges and the responsibilities of social awareness. As part of our educational efforts, we use the latest technologies, disseminate a variety of publications and host all kinds of event days. We make it clear that social responsibility is very much part of our business mission, that it’s not just about making money. You know, the focus comes from both sides—they demand of us and we demand of them.

CM Can the same approaches and strategies used to solve business issues be applied to social challenges?

BM Whatever problem you approach, whether it is a business or a social challenge, you have to analyze it carefully, identify the issues at hand, take into account whatever you can about your audience and its various needs, and put together a facts-based plan that deals with immediate needs and understands the long term aspects. I was told many years ago by a fellow I used to work for that, in business, if you don’t do well in the short term, there is no long term. What he was really saying was, if you plan everything for the future and forget about today that’s not a good idea, if you plan everything for today and forget about the future, that’s not good either. You need a balance. To build a better city we need to provide supports for individuals that address short-term needs. But we also need to address root causes of those needs. For example, we must ensure that all young people have opportunities for educational attainment, access to recreational activities and meaningful engagement within their community. That’s the way to bring lasting change.

CM What has shaped your views about diversity and have they been influenced by the fact that KPMG is part of a large global network?

BM Being part of KPMG, I’ve had the opportunity to travel to an enormous number of countries, get to know people of all backgrounds and broaden my own education. Those experiences have certainly shaped my views…I believe that diversity is both a business and social imperative and very important to all of us. The fact is that a tremendous number of Canada’s future workforce will not come from the same background as today’s workforce. They will come from different countries, different religions, and different societies. There will be more women, less men. These are facts. From a business viewpoint, we have to find the best ways to integrate people of all backgrounds into the workforce. Working for a firm that values you in all your uniqueness is what I call "the perfect fit" and at KPMG our goal is to create an inclusive work environment that respects and celebrates every member of our team…From a social viewpoint, I believe that everybody has to have a stake in society. You need a huge middle class for society to work and it won’t work when people don’t have a stake in it…when people are not valued…when they don’t have opportunities.

CM Your commitment to volunteerism covers the spectrum—from the Canadian Stage Company and the Salvation Army to The Toronto Hospital Network, Toronto East General Hospital, St. Christopher House and, of course, United Way. With so many professional commitments, how do you make the time?

BM So much has to do with individual choice. From a broader sense, I think that business leaders have an obligation to their community and have to fill that obligation to greater or lesser degrees. What’s incredible is how much you get back. When you go to a United Way agency and listen and learn and see the work they do, it’s extraordinary how good that makes you feel. Your whole purpose in life is not simply to advance your career. There is something else. Do I volunteer a lot? I do a fair bit of it. I am blessed with having good financial resources so I spread those out. But I can’t overemphasize how much you get back—whether you see an excellent piece of theatre, get a chance to meet with the Mayor and talk about social policy or work with a hospital where people survive who might otherwise not. And United Way is a perfect example—the sense of community and contribution and spirit is incredibly powerful. So I give but I know I get back more than I give.

CM Given today’s tough economy, what can we do to meet this year’s Campaign goal?

BM I truly believe that Toronto has a citizenry that is very generous. Torontonians have good hearts, they care about their city, and they care about the people who live here. But it’s true, these are tough times and it’s important that all of us at United Way, all of us on the Campaign Cabinet and everyone involved in workplace campaigns, get the message out. We need to communicate the tremendous challenges we face in communities across the city and we need to talk about how critical it is for United Way to be able to continue to support the delivery of programs and services, even more so in tough times. My experience has been that the more you explain, the better people understand the circumstances, the more generous they become. I believe, and I am very optimistic about this, that as long as we work hard to get the message out, people will respond very positively and dig even deeper than they do in good times.

Bill MacKinnon was the profiled community leader in action in our quarterly newsletter, Community Matters: Fall 2008

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