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Honorary degree citation - Claude Taylor*

By: Jerry Tomberlin, June 2005

Mr. Chancellor, I have the honour to present to you Claude Taylor, visionary business leader, administrator of remarkable achievement and devoted, exemplary volunteer.

When Claude Taylor was growing up in New Brunswick in the 1930s and 1940s, it was a very different world. It was a world of hard work and lifelong employment, whereas today, hard work and mobility is the rule.

Comme de nombreux camarades de sa génération, M. Taylor est entré jeune dans une compagnie qu'il allait être appelé à diriger un jour. En 1949, il décroche un poste d'agent de réservation chez ce qui s'appelait alors Trans-Canada Airlines, TCA, à Moncton au Nouveau-Brunswick. Sa longue expérience de l'entreprise et la connaissance approfondie qu'il y acquerra au fil des ans allaient lui servir.

Il fait des études à l'Université McGill où il obtient en 1953 un diplôme de comptabilité. Vingt-trois ans plus tard, en 1976, loin du comptoir passager de l'aéroport de Moncton, il occupera l'étage présidentiel d'Air Canada en qualité de président et chef de la direction.

Like many young men of his generation, Mr. Taylor joined the company he was later to lead as a young man, giving him a deep and broad understanding of his company that would serve him well. In 1949, he became a reservation agent for what was then Trans-Canada Airlines, in Moncton.

This was even before he attended McGill University, from which he graduated as a Registered Industrial Accountant in 1953. Twenty-three years later, he had worked his way up from that Moncton reservation office to the corner suite, becoming President and Chief Executive Officer in 1976.

Claude Taylor's imagination was never inside the box. He always saw what could be, and moved to make it happen. Just a year after becoming leader of the company, he accepted the chairmanship of a special industry committee which laid the foundations of a restructured International Air Transportation Association (IATA). He had a profound influence on the development of the airline industry as it is today.

He pushed for the 1977 Air Canada Act, which separated the airline from Canadian National Railways and made it a stand-alone Crown corporation. The wording of the act was modest and considered, hammered out over a long night of negotiations between Mr. Taylor and government officials: it directed the airline to "have due regard to sound business principles and, in particular, the contemplation of profit." This quiet beginning signalled a revolution. Air Canada would eventually become a fully private company, with access to investment capital.

By 1984, the government had ended the effective duopoly shared by Air Canada and Canadian Pacific Airlines, and the rest is history. Claude Taylor, who remains Chairman Emeritus of Air Canada, demonstrated that his contribution to society has extended well beyond the world of business.

He offered his considerable skills and acumen generously to the community, chairing campaigns for Centraide and the Canadian Centre for Cultural Renewal. He was Honourary Chair of the Governor General's Canadian Leadership Conference, a task demanding a major investment of time and commitment. And he served as Chair of the board of this University, for which he has earned our profound gratitude.

Others have recognized Claude Taylor: he has received the McGill Management Achievement Award, the C.D. Howe Award and the Canadian Operations Research Society Award, among several others.

As the great Norwegian playwright and poet Henrik Ibsen once said: "A community is like a ship; every one ought to be prepared to take the helm." And so it has been with Claude Taylor's gift of leadership: he has, over and over again, taken his turn at the helm, demonstrating a very Canadian, a very Maritime brand of excellence--served up with modesty.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of the Senate and the Board of Governors, it is my privilege and an honour to present to you Claude Taylor, so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

* deceased

 

 

 

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