It’s no secret that the best part of my role at the Business School is meeting our brilliant alumni community in London and around the world. This is even more so when the alumnus is a fellow Canadian and one of our most accomplished graduates. I sat down with Neil MacKenzie (MSc Mechanical Engineering 1967) over lunch in Vancouver where we discussed everything from his time at Imperial to his top tips for success.
Reflecting on his time at Imperial
Neil graduated with an engineering degree from the University of Manitoba in 1966 and came to the then department of Operations Research Management Science at Imperial as an Athlone Fellow in 1966. Athlone Fellowships were awarded by the British Board of Trade between the 1950’s and 1970’s and encouraged Canadian engineers to study and work in Britain before returning to their home country. The fellowships were highly competitive and only 40 per year were awarded across Canada.
Professor Sam Eilon was head of the Department. Neil remembers that his initial impression of London was it was a ‘huge diaspora’ and describes his time in the UK as delightful with lots of country pubbing with his Imperial classmates. Neil also recalled that his first understanding of internationalism came at Imperial when several of his former classmates left to fight in the Six-Day war in Israel.
At Imperial Neil realised how much he had to learn, and this ignited his passion for lifelong knowledge. He went on to take a range of courses from conversational French to general management at Harvard University, industrial marketing at Northwestern University and finance at the University of Toronto. Neil thinks that lifelong learning is easy to talk about, but difficult to truly understand, and that it spans academic, spiritual and intellectual disciplines. He describes education as the gateway to vision.
From corporate world to entrepreneur
Neil initially joined a management consulting firm upon his return to Canada and was fast-tracked to partner in six years. He is now a retired Partner of Ernst and Young (EY) Consulting. His career as a consultant spanned nearly two decades before he also became an entrepreneur. Reflecting on this period, Neil’s advice to students and young graduates is to imagine their CV at the age of 50 and think of it as a balance sheet in terms of real assets such as relationships and opportunities to grow, as opposed to an income statement. Neil also believes having a mentor is critical to success as they provide different non-textbook perspectives, valuable experience and wisdom.
An Imperial education allows alumni to imagine and to reach their potential.
A conversation over a Christmas drink with his brother-in-law some 25 years ago led to Neil’s first significant business – the founding and development of RTDS Technologies Inc. that is now the world standard for real time digital simulation in the electronical power industry. Today Neil is 76 years young and has been an Angel Investor, Founder and Director of several companies including Trans Grid Solutions (HVDC consulting worldwide), Ronin 8 Technologies (urban mining of gold and other metals from electronic waste), and Sonoash (beneficiation of coal ash to produce cementatious materials and reduce environmental liability). The companies share a common theme in that they are all science-based, brand-aligned and represent high-tech and sustainability industries. He regularly travels to their offices around the world to monitor their progress and still occasionally visits Imperial. Neil believes an Imperial education allows alumni to imagine and to reach their potential.
The secret to success
Neil takes a holistic view to achieving success that includes a balanced life with family, societal contributions, job creation and respect for the environment. He stressed the importance of kindness and individual success being part of success for all. Neil also believes that having children bring people to a stronger state of awareness and that it’s critical to think generationally about influence and impact. To achieve this balance, Neil recommends having both a personal vision and a corporate vision, with a global perspective.
Decades later, Neil still uses his Imperial education and even recently delivered an Imperial-inspired lecture at one of his companies. He recognises that his education at Imperial was a privilege and with that comes both responsibility and reciprocity. A responsibility that goes beyond making money and creating jobs. In his own words, "Imperial has done a lot for me, and now I want to do a lot for Imperial".