Aldo Bensadoun on Why He Donated $25M to McGill University

Footwear legend Aldo Bensadoun has made a major investment in the future of retail.

The founder and executive chairman of the Montreal-based fashion powerhouse Aldo Group announced today that he is donating $25 million to his alma mater, McGill University in Montreal, for the formation of an interdisciplinary school focused on the retail industry.

The Bensadoun School of Retail Management is expected to open in 2018 and will offer comprehensive academic programming, from the undergraduate to the Ph.D. level. It will also focus heavily on experiential learning, through partnerships with local and global retailers and a teaching-and-research lab that will be located on the corner of Sherbrooke and McTavish streets in Montreal.

University faculty lauded the gift, noting that the retail school will make use of McGill’s existing research into topics such as neuroscience and human behavior, to develop a next-level analysis for retail predictions.

“By leveraging the breadth and depth of research performed across the university, and in close partnership with the industry, the proposed school will reinvent the future of retail management,” said Isabelle Bajeux-Besnainou, dean and professor of finance at McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management.

Here, Mr. B. himself talks with FN about his plan to foster new ideas in retail.

On a personal level, why did you want to make this gift to McGill?
“I went to school at Cornell University and then at McGill, and I very much enjoyed my time at McGill. And while I was there, like any university in the States, you had a lot of people that would make donations that would help strengthen the institution and its studies, in order to make the next generation stronger than your own. So I thought that if one day I had the means to do it, it would be beautiful for me, and it would be a bit of a dream, to [give back to the school]. So we now have the privilege of doing it.”

Aldo Bensadoun LIfetime Achievement Award
The founder flanked by longtime members of his design team.
CREDIT: Richmond Lam

How will this school impact the next generation?
“As you are very aware, retail is in a major transformation phase, and I felt the need to have the right institution, on a worldwide basis, help retailers face the new challenges in the industry. Walmart used to be the champion in retail, but now it’s more about Amazon and Uber and everything that’s on the web. Also, to be successful you need to be very consumer-centric and understand the behavior of the consumer. I felt that with McGill being a very strong institution, we could create an international school where a lot of the best students in the world and the strongest retailers in the world, as well as the strongest teachers in the world, could come together. And the idea would be to not only [focus on] accounting and finance, but also art, psychology, anthropology, architecture and big-data analytics. So all those disciplines that are already taught but in different schools, if we could put them together and form a strong school of retail, it would give us a chance to come up with a solution. And maybe the next Elon Musk will graduate from McGill in 10 years’ time, who knows?”

Will you be involved in developing the program?
“No, McGill will develop the curriculum. But retailers — not only me, but hopefully many retailers from different parts of the world — will be involved in the teaching and the research, and basically in coming up with the best way of finding solutions to understanding the behavior of customers.”

Aldo Westfield World Trade Center NYC
The new Aldo store at Westfield World Trade Center in New York.
CREDIT: Courtesy of brand.

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