Early Life and Education
Michael Lee-Chin was born 3 January 1951 in Port Antonio, Jamaica. He is the son of Black and Chinese-Jamaican parents Aston Lee and Hyacinth Gloria Chen. When he was seven, Lee-Chin’s mother married Vincent Chen, who had a son from a previous relationship. The couple had seven more children together: six boys and one girl. Lee-Chin’s mother sold Avon products and worked as a bookkeeper, and his stepfather was a clerk in a local supermarket.
Lee-Chin attended Titchfield High School from 1962 to 1969. In 1965, he got his first job as part of a landscaping crew at Frenchman’s Cove Hotel (now known as Frenchman’s Cove Resort). In 1966, he started a job cleaning the engine room on the Jamaica Queen cruise ship. After Lee-Chin graduated from high school, he worked as a lab technician in a Jamaican bauxite aluminum plant.
In 1970, Lee-Chin travelled to Canada to study civil engineering at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. He received a scholarship from the Jamaican government to complete his studies and work for the government upon graduation. Lee-Chin graduated in 1974 with a bachelor’s degree in civil engineering and returned to Jamaica. He worked briefly for the Jamaican government as a civil engineer on the Mandela Highway. Since he could not find work in his field, Lee-Chin returned to Canada.
In 1977, Lee-Chin became a financial advisor for Investors Group in Hamilton. He worked there for two years and then moved on to become regional manager of Regal Capital Planners. In 1983, Lee-Chin secured a $500,000 loan from the Continental Bank of Canada to buy stocks from Mackenzie Financial Corporation. After four years, the stock appreciated sevenfold. In 1987, he used the profits to acquire a small mutual fund investment firm called Advantage Investment Counsel (AIC) based in Kitchener, Ontario, for $200,000. The company would go on to grow from $800,000 in holdings in 1983 to more than $15 billion in assets under management in 2001.
Since 1987, Lee-Chin has been president and chairman of Portland Holdings, a private investment company. Portland owns a variety of businesses that operate in sectors such as financial services, telecommunications, waste management, tourism, agriculture and media.
DID YOU KNOW?
Michael Lee-Chin modelled his investment strategy on that of billionaire American investor Warren Buffett, CEO of Berkshire Hathaway Inc. Buffett’s buy-and-hold philosophy was heard in AIC’s motto: “Buy, hold and prosper,” and many of Lee-Chin’s companies were also named Berkshire.
Following his acquisition of AIC, Lee-Chin set out to develop the Berkshire group of companies, which is comprised of investment planning, a securities dealership and an insurance services operation. When the company was acquired by Manulife Financial Corporation in 2007, Berkshire’s assets exceeded $12 billion. The company had grown to form a network of about 750 financial advisors in 250 Canadian branches.
In 2002, Portland acquired 75 per cent interest in National Commercial Bank Jamaica Limited (NCB), and Lee-Chin became its executive chairman. Today, NCB is the largest financial institution in Jamaica. In 2005, he co-founded Columbus International Inc. and acquired the Trident Hotel in Jamaica. In October 2006, Lee-Chin resigned as CEO of AIC and was replaced by Jonathan Wellum, AIC’s chief investment officer and fund manager. The company was later acquired by Manulife Financial Corporation.
In 2012, Lee-Chin established a group of wealth management companies under Mandeville Holdings Inc., a subsidiary of Portland. Mandeville includes an investment dealer, a mutual fund and exempt market dealer and life insurance services.
Lee-Chin and his family have made several sizeable donations. In 2001, he donated $5 million to his alma mater, McMaster University. The funds were used to establish the Michael Lee-Chin & Family Institute for Strategic Business Studies (formerly known as the AIC Institute for Strategic Business Studies) at the DeGroote School of Business. In 2003, Lee-Chin grabbed national headlines when he pledged $30 million to the Royal Ontario Museum’s Renaissance ROM Campaign. In 2004, he pledged $10 million to the University of Toronto campaign that helped establish the Michael Lee-Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship (formerly known as the AIC Institute for Corporate Citizenship) at the Rotman School of Management.
In 2007, Lee-Chin donated $1 million to the Toronto General & Western Hospital Foundation to support the creation of the Michael Lee-Chin and Family Short Stay Unit. In honour of his mother, Lee-Chin donated almost $4 million to Northern Caribbean University in 2008 to build The Hyacinth Chen School of Nursing, a world-class facility that can accommodate 800 nursing students. In 2014, Lee-Chin donated $10 million to Joseph Brant Hospital in Burlington, Ontario.
Appointments and Boards
In 2010, Lee-Chin joined the board of directors for The Trust for the Americas, a foundation with the Organization of American States that assists with responsible investment and development in Latin America and the Caribbean (see Foreign Investment). In 2011, he was appointed chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University. He remained in that position until 2016. He also joined the Presidential Advisory Council for Economic Growth and Investment in Haiti in 2011.
In 2016, Lee-Chin was appointed chair of the government of Jamaica’s Economic Growth Council.
Lee-Chin married Vera Lee-Chin, a Ukranian Canadian he met at university, in 1974. The couple have three children: Michael Jr., Paul and Adrian. The pair officially separated in 1997 and are now divorced. Lee-Chin has twin daughters, Elizabeth and Maria, with his current partner, Sonya Hamilton.
Canadian Business magazine named Lee-Chin one of the richest people in Canada. He was ranked number 20 (as of 2017), with a net worth of $3.95 billion. Lee-Chin stands by the mantra that businesses must “not only do well but also do good,” which is how he measures his success.
Honours and Awards
- Entrepreneur of the Year in the Services Category, Ernst & Young (1996)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, McMaster University (2003)
- International Humanitarian Award, American Friends of Jamaica (2004)
- Outstanding Philanthropist of the Year, Association of Fundraising Professionals (2005)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, Northern Caribbean University (2007)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, University of Toronto (2007)
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Canadian Youth Business Foundation (2008)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, Wilfrid Laurier University (2008)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, The University of the West Indies (2008)
- Order of Jamaica (2008)
- Honorary Doctor of Laws, York University (2009)
- Luminary Award, The University of the West Indies (2011)
- Distinguished Alumni Award for the Arts, McMaster University (2011)
- Lifetime Achievement Award, Association of Chinese Canadian Entrepreneurs (2013)
- Queen Elizabeth II Diamond Jubilee Medal (2013)
- A.G. Gaston Lifetime Achievement Award, Black Enterprise (2015)
- Wealth Professional Award for Lifetime Achievement in the Financial Planning Industry, Wealth Professional (2015)