President and CEO of Mercedes-Benz Canada
Interview with Brian Fulton
Brian Fulton has worked in Beijing, Chicago, Detroit, New Jersey and, currently, Toronto. He credits SMU for giving him the confidence and skills to get along easily, no matter where he finds himself living and working. Which is a good thing because, as CEO of Mercedes Benz Canada, and with 57 dealers across the country, traveling for work is very much a part of the job.
But a successful career is really only one part of the much bigger, lifetime impact SMU has had, and continues to have, on his life. We spoke to Brian and learned that hockey and, yes, romance, were two other experiences at SMU that continue to play a part in his life today.
First of all, why did you choose Saint Mary’s University?
I was actually recruited to play hockey. It was a great opportunity - a great fit. I’m from Ontario but I have family in Cape Breton and Newfoundland and had spent many summers in Atlantic Canada. So I was already in love with Nova Scotia when I arrived at SMU.
What was your favourite moment or memory about playing hockey for the SMU varsity team?
There were so many, including playing with some great athletes, some of whom were nominated for the ’84 Olympic team. However, one of my most powerful memories is of the fans. At one of the big Ontario universities, you might have about 300 fans in the arena. When I played for SMU, we would regularly have 3000 fans come out for games in small towns like Charlottetown and Moncton. I was blown away by the tremendous support, the high quality and competitiveness of the athletes.
Do you think that your time playing varsity hockey also helped prepare you for your future career?
Absolutely. My training as a CEO began as much on the ice as it did in the classroom. I had to be a team player – we played as a team and won as a team. And, my love of hockey also motivated me to work hard in the classroom as well.
Discipline. I actually had to work hard for my grades. They didn’t come easily. So I applied the same sort of discipline and commitment to my schooling as I did to hockey. I remember, on the way home from games, while most of the team would sit at the back of the bus and chill, I would sit near the front and study.
It sounds like you were pretty self-disciplined. Did you have a prof or mentor who also helped “push” you towards academic success?
Yes. Someone who had a great influence on my life at SMU was the late Elizabeth Chard who was the university registrar at the time. But she didn’t just push me academically. She was a huge fan of hockey and sports in general, so she also pushed me as a hockey player! She took a special interest in the “kid from Ontario” and would have me stop by her office on Monday mornings before class. I’d try to play down any boisterous behaviour the team might have exhibited during the weekend and she’d pretend not to know but as I left her office, she’d make a subtle comment to show she knew. Nothing got past her. She believed in me as a hockey player and a student. She challenged me and she is a big reason my marks got better every year.
It sounds like she was as much a friend as she was a mentor.
Yes, but she wasn’t the only one. Because SMU was such a tight community, you could form relationships, even friendships, with everyone, including profs. It wasn’t uncommon for my profs to show up at the Gorsebrook pub after a hockey game. There was a real community spirit and sense of family on campus.
Speaking of the Gorsebrook, we understand that pub played a big role in your life at SMU, in another, more “romantic” way.
I met my wife, Tanya, at the Gorsebrook pub. So yes, it is another SMU memory that holds a very special place in my heart.
You were already familiar with Nova Scotia, having visited family here. But living in a city is very different than visiting. How did you enjoy Halifax?
I loved the city. There were so many great things to do. On a Thursday night, five other Nova Scotia universities would converge in Halifax so it was a great place to meet people. Also, it’s not just a myth or stereotype – people in Atlantic Canada are genuinely caring and kind. One of my first memories of the city was walking downtown with my roommate and total strangers saying “hello”.
How did SMU contribute to your comfort when it comes to travelling and even relocating to new cities for your work with Mercedes Benz?
SMU gave me the confidence and skills to get along as easily in Beijing and New Jersey as I do in Toronto. It also taught me how to communicate and present myself. Hockey taught me how to get along and be confident in who I am. My arts degree taught me to be open-minded and adventurous – to look at opportunity with excitement, rather than fear.
What advice would you give to prospective students?
My advice would be that you have to study – to take school seriously and do your best. But yes, you also have to have fun. When I look back on my time at SMU, I think of the fun I had, the friends I made and how I grew as a person. Also, build relationships. Not just with your fellow students, but with profs and faculty. And because Saint Mary’s is a smaller campus, you get amazing access to profs. I would really suggest making those connections and taking advantage of those opportunities.