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Wed, 01.03.1951

Michael Lee-Chin, Businessman born

Michael Lee-Chin

*On this date in 1951, we mark the birth of Michael Lee-Chin. He is a Black Chinese businessman and entrepreneur.

Born in Port Antonio, Jamaica, his parents were African, Chinese, and Jamaican, a living example of racial and cultural intersectionality.  When Lee-Chin was aged seven, his mother married Vincent Chen. His mother sold Avon products and worked as a bookkeeper for various local firms, while his stepfather ran a local grocery store. He attended Titchfield High School between 1962 and 1969. While in high school, he worked as part of the landscaping team at the Frenchman's Cove Hotel.

In 1966 he got a summer job working on the Jamaica Queen cruise ship, cleaning the engine room. In 1970 he went to Canada on a scholarship program sponsored by the Jamaican government to study Civil Engineering at McMaster University and graduated in 1974. He financed his first year at university on his own, and after the first summer, he received a scholarship.

Also, in 1974, he married Vera Lee-Chin, a Ukrainian Canadian whom he had met at university. They parted in 1991 and officially separated (though they did not divorce) in 1997. The couple had three children (Michael Jr., Paul, and Adrian). Lee-Chin worked briefly as a road engineer for the Jamaican government. Still unable to find work in his qualified field (allegedly because his Canadian wife did not like living in Jamaica), they returned to Canada.

At first, he worked as a bouncer but later found employment as a financial advisor for Investors Group. Lee-Chin spent two years at the Investors Group in the Hamilton, Ontario office, and in 1979, moved to Regal Capital Planners and became regional manager. While at the company, in 1983, he secured a loan from the Continental Bank of Canada for C$500,000 to purchase a stake in Mackenzie Financial Group and formed Kicks Athletics with Andrew Gayle. By 1987, the investment was worth C$3.5 million.

In the late 1980s, AIC suffered from a collapse in the real estate market it had invested in. It recovered throughout the early 1990s by maintaining investments in large groups, such as Merrill Lynch and TD bank (formerly Toronto Dominion). This caused investments to grow from US$8 million in 1990 to nearly US$8 billion by 1998. In 2003, he made headlines when he pledged to donate $30 million to the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM) of which a third had been paid as of 2015.

He also provided a $10 million gift to the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto. The gift established the Michael Lee-Chin Family Institute for Corporate Citizenship at the Rotman School of Management, University of Toronto. The Lee-Chin Institute aims to help current, and future business leaders integrate corporate citizenship into business strategy and practices. Lee-Chin now lives with Sonya Hamilton, with whom he has fraternal-twin daughters, Elizabeth and Maria, in Burlington, near Hamilton, Ontario.

In September 2014, Lee-Chin and his family donated $10 million to Joseph Brant Hospital Foundation.

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