Alumni Spotlight: Doug Ross (BA '83)

DOUG ROSS
BA 1983

Why did you choose to study at York?

After producing small scale theatre in the late 1970’s (and losing most of my investments) it became obvious that I needed to fast track my understanding of both dance and theatre and their commercial production. After a look around at options, I decided to invest my undergrad education in York’s theatre program as it promised to balance the business of production management with the academic study of performing arts. Under the guidance of knowledgeable faculty I was guided through a bizarre combination of courses that ranged from introduction to ballet and modern dance to business management, accounting and marketing. In hindsight it was this great combination of courses that set me up for a variety of positions throughout my career balancing critical analysis, strategic leadership skills, change management and the ability to evaluate artistic properties and ideas. In short, York taught me to bring ideas to life and convert strategies into action.

 

You graduated from York in 1983 with a BA in Theatre – how did you end up in London? Can you share a bit about our career path from graduation to present?

Upon graduating, I found that the theatre market in both Toronto and New York was in a significant slump with minimal opportunities for an ambitious and broke young producer. With the support of the University’s then president, H. Ian Macdonald, I was accepted into the British Army and departed for training in the UK. I soon realized that my true vocation was in the commercial world and returned to Canada to complete my MBA and subsequently began a career as a management consultant focused on helping organizations and their leaders through change. Over the years I have been the Chairman of the Faculty of Business and Law at Kingston University in the UK, conferred as Fellow of the Institute of Certified Management Consultants and Fellow of the Strategic Planning Society, and was awarded the Canada 125 medal for volunteer leadership.

I have been the lead transformation consultant on the private equity buy-out of Birds Eye from Unilever, the merger of Iberia, British Airways, and the Mileage Company to form a new global brand called Avios; for over 18 years I have been a change expert to The Coca-Cola Company largely focused on restructuring and post-merger integration. In 1999, along with my family, I moved to Brockham located in Surrey, UK. For the past 17 years I have been the Managing Director of Square Peg International.

Throughout my business career I leveraged the skills that I gained whilst at York in the work that I do. On balance, it is all theatre.

Throughout my business career I leveraged the skills that I gained whilst at York in the work that I do. On balance, it is all theatre.

Do you have any favourite memories or places on campus?

In 1982, along with two partners (Barbara Anderson-Huget and Clive Rasmussen), I founded the York Independent Theatre Productions to produce on-campus commercial musical theatre. We rose funding by selling shares to the colleges and other societies which allowed us to produce the revival of the rock musical Hair in Burton Auditorium. The show sold out, had great critical acclaim, and allowed us to return both the capital and profit to those organisations who invested in us. We engaged almost 100 students, hired professional directors, and successfully managed all commercial aspects of the show.

 

How did you become involved with the London production of Come From Away?

For the past four years I have been looking for Canadian productions that would translate  well to British and European audiences. Come From Away and its ethos immediately rang a bell and over the past two years I have been involved in the production team that has brought the show to London’s West End. In addition to being an investor, I am a co-producer focused on engaging the non-traditional channels and in particular activation of the faith and interfaith communities.

I felt that we could truly connect British audiences with Canada as the show is based on actual events that took place on Sept. 11, 2001 and the days that followed. What really impressed me about the show is that it takes you into the heart of the remarkable true story of 7,000 stranded passengers and the small town in Newfoundland that welcomed them. Cultures and faiths clashed, and nerves ran high, but uneasiness turned into trust, music soared into the night, and gratitude grew into enduring friendships. The uplifting musical challenges its audience to feel good about themselves and showcases how this small community, when tested, rises to the challenge during difficult times.

In April, my wife and I had the opportunity to attend the Olivier Awards at the Royal Albert Hall where Come From Away won four awards, including best new musical. What a night, what a show, what an opportunity for a little guy from York!

 

How do you spend your free time – any passions or hobbies?

An avid Polo player, I am a patron at Knepp Castle Polo Club. To augment my enjoyment of sports I am a keen adventurer and have organised expeditions in the Amazon, South Africa, Northern Canada and Kenya.

My wife and I have one daughter working in Nova Scotia, another working in London and divide our time between Toronto and our home in Surrey, UK where we live with three dogs, highland cows and horses.