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Management alum helps remove barriers so promising students may succeed

A woman wearing a black hat and sweater seated at a table with a laptop

Posted: January 25, 2024

By: Mark Campbell

Robert Richardson (BComm’84) believes education is the great equalizer. “If you can access education, you give yourself more opportunity to succeed, even thrive,” he says.

Richardson knows the value of education first-hand. He grew up the youngest of 11 children, poor and sometimes hungry, but nonetheless secured a scholarship to attend Dalhousie and graduated from the Faculty of Management.

“Even though I had determined that I was going to go to Dal one way or another, getting a scholarship made that decision much easier for me,” he says. “It was a kind of validation.”

Achieving success

Since then, Richardson has found success as an entrepreneur and innovator in fields such as real estate and clean technology. He is a founding director and executive vice president of Killam Apartment REIT, one of Canada’s largest real estate investment firms. He is the president of Freehold Commercial Realty Limited, a Halifax-based property management and commercial brokerage firm. And he is a co-founder of Sustane Technologies, a startup that is transforming trash into green energy.

“Having the ability to control my destiny meant a lot to me and I always wanted to do that,” Richardson says. “So, I worked hard, we saved, and were willing to take risks others didn’t, and that has made the difference.”

Overcoming barriers

But Richardson can recall a time when things weren’t so good. Born into community housing in Halifax’s Mulgrave Park, he lived in the city’s north end until age 10 when his mother died unexpectedly.  Fortunately, his sister and her husband stepped in and provided him and three of his siblings with a new home.  Had it not been for their support, and the encouragement of teachers who saw potential in him, Richardson says his life could have gone a different way.

“My family knew doing without,” he says. “When you glimpse a different reality, that can fuel a jealous bitterness, or better—a realization that you too can improve your situation. My family chose the latter.”

Even as he improved his situation, Richardson says the poverty he experienced as a child stays with him. “Given the opportunity, wouldn’t you want to help feed, house, and educate others that also know about doing without?” he asks.

A man wearing a blue shirt and glasses sits at a table with a notebook open in front of him Robert Richardson (BComm'84)

Searching for promise

Based on his experiences, Richardson decided to help remove barriers for a new generation of promising students. In 2019, he and his wife, Kathleen Richardson (MBA’91), began making annual gifts to Dalhousie to support scholarships and bursaries.

“Essentially, we’re trying to find students who would like to go to school who probably cannot afford it and maybe couldn’t have gone otherwise,” Richardson says. “We’ve heard from students who have really great stories about how much that support means for them.”

Building better communities

Richardson continues to make a difference in other ways to ensure no one goes without. His family supports community organizations such as the YMCA of Greater Halifax and Dartmouth and the IWK Health Centre, among other charities.  He has also given back to Dal, including to the Dal Tigers men’s basketball team and volunteering with the Board of Governors from 2016 to 2022.

“We have a strong affinity for Dalhousie,” he says. “It provided us with a good base to do what we are doing.”

Richardson and his family are interested in doing even more, and not just for Dalhousie. He wants to help improve Halifax’s housing situation through Killam REIT and work with local communities to identify new ways that they can prosper.

“We want to be a positive influence wherever we can,” he says. “We want to do our part to help make society a little kinder, friendlier, and more accepting.”