Canadian business icon George Armoyan shares his recipe for success with Dal students: humour, humility, and hard work

- March 28, 2024

Dalhousie alum George Armoyan spoke to first-year Faculty of Management students at an event earlier this week. (Provided photo)
Dalhousie alum George Armoyan spoke to first-year Faculty of Management students at an event earlier this week. (Provided photo)

A large group of first-year Management students trudged enthusiastically through the rain Tuesday (March 26) to hear advice and insights from notable Dalhousie alum George Armoyan (BEng’83). 

For weeks, the students had been collecting thoughts and preparing questions for the respected developer, who is widely considered one of Canada's most successful businesspeople.

The event, entitled The Thorough Interrogation of George Armoyan, was created to inspire students, Management alumni, and the business community alike with an 80-minute question-and-answer session that covered a wide range of topics, including entrepreneurship, overcoming failure, mentorship, family, and the Ottawa Senators — of which Armoyan is part owner. 

Dr. Mike Smit, acting dean of the Faculty of Management, selected questions from more than 1,000 submissions by Management students to frame the conversation.

“Students were so enthusiastic to hear from Armoyan that they submitted 35,000 words of questions about everything from his family values to specific questions about investments,” said Dr. Smit. “Their comments showed deep admiration for his success and appreciation for his support of entrepreneurs in the region.”

The importance of hearing hard truths

Known for his tenacity, humour, and frank honesty, Armoyan didn’t pull any punches when it came to answering the many questions posed during his 'interrogation.' Growing up in Syria in the 1960s and 1970s, the Armoyan family valued hard work, sound decision-making, and family loyalty.

“I came from a humble background,” explained Armoyan. “My parents weren’t highly educated, but they worked hard and taught us that everything we build is ours together. So, I say to you, be humble and unselfish, and always care about each other. I’m not any smarter, brighter, or more articulate than any of you in this room. But I am driven, and that drive came from my family.” 

Both Armoyan's sons, George Jr. and Sam (BComm'16), who sat in the front row for the lecture, have joined the family business. Simé, their mother, has been Armoyan's business partner for decades. In fact, when it comes to business, Armoyan considers his family to be among his closet allies and toughest critics, noting the importance of surrounding yourself with trusted confidants who will tell you the hard truths. 

Armoyan was quick to point out in a humourous tone that his wife “does a very good job of giving me honest feedback . . .all the time.”

Mentorship, education, and engagement

When questioned about the advantages of formal education versus practical experience, Armoyan stated that although his time studying engineering at Dalhousie broadened his perspectives, it was hands-on experience that propelled him into a successful business career. 

As a founding partner of the Dal-hosted Creative Destruction Lab (CDL) Atlantic, Armoyan provided participants with ground-breaking mentorship, sharing his knowledge, entrepreneurial expertise, and guidance with a view to creating the entrepreneurial leaders of this region.

“I really believe that if more young people want to have a great career, they need mentorship and interaction,” explained Armoyan. “That’s why I believe that CDL Atlantic is the best collaboration I’ve ever seen between universities, government, and business. It creates an ecosystem to enable young people to advance their skills. I’ve invested in over 40 new companies through CDL. There’s a lot of smart young people that only need the opportunity to succeed.”

Armoyan advised students to get out from behind the screen to establish community connections and hone their experience to build a career. He encouraged students to foster relationships with colleagues, maintaining that he has built a trusted circle from the many friendships he developed decades ago.

“When you reach a certain level of success, you have deal friends and real friends,” says Armoyan. “Be sure you know the difference between the two.”

Culture and community

Armoyan, who recently became the second-largest shareholder of the Ottawa Senators and first alternate governor on the NHL board, touched on his love of hockey during the question-and-answer session as well. 

He discussed the prestige and ego that can be involved in owning such a franchise, but focused more on the importance of culture and community.

“As a guy from Lower Sackville who grew up in Syria, it’s an honour to be a part of something that’s such a big part of this country’s culture,” he said. “I always had aspirations to be part of a sports franchise, so when the opportunity was presented to me last May, I decided to make that happen.”

Believing that culture and community go hand in hand, Armoyan spent years learning different aspects of Canadian culture — like hockey — while still celebrating his Armenian roots. With businesses across North America and even in places as far as India, Armoyan still holds fast to his family values of hard work and humility, noting that humour will take you far, too. 

“Send me your resume,” said Armoyan. “I encourage you to do it. We give people a lot of opportunities, and we believe in helping people reach their full potential. I encourage you to show me your sense of humour too.”

Dr. Smit said students seemed impressed by the sincerity of Armoyan’s advice. 

“Yes, he is a successful entrepreneur doing business around the world, but also a down-to-earth immigrant to Canada who considers Nova Scotia home. It helped students connect what they learn in class to practice, and it’s something I think they’ll continue to benefit from through the rest of their Dalhousie degree.”

Notable Alumni

Want to learn more about other accomplished Dalhousie alumni like George Armoyan? Explore our new page for Notable Alumni. Meet our initial 70 designates and check back to see new additions as they are added.


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