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Forward Momentum

by Deirdre Kelly

photography by Jeff Kirk

Paul Tsaparis inches along with the support of a crutch, willing himself past the pain of a recent knee injury sustained the week before while playing hockey with the same squad of guys he’s been skating with for the past 20 years. The progress across the floor of his local Starbucks is slow but steady. Quitting isn’t and never has been an option for him. Tsaparis values mobility, and not just the kind that takes him from point A to point B in a given room.

As the newly elected Chair of the Board of Governors at York University, Tsaparis sees education as the engine that can drive people forward in realizing their full potential. It certainly did that for him. “Education is an enabler,” says Tsaparis, 58, a tall and lanky former high-school quarterback who looks a little like television’s Mister Rogers and is just as nice. “There’s no other explanation for the success I’ve had in life. The starting point was education. So, when York talks about opening access to education, I’m right behind it. I am supporting it. I can relate.”

Born and raised in Toronto, Tsaparis is the first in his Greek-Macedonian immigrant family to do graduate and post-graduate studies at the university level. He took his undergraduate degree in science and economics at the University of Toronto Scarborough in 1982, followed by an MBA at York University in 1984. While at York, Tsaparis was recruited by computer giant Hewlett-Packard as a marketing program manager. He ended up staying with the company for close to 30 years, rising progressively through the ranks to become VP of computer organization in 1997 and CEO and president in 1998.

Tsaparis, then 38, oversaw a multibillion-dollar tech company along with all the challenges and opportunities that came with the job, including a successful takeover of Compaq Computer Corp. in 2002. In recognition of his early achievements, in 1998 Tsaparis received Canada’s Top 40 Under 40 Award – a national program honouring Canadians under the age of 40 who have achieved a high level of success in their careers.

A firm believer in giving back, in 1998 Tsaparis joined the boards of the Information Technology Association of Canada and the National Aboriginal Achievement Foundation, today known as Indspire. That same year, he accepted an invitation to become a member of the Schulich School of Business Dean’s Advisory Council and in 2010, the York University Board of Governors. He later intensified his volunteer association with the University when, in 2012, he became Schulich’s executive-in-residence and an adviser and guest lecturer to the Master of Business Analytics program.

Appointed Chair of the Board of Governors in July, Tsaparis is actively looking to attract more alumni like him who like the idea of combining professional success with philanthropic endeavours like leadership-level volunteerism. He hopes to lead by example, encouraging and celebrating alumni philanthropy in support of scholarships, bursaries and study abroad, involving alumni in the lives of students today through teaching, mentoring, providing experiential education opportunities like paid internships, and strengthening the reputation of York through the combined successes of the University’s global alumni network.

I think it’s an important role because it allows me to double down on education. And that’s my passion

“York has incredible alumni, people at the top of their fields,” Tsaparis says, “and my wish is to bring more of them back to the University to share their expertise with the wider community. I want them to join our board, where they can support York’s primary pillars of academic excellence, accessibility, community engagement and impact in a real way dedicated to community service.”

Despite being hobbled by his sport injury, Tsaparis walks the talk. In February of this year, he was appointed Chair of the Council of Chairs of Ontario Universities, a membership organization consisting of Ontario’s 20 publicly assisted universities and one associate member, the Royal Military College of Canada. The role affords him an overview of how the province supports academic excellence and access. “I think it’s an important role,” Tsaparis says, “because it allows me to double down on education. And that’s my passion.”

At York, Tsaparis will direct his energy towards “supporting the efforts of the University in fully realizing its academic mission and elaborating on the University’s strengths to get the York story out.” Much of this will stem from his leadership of the Board of Governors, which is comprised of two members of the York University Senate, two students, two non-academic staff members, and 24 community and business leaders, including two alumni appointees.

The board oversees the government, conduct, management and control of the University and its property. And that property continues to expand, with the Schulich extension, the Farquharson Life Sciences Building construction, the new Second Student Centre and the planned new School of Continuing Studies building.

“York has so many jewels within it and I’m just so honoured to be part of it,” Tsaparis says. “We are a young university and that gives us an edge. We are nimble, flexible, we can move with the times quickly and efficiently. That ability to be innovative? It’s York’s secret sauce.”

How can you give back? Become a York alumni volunteer and share your experience and expertise in advancing the University’s educational excellence and social impact. From mentoring a student to participating in governance, the opportunities for making a difference are varied. For more information, visit Alumni and Friends: Get Involved or contact Alyson Gampel, associate director of alumni engagement, at agampel@yorku.ca.

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