UBC alumnus and entrepreneur Graham Lee, BCom’87, chose to support the Innovation Centre because of his belief in entrepreneurship and innovation as the economic backbone of a community. New ways of looking at traditional businesses and successfully developing new disruptive industries will lay the foundation for our province, benefitting all students and alumni well into the future. Many great innovators, discoveries and ideas have come from UBC, and the Innovation Centre will continue to foster the university’s innovation strategy and support for new venture creation.
Graham developed a business sense and entrepreneurial drive at a young age, selling his Halloween candy at the age of five. After founding several businesses in his teens, Graham created a business plan while working on his UBC degree in the commerce undergraduate entrepreneurship program, which set the stage for RG Properties, a unique start-up real estate development company that he founded in 1989 at the age of 25.
RG Properties, a subsidiary of GSL Holdings, of which Graham is the chief executive officer and sole shareholder, is now Canada’s leading commercial/recreational development and operations company, with over $300 million in developments and more than 4,500 employees. GSL has long-term real estate holdings in properties developed by GSL, including Planet Ice recreational facilitates, multi-use arenas, hotels and shopping centres, residential mixed-use developments, major industrial buildings, construction, the Victoria Royals WHL hockey team, a private airplane charter business, and blueberry farming, as well as operations in food and beverage, concert production, ticketing, ice arena operations, outdoor music festivals, and online fantasy sports (officepools.com is the world’s largest online fantasy hockey site).
Driven by his love of hockey and its impact on Canadian culture, Graham focused on Canada’s need to provide better facilities for all levels of hockey. With its Planet Ice facilities, RG Properties has become the largest privately owned company developing and operating ice rinks in Canada, and in the early 1990s, it was the first to work in partnership with cities to provide much-needed ice time for communities. Since Planet Ice was created, most public-private partnerships (P3) arrangements to provide ice time in Canada have evolved from this financial model, which was created by Graham using financial templates he developed at UBC. In the mid-1990s, RG also pioneered the design, construction and operations of privately developed and financially sustainable spectator area facilities under 10,000 seats. Using creative financial modelling based on his Planet Ice concept, these facilities, which are now common throughout North America and have developed from RG’s model, created a fan experience that was previously only available in the larger markets like Vancouver and Los Angeles. These facilities have provided a higher-level experience for hockey players and fans, so players are more prepared for professional hockey, as well as providing venues for well-known performers and events to reach more of their fan base. RG Properties was nationally recognized for this pioneering work, winning the Canadian Infrastructure Award from the Canadian Council for Public-Private Partnerships as well as Canada’s best facilities under 10,000 seats and Top 10 under 10,000 seats in North America by Pollstar.
Graham’s impressive business acumen has resulted in many awards, including Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year award for Real Estate/Construction, the Globe and Mail’s Top 40 Under 40 in Canada, Equity Magazine’s Top Fifteen leaders of the Next Millennium, and Business in Vancouver’s Top 40 Under 40.
Graham commits his time and financial support to the community and UBC. He has been appointed to the Sauder School of Business Faculty Advisory Board and the UBC President’s Athletics Advisory Council. He is also a governor of the Western Hockey League, has served as a director of the Vancouver Aquarium, the Royal BC Museum and the 2010 Olympic Bid Committee, and works with the Boys and Girls Club of Vancouver providing hockey programs to underprivileged kids. Graham and his wife, Angela (BA 1988) attended UBC together, and they have four children: Michelle (BCom’16), Alexander (BCom’18), Nicole and Ava.