"The more successful you are, the more you need to give back. Only thing you really have in life is your reputation and what you’ve built. I hope that I leave behind a solid reputation."
JR Shaw is an Alberta and Canadian innovator who has applied his considerable business acumen to helping shape the country’s broadcasting and telecommunications industry while devoting equal care to fostering the quality of life enjoyed by his fellow Canadians, particularly in the areas of education and health care.
James Robert Shaw was born August 14, 1934 and grew up on the family farm in Brigden, a small community in the “clay country” region southeast of Sarnia, Ontario. Jim, his late elder brother Les and elder sisters Bertha and Dolly learned early lessons in the value of hard work by observing their parents, Francis and Lottie Shaw. Jim, or JR as he is known today, also learned crucial lessons in business by watching Francis apply his natural entrepreneurial skill to a series of highly successful ventures. JR describes his father’s strength as “being able to pick good people…and to forecast what was coming or what would be needed next.” It was a strength that would also come to define JR’s own career.
JR grew up immersed in the world of sports, playing hockey on frozen creeks and ponds in the winter and excelling at baseball or cheering on his beloved Boston Red Sox in the summer. He also was devoted to Carol Bulman, who went from being JR’s childhood sweetheart to becoming his wife in 1956, midway through JR’s studies at Michigan State University.
After graduating with a Bachelor of Arts degree in Business Administration in 1958, JR started his career working for his father as the manager of the Shaw Pipe Protection plant in Hamilton. JR worked through various positions with the pipe coating company and eventually found himself making frequent trips to oversee newly established operations in Regina and Edmonton. JR saw enough of Alberta to know that he had found a new home. He appreciated the ethic of hard work that Albertans had in abundance, liked being close to the Rocky Mountains and wanted to be part of the exciting opportunities that were taking shape in Edmonton and across the province in the early 1960’s. JR and Carol moved to Edmonton with their son, Jim, and daughters Heather and Julie. After settling in Edmonton they welcomed the arrival of son Brad.
Although JR may have been drawn to Alberta by the province’s many benefits, he was less than enamored of the TV choices available when he arrived. He was used to living close to the border where he could choose from the wealth of signals originating from major centres such as Detroit and Buffalo. In 1966, JR launched Capital Cable to fill what he rightly predicted would be an up-and-coming need in Alberta for increased channel choices. Although he was forced to wait some time for broadcasting regulations and technology to catch up with his vision, JR held fast. Capital Cable connected its first customer in 1971 and, over the next three decades, the company evolved into Shaw Communications and earned its status as one of Canada’s largest and most successful communication companies. JR humbly credits the transformation to a simple combination of “hard work from good people with a great attitude, combined with the right technology and a little luck.”
The ability to build a successful business wasn’t the only legacy Francis Shaw instilled in JR. Francis established the Shaw Foundation in 1970, with a mission of investing in the quality of life enjoyed by all Canadians. JR became President and Director of the Foundation and oversaw investments in a range of charitable organizations. He also established a strong ethic of corporate citizenship within the Shaw Communications organization. Under JR’s leadership, the company has supported a wide range of causes from learning technology for schools, to keeping children across Canada safe from harm and exploitation, to supporting affordable housing for the working poor.
In addition to encouraging a strong sense of social responsibility among Shaw team members, JR has also been highly successful in encouraging others to support a long list of Alberta fundraising initiatives. This includes his work as a driving force behind successful campaigns for Edmonton’s Stollery Children’s Hospital and Mazankowski Alberta Heart Institute and his personal support for countless other campaigns and community initiatives over the years.
JR has provided valuable guidance and leadership to post-secondary education in Alberta, particularly during his tenure as Chair of the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology (NAIT) Board of Governors. His leadership and dedication as a fundraiser for the school were recognized in 2007 with the unveiling of NAIT’s JR Shaw School of Business.
JR Shaw holds an honourary diploma in Business Administration from NAIT and honourary doctorates from the University of Alberta, the University of Calgary and Graceland University in Iowa. He is an Officer of the Order of Canada and recipient of both the Alberta and Saskatchewan Centennial Medals. Other honours include the National Business Leadership Award from the University of Alberta Faculty of Business, membership in the Junior Achievement Canadian Business Hall of Fame, the Ernst & Young LLP Entrepreneur Lifetime Achievement Award, the Gold Ribbon Award for Broadcast Excellence from the Canadian Association of Broadcasters, the Ted Rogers Sr.-Velma Graham Award for contributions to the Canadian broadcasting system, the Entrepreneur of the Year award from Alberta Opportunity Company and the Milner Fenerty Pinnacle Award.
In the mid-1990’s, JR relocated the company to Calgary and passed the torch as CEO of Shaw Communications to his son, Jim. As Executive Chair of the company’s board of directors he has the pleasure of watching the Shaw tradition of excellence in business and corporate citizenship flourish under the guidance of his four adult children: Jim, Heather, Julie and Brad. In JR Shaw they have an unparalleled role model of how to be both a consummate entrepreneur and a caring, successful community leader.
Executive Director, The Alberta Order of Excellence