Rob Steele is a businessman. But for those who know him well it’s clear his true passion lies in the arts. It’s a love that has been ever present in his life, traced back to his childhood and home filled with music.
“My mother is a musician. She was a music teacher for many years, teaching both in school and our house,” says Steele as jazz music from a noon-hour recital at the Dal Arts Centre plays in the background. “We always had people in our house practicing violin, voice or piano.”
It’s that passion that spurred Steele’s recent $2-million donation to Dal’s Performing Arts Campaign, of which he is the campaign chair. His generosity was a major boost to the project that will see the construction of a new addition to the Arts Centre, including state-of-the-art performance, practice and rehearsal spaces as well as new Costume Studies studios. It will also create enhanced opportunities for students and a new cultural venue for Halifax.
While there are many reasons Steele was a natural fit for the role—he’s one of Atlantic Canada’s top executives with a long history of giving back to his community—his love of the arts positioned him well to lead the $38.5 million campaign.
“The arts make a community interesting and vibrant; it adds a lot of texture and colour. If you look at cities around the world, cultural cities are the most attractive,” says Steele, adding that Vienna and Austin are two of his favourite places to visit. “Nurturing the arts program here [at Dalhousie] will attract a lot of people who want to develop their talent and will ultimately enhance the culture and community.”
And building strong communities is a thing Steele knows a thing or two about. He began his entrepreneurial career in the auto-related industry and in 1990 purchased his first auto dealership, building Steele Auto Group into the largest and most diversified auto group in Atlantic Canada, employing 1,500 people. Recently Steele was named EY Entrepreneur of the Year in Atlantic Canada for his leadership and success with both Steele Auto Group and Newfoundland Capital Corporation, one of Canada’s leading radio broadcasters.
But it’s his community contributions that he hopes he’ll be remembered for. “At the end of the day you’re not really known for your business acumen as much as what you did for people and how you made them feel. The truly important thing is how you’ve enhanced people around you—in your life and your community.”