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Musician David Foster has earned a UVic business award

When David Foster wins music-industry awards, he often thanks mentors such as Quincy Jones for inspiring him.
david foster
David Fosteralready has multiple Grammy Awards. Now, he has earned a University of Victoria award for his business acumen.

When David Foster wins music-industry awards, he often thanks mentors such as Quincy Jones for inspiring him.

When the Victoria-born Hit Man accepts the 2015 Distinguished Entrepreneur of the Year award May 28 at the Victoria Conference Centre, however, it will be as David Foster, businessman.

Chances are the 16-time Grammy Award-winning songwriter, composer, arranger and producer will thank entrepreneurs such as Haim Saban, Edgar Bronfman, Jr., Jim Pattison and other business leaders who have influenced that side of him, as much as he reminisces about his creative journeys with superstars from Barbra Streisand to Diana Krall.

Foster, 65, will join a sterling roster of recipients when he’s presented with the award from the University of Victoria’s Peter B. Gustavson School of Business.

Past recipients include former Yahoo Inc. president Jeff Mallett, the late Thrifty Foods co-founder Alex Campbell, and Foster’s good friend Dennis Washington, the Montana-based construction and transportation magnate.

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“We set out to recognize inspirational entrepreneurs who have had a significant impact globally,” said award committee chairman Peter Gustavson.

“It is thinking outside the box,” Gustavson admits. “David is an entertainer and a producer, but he really is a businessman equally well-known for his philanthropy.”

He was referring to the David Foster Foundation, Foster’s charitable organization that has assisted families with children who need organ transplants since 1985.

“I guess I’ve managed to take my craft, which is basically being a piano player, and turned it into a business,” says Foster, who booked gigs for his Victoria bands Starbright Combo and the Teen Beats and played at the bygone Century Inn and Strathcona Hotel’s Old Forge in his teens. He then flew off to London with his band The Strangers before moving to Los Angeles in 1971 and launching his career.

“I was always the guy that if I earned a dollar, I saved 50 cents of it,” recalled Foster, the only boy in a family with six sisters.

The Mount Doug secondary school alumnus says he has always strategized to reach the next phase of his career, from rehearsal pianist to studio musician, arranger, music producer and record-industry executive.

It began to soar after he took a big gamble in the mid-1970s — walking away from a lucrative payday as a studio musician playing for superstars such as John Lennon and Diana Ross to try producing.

Aside from some smart real-estate and stock-market investments, Foster’s business success includes stints as vice-president of Atlantic Records, senior vice-president of Warner Music Group and chairman of Universal’s Verve Music Group. He also established his boutique label 143 Records.

Peripheral business successes have included his participation in The Princes of Malibu, the 2005 Fox reality show chronicled his chaotic home life with ex-wife Linda Thompson and stepsons Brody and Brandon Jenner; and Bravo’s The Real Housewives of Beverly Hills with his wife, former Dutch model and interior designer Yolanda Foster, spawning her Hopelessly Romantic business.

Foster’s business acumen has prompted accolades from some Hollywood heavy hitters with creative streaks of their own.

“David Foster combines the creative genius of a great artist, the commercial sense of a strong businessperson, and the generosity of heart of a true philanthropist,” says Edgar Bronfman, Jr., who co-wrote Celine Dion’s hit To Love You More with Foster.

Saban, the media mogul who launched the Mighty Morphin Power Rangers franchise in the U.S., met Foster 30 years ago when Saban was writing songs for children’s television shows.

“When we speak about music, you couldn’t compare David and I at all,” says Saban. “He’s always one step ahead ... this is his strength. He sees things that others would miss.”

Indeed, Foster’s business savvy has helped him avoid pitfalls that have financially derailed artists such as Wesley Snipes, Gary Coleman, Willie Nelson and Leonard Cohen.

“Leonard sure got it back, though, didn’t he? Now he’s playing stadiums,” says Foster.

“One of the big mistakes everybody makes, artists in particular, is they make a dollar and they think they’ve earned a dollar, and that really is a trap.

“The second mistake creative people make is they trust other people with their money, and hope they do the right thing, but that’s never been good enough for me.”

Foster, who drove around for days with his first big royalty cheque — $1 million for The Bodyguard — in the front seat of his Chevy Suburban, signs all his own cheques to this day.

“It’s a pain in the ass because I have quite a few people working for me, but I don’t want somebody stamping my name on a cheque.”

Atom Egoyan, the Oscar-nominated filmmaker who 11 years ago opened Toronto’s cinema lounge Camera Bar with Mongrel Media president Hussain Amarshi, says he admires Foster’s business savvy.

“Our lives deal with fantasy and dreaming, but business is all about being incredibly practical and hard-nosed, so someone who can combine those two is rare,” says the Victoria-raised filmmaker.

“The really smart artists are those who can see the artist is a commodity in and of itself and then use the resources of that to do what a really good entrepreneur can do,” he said. “Someone like David Foster is able to accrue vast wealth in a relatively short period of time. To be able to, in the midst of all that, have the wherewithal to know what to do with it and how to manage it is a very particular skillset.”