When Russell Hiscock (BMath ’75) speaks to current students about his time at Waterloo, he tells them about having to wait in line in the Red Room, punch card in hand, to test a small snippet of code. Or about not being able to afford a calculator until his third year and having to do complex calculations, like standard deviation, manually. These stories are so foreign to students’ current realities–where code is debugged instantaneously and calculators abound in every electronic device–that they often elicit wide-eyed disbelief.
Yet, for all that has changed since Hiscock attended Waterloo, some of the lessons being taught remain the same. Hiscock credits his education in evidence-based reasoning–a methodology of problem-solving which remains as important today as it was then–for helping him at every stage of his illustrious career in pension fund management.
It is life-changing lessons like these and a connection to the education of young minds that inspire Hiscock to give back to the University today. Recently, he made a very significant donation to create a Statistics and Actuarial Science Lab in the new Mathematics 4 building.
“A wonderful place to grow up”: Waterloo in the 1970s
Hiscock, who was born in Australia and moved to Montreal during his high school years, had an aptitude for mathematics from a young age. He chose to go to the University of Waterloo, drawn by the reputation of its mathematics education and its innovative co-op program.
The undergraduate experience did not disappoint. He fondly recalls the brilliant professors he studied under, the excitement of his early exposure to computers and coding, and the invaluable co-op terms spent at Bell Canada.
“The undergrad experience is all about growing up,” reflects Hiscock. “And Waterloo was a wonderful place to grow up."
From the Red Room to the boardroom
After graduating, Hiscock pursued further education, obtaining an MA in Economics from Western and an MBA with a major in Finance from the Rotman School in Toronto. Then, in 1988, Hiscock joined the CN Investment Division, the company with which he would spend the rest of his career.
In his early years, Hiscock managed an international equity portfolio, which required him to travel extensively and gave him “real insight into how economies and countries and cultures function around the world.” Afterwards, he was responsible for managing the pension fund's wholly-owned oil and gas subsidiary. Finally, he served as the Investment Division’s President and CEO from 2008 until his retirement in 2018.
Of everything he accomplished at CN Investment Division, Hiscock is most proud of leaving the pension fund fully funded upon his retirement, a rare occurrence in the corporate world. The feat is made even more impressive when considering the challenges he faced during his tenure as CEO, which included the 2008 financial crisis and the near-zero interest rates in the years that followed.
The key to his success was an ability to remain calm and collected even during the height of adversity. "You have to have a cool hand to do these things,” he explains. “If you get panicky during a market downturn, bad decisions are made."
Since retirement, Hiscock has found many ways to give back to the school at which he spent his formative years. He is a member of the University’s Board of Governors, chairing the Audit and Risk Committee and sitting on the Finance and Investment Committee and the Pension Investment Committee. He has also made generous donations, including most recently to the Russell Hiscock Statistics and Actuarial Science Lab, which will be housed in the new Mathematics 4 building.
The lab will be used to advance research within the Department of Statistics and Actuarial Science. It will also create unique learning opportunities for students and thus will serve as a training hub for the next generation of leaders in statistics, biostatistics, actuarial science and quantitative finance. Part of Hiscock’s gift will establish a graduate scholarship in statistics and actuarial science.
Mathematics 4 will be a state-of-the-art 4-storey building situated in the heart of the "Math district" on campus and connecting directly to Mathematics and Computing (MC), Mathematics 3 (M3), and the W.G. Davis Computer Research Centre (DC). The building will accelerate research, education, and entrepreneurship in the Faculty and make Waterloo a top destination for the brightest mathematical minds worldwide.
Dean of the Faculty of Mathematics Mark Giesbrecht believes this gift will have a lasting impact on research and education in the Faculty. “The new lab in M4 will help statistics and actuarial science researchers to advance the discipline while solving pressing global challenges,” says Giesbrecht. “We are deeply grateful to Russell Hiscock for supporting this important project, which will bring innumerable benefits to the entire Faculty of Mathematics community.”
Hiscock sees both the Lab and the Math 4 building as important steps in the development of the Faculty. “As somebody who went to the Faculty of Mathematics when there was only one math building, I believe a new building is a big leap forward,” says Hiscock. “The Statistics and Actuarial Science Lab will provide a better learning environment and better support for graduate students in those disciplines.”
Serving on the Board of Governors has given Hiscock a new perspective on the University and he is deeply impressed with what he sees. “When I went to the University of Waterloo as a student, I felt that it was a really excellent institution,” says Hiscock. “Now, going back and looking at the University from the governance side of things, I can see that it is orders of magnitude better than it was.”
Now, with this gift, Hiscock is helping ensure the institution continues to improve: “It’s important to me to be part of the University’s evolution to the next level.”