Getting lost at Waterloo Engineering worked out pretty well for Chuck Magro (BASc ’93, chemical engineering).

Long before he climbed the corporate ladder to lead Nutrien Ltd. - the largest fertilizer provider in the world with more than 27,000 employees and over $20 billion in annual sales - Magro was an intimidated teenager from rural Ontario just hoping to fit in at his new school.

And on his first day, despite preparing the night before, he got off to a rough start when he couldn’t even find his first class. Fortunately, neither couldChuck Magro fellow freshman Umesh Patel.

The two teens bumped into each other as they wandered the halls, learned they were both in the chemical engineering program, found their way to the right room a little late and forged a bond that would last a lifetime.

                                                                                                                                                               Chuck Magro

“It was serendipity, I guess,” recalls Magro, who added to a career of achievements when he received an honorary Doctor of Engineering (DEng) from the University of Waterloo during convocation ceremonies this month.

“He and I sat beside each other, deer in the headlights, for that first class, got to know each other and then helped each other get through chemical engineering. It was a fantastic relationship and we’re still dear friends today.”

Chuck Magro graduating

Chuck Magro at reunion

Top photo:  Chuck Magro, left, at his 1993 engineering graduation with classmates and good friends Mike Horn, centre, and Umesh Patel.  Bottom photo: The three men celebrated their 25th reunion in 2018. From left: Magro, Patel and Horn.

Teamwork key to problem solving

The importance of working together was one of the key lessons Magro learned as he found his footing in the demanding program and went on, after earning a Master of Business Administration (MBA) degree from the University of Windsor, to a string of increasingly responsible corporate positions in Western Canada.

In addition to connecting with Patel, he joined a tight group of three or four other classmates during his first week at Waterloo and leaned on them for support to help cope with the workload.

“It stuck with me my entire career that if you have a problem, you work it and you work it with your partners,” he says. “You work as a team to solve problems.”

Magro also credits his undergraduate years with imparting the step-by-step approach, determination and perseverance needed to take on tough challenges.

That mindset was so much a part of dinner-table conversation in the Magro household that both of his children are now doing engineering degrees as well.

His daughter, Kendall, is in her third year of chemical engineering at Waterloo, while his son, Connor, is a second-year mechanical engineering student at the University of British Columbia.

“In my family, we do not quit,” Magro says. “If there’s a problem, you don’t just skip it, you don’t go on to the next question, you work it, you talk to people and you try to find the solution. I believe that came from my education at Waterloo.”

Life-altering experience

Equally influential, according to Magro, were the six co-op work terms he completed at companies including Honda, Dow Chemical and Ontario Hydro.

The varied experiences he had during co-op opened his eyes to different industries, work cultures and leadership styles, stoking a passion for business and giving him the confidence to set his sights on executive roles.

“The co-op experience for me was life-altering,” he says. “It was my first exposure to almost everything and it became sort of a mini-MBA.”

With a formal MBA later in hand, Magro had a productive career at NOVA Chemicals before joining farm products distributor Agrium Inc. in 2009.

He rose through the ranks to become president and CEO of Agrium, then led its merger with the Potash Corporation of Saskatchewan to form Nutrien in 2018.

As president and CEO of Nutrien, he guided it through numerous merger and acquisition transactions, expanding globally and restructuring the industry, before stepping down this spring to pursue new opportunities.

'The world needs more engineers'

The son of parents who came to Canada from Malta with just $300 to their names, Magro was encouraged by his electrician father to become an engineer because he saw it as the “top of the food chain” in his field.

As a father himself, Magro gave similar advice to his children after living and experiencing how the profession offers rich, rewarding opportunities to build and help make the world a better place.

“This might be getting a little philosophical, but the world needs more engineers,” he says. “With all the challenges we’re facing – social, technical, economic, geopolitical – we need very smart people of this generation to roll up their sleeves and help solve them.”

*Pictured in banner photo from left to right: Kendall, Chuck and Connor Magro