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Surviving the storm Add to ...

Changing conditions, and opinions that shift like a snow squall, can make it hard to hold a steady course. Some will tell you that is because there was never a clear direction in the first place. One of those voices is Canadian billionaire Michael Lee-Chin.

Lee-Chin insists that even in chaotic times like these, a clear goal backed by a set of simple, but firm, principles will lead to greater, sustained success than constantly charging direction in an effort to dodge the ill-winds.

The Jamaican-born chairman of AIC Mutual Funds and its parent, Portland Holdings, appears to be practising what he preaches. Even as AIC suffers through declining assets, increasing redemptions and staff cuts, Lee-Chin is holding fast to his principle that it is better to focus on a few things you know well. AIC remains firmly committed to financial holdings, which have been its mainstay, even as the sector struggles in the current economy.

At its core Michael Lee-Chin's success comes from servicing needs he knows best - those of his own generation, the baby boomers. He started with financial services and building wealth for retirement. Now he has turned his attention to how boomers will spend their retirement savings. He is investing in health care, Caribbean property and recreation. For Lee-Chin it is all about following the lead of his mentor-of-choice, Warren Buffett: go with what you know, look for value and take a long-term approach.

Michael Lee-Chin is taking on his own mentoring persona, adopting the philosophy of "doing well and doing good." It saw him inject $30-million into the expansion of the Royal Ontario Museum. It has also made his National Commercial Bank of Jamaica a leading corporate citizen in his home country.

Lee-Chin credits his engineering education for giving him the intellectual tools to be analytical and keep problems in context.

It was that original career goal, of being an engineer, which brought Michael Lee-Chin to Canada. He arrived in 1970 to study at McMaster University in Hamilton, Ontario. Six years later, at age 26, he left his post graduate studies and made the career change to financial adviser.

Report on Small Business talked to Michael Lee-Chin at AIC's spacious headquarters in Burlington, Ontario. We asked him about his guiding principles and his framework for success.

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