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Global perspective

by Keri Ferguson | October 13, 2017

Andrew S. Nevin came to Western keen to complete his honours degree in three years instead of four. He did it – earning a 91 per cent average in his final year. The day he graduated, he was awarded the Gold Medal in Computer Science.

He was 17 years old.

Today, one of Western’s youngest-ever graduates is helping Canada find its economic place in the world by combining his education, expertise and passion to understand.

Growing up in modest circumstances in London, Nevin, BSc’80 (Computer Science), MA’81 (Economics), enrolled as perhaps the university’s youngest-ever student at 13, after racing through elementary and high school.

“When I was at South (Secondary School) and before I became full-time at Western, I did one course – Computer Science 20. The next year, I came and continued on in Computer Science and Mathematics.”

He had no trouble fitting in on campus. He had reached his full height by the time he was 14 and played soccer for the London FC U23. But, it wasn’t all smooth sailing.

“In 1978-79, my parents moved away for a year. I was 15 and living with my older brother. I partied a bit too much and didn’t get very good grades. The Associate Dean called me in and said, ‘Andrew, this isn’t good enough. You have to do better.’ It had a big impact on me. The next year, my parents moved back and I did seven courses instead of five. I never went out once. It was a great lesson for me. I was always very focused after that.”

Focused enough to set up his own summer internship in Copenhagen, he helped design software for the Danish Space Research Institute, before returning to Western to earn his Master’s Degree in Economics. At 18, he moved to Harvard to pursue a doctorate in economics, stepping away for two years to attend Oxford as a Rhodes Scholar from Western.

“I grew up with my father telling me that the greatest thing that could happen would be to become a Rhodes Scholar.”

During his time at Western, he was too young to apply for the elite scholarship. He turned 20 at Harvard, but like all U.S. schools, they only allow senior students to apply. So, he returned home and Western nominated him.

“It was an incredibly important event for Western to say, ‘You have two degrees from here and we’re happy to support you.’ It all began here. Western gave me everything, equipping me to go out and do all sorts of things.”

Nevin was the youngest student in his class at Oxford, too, where he earned his Master’s Degree in Philosophy and Politics. He played for the Balliol College 1st Club football team and the Oxford University Ice Hockey Club, scoring two goals in the 5-1 win over Cambridge in the 100th anniversary game of the world’s oldest ice hockey competition. He travelled extensively throughout Europe and Asia during his final year – a sign of the adventures ahead.

“At the end of my PhD, I said, ‘I’ve studied all this and I could become a professor, but I don’t know very much about the world, so let me go and have a look.’ I thought I would just go for a few years; it’s been more like 30.”

His career path since included consulting for McKinsey & Company of Toronto and Paris; working as an equity investor for TD Waterhouse in Hong Kong and Beijing; and running businesses in Tokyo, Shanghai and Sydney. As President of United Family Hospitals in China, Nevin was part of the team that led hospital and expat community through the SARS crisis of 2003. He also comfortably cites “failed entrepreneur” as part of his resume, referencing his e-learning start-up, LanguageCalls, his last venture before leaving Hong Kong.

“For 20 years, I never used my Economics degree. And then, I came to London (U.K.) and joined PricewaterhouseCoopers (PwC) on Sept. 15, 2008, the day that Lehman Brothers went bankrupt. I was completely new to the U.K. since Oxford. I had no clients. But I had a PhD in Economics, so it cascaded down to me to say what was going on.

“That’s when I discovered that while I had been away doing other things for 20 years, economics had led us to this point of this great financial crisis.”

As he deconstructed the crash, spearheading PricewaterhouseCoopers’ perspective on global megatrends professionally, he also began recording his personal thoughts on the failing global economy. To this day, he shares his takes – self-dubbed ‘Nevinomics’ – on his website, nevinomicscanada.ca, where he explores fundamental issues in economics and society to understand where Canada fits within the world economy.

Nevin currently lives in West Africa, residing in Lagos, where he is a Partner, Financial Services Advisory Leader and Chief Economist with PricewaterhouseCoopers Nigeria. He regularly comments in the media on the country’s enormous economic potential in the face of huge challenges as its population burgeons in a land fraught with corrupt governance, regional conflicts and a huge “branding problem.”

“I come from the country with the No. 1 brand; I’m working in the country with the last. I couldn’t have imagined growing up in small town Canada that I’d end up being the No. 1 economist in Nigeria at this point in history, when Nigeria is such a critical part of the world because of the scale of it and what’s happening in Africa. It’s a long way from Canada, but it affects us.”

Nevin hopes to return home in the near future, to share his global economic perspective and engage in the Canadian debate on how to deal with our rapidly changing times, including our aging population, robotics and artificial intelligence. He has a book in the works – one “very much focused on Canada” – that will present his writings from Nevinomics in a structured fashion.

“When you’ve seen as much as anyone can of the planet, how much more you treasure what Canada has managed to do. It’s just extraordinary. We need to make sure we are taking the right steps so that we don’t lose it, and go further.”


This article appeared in the Fall 2017 edition of Alumni Gazette
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