Fair opportunities

ken_fredeenKen Fredeen grew up with his sister and four brothers in Saskatoon. He participated in several sports, including speed skating. Today he experiences Afghanistan.

In addition to his job as general counsel in Toronto for Canada’s largest accounting firm, Deliotte LLP, Fredeen (BA’80, LLB’83) is a mentor to Arash Wared, a law student who was born in Kabul.

When Wared was 12 his parents were fired from their jobs in war-torn Afghanistan. His family went to Pakistan, and four years after finishing high school, Wared came to Canada in 2001.

In June he begins articling at a law firm on Toronto’s Bay Street.
“To face adversity the way he has—the resilience he shows, what he has accomplished in the last decade—I learn more from him probably than what he learns from me,” said Fredeen.

Fredeen thinks people who might be on the margin should be given a chance. This is Fredeen’s style.

After earning his law degree from the U of S, Fredeen articled in Prince George, BC, then joined Dome Petroleum in Calgary for a year. He was with Canadian Airlines for 14 years, travelling across Canada and around the world for work with the commercial carrier.
This is Fredeen’s 14th year at Deloitte. As general counsel for the business, he manages a group of 20 lawyers and provides legal and business advice to the firm. That is the professional Fredeen. Coaching his daughter’s soccer team and being a mentor shows another dimension.

“My parents raised us with simple core principles, such as showing respect and dignity to all, and giving back and caring for others,” said Fredeen.

Both of Fredeen’s parents are U of S graduates, his father Hartley with a bachelor of science in agriculture and a master of science and his mother Margaret with a nursing degree. All six children have at least one U of S degree with a total of eight among them—so far.

Fredeen and his siblings follow different paths but with the same moral guide.
Last summer, the ministers of Finance and Human Resources asked Fredeen to chair a federal panel looking at private sector job prospects for people with disabilities. The panel talked with employers across Canada. They saw some of the hurdles disabled people face.

One of Fredeen’s colleagues on the four-person panel was Mark Wafer, who has been partly deaf since birth. He and his wife, Valerie, own seven Tim Hortons franchises in Toronto. The Wafers hire people with disabilities. They say their staff turnover rate is 30 per cent lower than other Tim Hortons franchises.

Fredeen tells a related story.

When Walgreens, a drug store chain in the United States, advertised for workers for its distribution warehouse in Connecticut, an applicant arrived in a wheelchair. The applicant was told the job required him to carry three cardboard boxes at a time. Because three boxes obstructed his view in the chair, he could carry only two.

“He came back the next day,” Fredeen said. “He’d hooked up a wagon. He could carry 10 boxes. At that Walgreens plant, more than 50 per cent of the people have a disability, but it is probably the most productive distribution plant in their entire network.”

Disabled people innovate. They motivate. They do the job. They seek fair opportunities.
“They say ‘All we want is a fair shake. We just want to pay taxes,’ ” said Fredeen. “Too often we look at hiring people with disabilities as charity or the socially right thing to do. Our panel turned that belief on its head.”

Fredeen, now living in Oakville, Ont. with his wife and three children, said we should look at people not on the basis of gender, race, sexual orientation or religion. Accept them as they are. Regard their character, he said.

“I see talent in everybody. Surrounding myself with people who are different, who are not like me, I learn. In Canada we believe in diversity. We all get stronger.”