29 Apr 2019

A Global Mission

Art DeFehr (MBA 1967) has balanced a dual career as the long-time CEO of Canadian furniture company Palliser and as a global human rights leader


For more than 50 years, Art DeFehr (MBA 1967) has been a fixture at Palliser, the Canadian furniture company founded by his family. He served as CEO of the 2,000-employee firm from 1984 to 2015 and continues to sit on its board. For the last half century, DeFehr has also circled the globe—141 countries by his count—looking for places where his business expertise could reshape response to complicated humanitarian crises.

His first project was in Bangladesh in the 1970s, when he led a project on agricultural restoration after that country’s civil war. From there he went to Cambodia and Thailand, after the Khmer Rouge, and to Somalia and Ethiopia in the early days of the famine. “I was always interested in the most difficult situation,” says DeFehr. “They were all organizational problems.”

Today he’s working in Lithuania, where he is director of the LCC (Lithuanian Christian College) International University in Klaipėda, which he helped to establish in 1991. He’s also working in Mexico, developing an idea for an overland shipping route in southern Mexico to rival the Panama Canal that will bring business opportunities to impoverished areas.

DeFehr knows his dual-track career is an anomaly. Most people spend decades in business and then, after they retire, turn to charitable work. DeFehr’s advice: “Don’t wait. To do your best work, you have to do it throughout your life.”

(Published April 2019)

Featured Alumni

Featured Alumni

Class of MBA 1967, Section B

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