Back in 1960, Melvin Woodward was working at the airport in Goose Bay fueling aircrafts for Imperial Oil when he found out about a fuel truck being sold for $300.
With that truck, Woodward could make his dream of being a business owner a reality.
Unfortunately, he didn’t have $300.
Fortunately, his wife Sybil did.
“She proceeded to go to the closet and she reached into the pocket of her parka and she pulled out $300. He said, ‘Where did you get the $300?’ She said, ‘I’ve been cheating on the grocery money,’” recounted Peter Woodward.
“That was the spark that started the Woodward empire.”
That money created Woodward’s Oil Ltd. and over the next five decades it grew to become the Woodward Group of Cos., doing business in trucking, stevedoring, ferries, freight ships and tankers, aviation support and automotive sales.
Today, the company — co-owned by Peter, president and CEO, and his brother Melvin, vice-president of marketing — does more than $750 million in annual sales and employs 800 people.
On Friday, the Woodward family dipped into the company’s parka pocket and turned up a $1.13-million donation to Memorial University’s faculty of business administration to establish the Dr. Mel Woodward Innovation and Entrepreneurship Endowment Fund in memory of the late entrepreneur, who died in 2015.
The money will be used specifically to support student entrepreneurs through the Mel Woodward Cup, an annual business competition conducted by the Memorial Centre for Entrepreneurship (MCE) that will award $40,000 in prize money — three prizes of $10,000, along with the remaining sum used for honourable mentions and other financial supports for winners.
It also includes up to $2,500 worth of marketing and legal services, automatic enrolment in the Genesis Centre’s evolution program and access to market research, and a reserved spot in the MCE co-working space.
“It’ll spark the entrepreneurial drive,” said Peter, who was joined by his mother Sybil, brother Melvin and sister Tana for the announcement.
“My dad really believed in the university, really believed in the capacity of students to go out and create new things and be something and add to the province.”
The program was launched last spring as a pilot project labelled The Startup Cup, but the money from Woodward’s was already in place.
MUN president and vice-chancellor Gary Kachanoski said today’s students represent the foundation for entrepreneurship and innovation in the province, and the Woodwards’ donation is a reflection of their shared belief in that foundation.
“This tremendous donation from the Woodward family invests in great ideas through a business competition for an engaged and entrepreneurial Memorial student, investments that will provide important seed funding that will motivate and empower our best and brightest and give them the freedom to be creative,” Kachanoski said.