A life of giving back

Canada has lost not just a giant in the business world but a cultural maven and generous philanthropist with the death of Joe Rotman. I can’t think of another corporate leader in Canada today who was so dominant across such a wide range of activities.

His life was a classic case of entrepreneurialism where you see a field that needs expertise and investment, you calculate the risks, then step in. Starting in the unusual world of oil futures, Rotman also became involved in oil and gas exploration, real estate and venture capital. In 1987 he launched Clairvest which in turn backed other peoples’ ideas, the riskiest business of all because you’re often betting on the jockey, not the horse. In that regard, Rotman was a great judge of character, not just the numbers on some term sheet.

As if that weren’t enough to set him apart from his contemporaries, Joe and his wife Sandra collected modern art with a passion and an eye for talent. He also shared his wealth with the community and the nation at a level matched by few others. His lead gift to the business school at the University of Toronto long before such donations became de rigeur has meant that the Rotman School of Management had the heft and the wherewithal to build a faculty that has placed it number one in Canada most years on the prestigious Financial Times rankings. His other philanthropic interests included a broad range of enthusiasms that stretched across the life sciences, brain research, and innovation.

With Joe Rotman, life was never just about him, it was about his family, his community and his country. But his greatest strength had nothing to do with what he did with his life or his money. It was his sunny disposition. I’ve never known a happier man. I will miss seeing his smile. 

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