“I spent two years studying business and economics at Columbia University. I mixed with a group of people from all over the world that helped me appreciate the global nature of the world we live in versus this perspective that Canada is the be-all and end-all.
I was in the oil-trading business in 1967 and 1973. I just happened to be in the right place at the right time. The lesson learned was the importance of luck, as well as keeping your ego under control. It is not you who is the genius. You just happened to be there.
In 1971 I had a serious ski accident. I was laid up, on and off, for about two years. Through that period of not being active I learned that other people were better managers than I was. I came to realize that my greatest strengths were on strategy and people.
I became what I called a merchant banker on the back of an envelope. I did all my deals on the back of an envelope. I never did big fancy stuff. It was all meeting the right people, finding who I wanted to do business with and then making a very simple deal.
That doesn't work today. It is a different world.
The beauty of business as a career for me was in the creativity, the independence and the challenge.
I became convinced years ago, as a result of my involvement in philanthropy at the University of Toronto and Baycrest, that health research was going to be the next major breakthrough in terms of impact on society. Whether it is genetics, nanotechnology or proteomics, these things are going to change the lives of mankind dramatically.
Philanthropy is not a question of charity and giving dollars. I think we each have a responsibility to help build a civil society. I was brought up that way. I remember putting pennies into a box when I was a kid.
In the free enterprise system, you've got to focus on yourself, but within a context of a broader picture. That is how you can make your contributions. The two don't have to be in conflict.
Bringing business and government together is critical. We are moving into an era where the idea that each can work in their own silo will no longer function. The buzzword that is now being used is “public-private partnerships.”
I have always been interested in public policy and have believed very much in the model in the United States, where there is a greater interchange between business and government. People go back and forth to a much greater degree than we do here.
With the school of management, there were several clear objectives. One was the creation of a different model for business education. I was not comfortable that the model of business education was adequate to really teach people how to be outstanding businesspeople. I wanted to help create a model. I wanted Canada to be seen as an international player. And to help create a entrepreneurial perspective. I had become an entrepreneur, a builder of businesses, rather than working for a big company.
Canadians can compete. We have got to have the confidence to push ourselves. Not be pulled, but to push ourselves out into the world.
I have great faith and confidence in the future of business in Canada because of the quality of the young people and the value system under which they are being trained, which is not a corrupt system regardless of what the papers may say.
I have always been driven. I think the emphasis on learning and education has just been embedded in me. It is genetic.
Embrace change. People see risk and uncertainty as a problem. My father taught me that uncertainty and risk is an opportunity.
If you are going into business just for money, it will be a very unsatisfying career, because you can never be a winner. There will always be someone who has made more money than you.
I believe life should be seen as more than what you do. It is who you are.”
Web exclusive: More from Joseph Rotman
“With the school of management, there were several clear objectives. One was the creation of a different model for business education. I was not comfortable that the model of business education was adequate to really teach people how to be outstanding businesspeople. I wanted to help create a model. I wanted Canada to be seen as an international player. And to help create an entrepreneurial perspective. I had become an entrepreneur, a builder of businesses, rather than working for a big company.
When Roger Martin took over as dean, it became very clear that he understood better than I what was needed. He has set about to redesign business education, which does not take business in functional task-driven lines I am a marketing guy, a finance guy, an accountant. His view, which has always been mine, is that there needs to be a holistic view, which he refers to as integrative thinking. That is the new framework which has vaulted the school forward. So even though it appears that I am not involved, it is because the leader is better than I am. He doesn't need me.
I think Canadians have to realize that they are a very small player in the world. That means they have to be better and fight harder. Competing in a globalized economy is very tough.
When I turned 60, I decided that I needed some change. I wanted to do something very different and find new challenges.
I am proud of the BIOCouncil report. We had a committee of 25 or 30 people. I had never chaired a committee of that size. Usually it is 10 to 15. I thought it would be unmanageable, but because of the quality of the people and the excitement of the challenge, and I hope some skill as chair, we came together with a report that I think has helped the province see the opportunity.
I am very supportive of the Jewish community. Our primary involvement is directly with Israeli institutions. I think the situation in Israel is very sad, and I think we have to be very optimistic and keep trying.
I could not have done what I did in business without my wife. I would not hire a senior executive without first running that person by her.
We love dining. We always try to celebrate special occasions with unique dining experiences. We have travelled throughout the world finding the best restaurants.
I still sit on a few boards, but have no active involvement or responsibilities other than as a board member. I spend my time now on advising and working with government on public policy around health research.
I feel very strongly that the image of all businesspeople being corrupt is totally wrong. Like any other area, 95% to 99% of people are honest. It is unfortunate that the 1% to 5% get to be seen as representative.
I have always believed very strongly, because of having tried so many different things and having failed so many times, that you don't take yourself too seriously, you don't take what you do too seriously, and don't take your setbacks too seriously.”
Timeline: Joseph Rotman
Born Jan. 6, 1935, in Toronto
Entrepreneur, merchant banker, philanthropist
1975: After working as an oil trader for 12 years, moves into oil-and-gas exploration with Pan Cana Resources, and Tarragon Oil & Gas.
1987: Founds Clairvest Group, a merchant bank now run by son Kenneth Rotman and co-chief executive Jeffrey Parr.
1997: Donates $15 million to University of Toronto business school, renamed the Joseph L. Rotman School of Management.
2004: Chairs Ontario Genomics Institute; works with the Canadian Institutes of Health Research and the C. D. Howe Institute.