Michael DeGroote devotes most of his time these days to philanthropy—and much of it goes to McMaster University in Hamilton, Ont. After retiring in 2003, he donated $105 million to the university’s business school and various medical research programs—at the time, the largest single cash donation to a post-secondary institution in Canada’s history. He followed that up with an additional $50 million in 2014, again to support work at the university’s business and medical schools.
Not bad for a farm kid. DeGroote, who was born in Belgium, spent his early years working on his family’s tobacco farm in Tillsonburg, Ont., which is where he learned to drive. An early business hauling manure to local farms using a surplus army truck evolved into a lucrative outfit dedicated to transporting uranium ore out of Elliot Lake, Ont., during that town’s 1950s boom. The bust that followed bankrupted DeGroote’s first venture, but his fortunes were quite different the second time around.
In 1959, 26-year-old Michael DeGroote purchased Laidlaw Transport, a modest trucking company based in a small town in Ontario. Under his direction, the business expanded to hauling trash through its solid waste division and hauling kids through its school bus arm. DeGroote sold his Laidlaw shares to Canadian Pacific in 1988 and made $499 million from the deal.
Updated Thursday, November 9, 2017