As befits a public-minded investor, Joseph Rotman sometimes used the phrase “venture philanthropy” to describe his approach to giving. A prominent investment banker, Rotman parlayed a small oil-trading business launched in the early 1960s into Clairvest, a major private equity firm in Toronto. He became a driving force among Canadian universities, and health and cultural institutions, offering not just donations but ideas and leadership. Quoted in a Financial Post obituary, Rotman recalled, “My dad once said to me, ‘Joe, writing the cheque is the easiest part.’”
Rotman completed a master’s of commerce degree at the University of Toronto in 1960. His first donation to what was then U of T’s Faculty of Management Studies was $50. In 1993, he and his wife, Sandra, made a gift of $3 million through the Rotman Family Foundation toward the construction of a new state-of-the-art building for the school. In all, the Rotmans have given more than $72 million to U of T, making them the university’s largest donors. The Rotman School of Management, which is named in Joseph’s honour, has become one of the most innovative business schools in the world.
Known as a benefactor who did his research and asked probing questions, Rotman was a donor to, or served as a board member of, numerous cultural organizations, including the Art Gallery of Ontario and the Toronto Symphony Orchestra. He also co-founded MaRS, a hub for innovation in Toronto. At the time of his death, in January 2015, Rotman was in his second term as chair of the Canada Council for the Arts, and was serving as chancellor for the University of Western Ontario, where he earned his undergraduate degree.
“The University of Toronto, and indeed all of Canada, has lost one of its greatest champions,” said U of T president Meric Gertler following the news of Rotman’s death. “Joseph Rotman believed that each of us has a responsibility to help build civil society. He had great faith in young Canadians, in their eagerness and ability to lead the way in that cause. And he was supremely confident in Canada’s ability to compete and to contribute on the global stage.”