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The Dalla Lanas Make Their Mark

$20-million gift to the U of T will help refurbish Canada's role as an innovator in public health

Paul Dalla Lana doesn’t believe in doing worthwhile things in small measure. The real estate entrepreneur gave $20 million to U of T last April to establish the Dalla Lana School of Public Health, and says the desire to make a significant contribution simply reflects the way he does business.

Four years ago, he founded NorthWest Healthcare Properties REIT, now the largest private owner and manager of medical buildings in Canada. “We’ve always tried to do things at a scale and with a level of commitment that’s bigger rather than smaller,” says Dalla Lana, who lives in Toronto. “My view is that if it’s worth doing, then you should do it fully.”

In supporting the new School of Public Health, Dalla Lana and his wife, Alessandra, saw an opportunity to contribute to a Toronto institution that aims to rank among the best in the world. They liked the idea of refurbishing Canada’s image as an international innovator in public health. And they hope that the school will find ways to improve Canada’s own health-care system, which is struggling to meet the demands of an aging population. “We wanted to give a much-needed boost to an area that has been sometimes overlooked,” he says.

A Vancouver native, Dalla Lana earned an economics degree from the University of British Columbia and worked for a short time as an economist. He returned to UBC to earn an MBA, and, after graduating in 1994, founded NorthWest Value Partners (the parent company of Northwest Healthcare Properties REIT). The real estate market was in a slump and most of his classmates were landing jobs in investment banking or management consultancy. Dalla Lana, 42, opted for the road less taken. “My mindset has always been to look where others are not,” he says.

A strong believer in the value of education, Dalla Lana describes his family’s history as “the classic immigrant story.” All four of his grandparents immigrated to Canada from Italy, and made educating their children a priority. “My grandparents, if they were here, would be overwhelmed by how successful their clan has been.”

Dalla Lana says he and Alessandra are looking forward to working with the school’s founding director, Jack Mandel, to further enhance the University of Toronto’s leading role in Canadian health care. “You spend a lot of your time imagining how you can create or contribute to great things,” he says. “This is an opportunity to do just that.”

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