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Joseph Rotman is photographed in November, 2009, when he was inducted into the Business Hall of Fame.Tibor Kolley/The Globe and Mail

Businessman Joseph Rotman has donated $30-million to the University of Toronto's business school that bears his name, making his family the largest donor in the university's history.

Mr. Rotman, who died in January, 2015, left the money to the Rotman School of Management in partnership with his widow, Sandra. He conceived the idea for the donation before his death, with the university agreeing to equally match the donation for a total of $60-million in new funding for the business school.

The university announced Wednesday that $45-million of the money will be earmarked to create a new Rotman Catalyst Fund to finance innovative new ideas. The remaining $15-million will be used for priority areas, including student scholarships, new faculty positions and infrastructure investments.

Including the latest donation, the Rotmans have donated more than $71-million to the University of Toronto, with the bulk going to the business school. Among the gifts, the family donated $3-million in 1993 to help finance construction of a new business school building, then a further $15-million in 1997, which led the university to rename the school in Mr. Rotman's honour. He provided $18-million more in 2007, which helped to partly finance the business school's Martin Prosperity Institute.

Rotman dean Tiff Macklem said the donations over the decades are the largest combined gift the University of Toronto has received from a private donor.

Mr. Rotman's final, and largest donation, will help the school create innovative new programs, Mr. Macklem said.

"Joe and Sandy Rotman believed that Canada's leading university should have a world-class business school and over more than 20 years they have invested to help us bring that dream and vision to reality," Mr. Macklem said in an interview.

Mr. Rotman set up an oil trading business in the 1960s and was an early investor in Alberta's emerging energy sector. He later branched out into real estate and venture capital investments, and founded Clairvest Group Inc., a Toronto-based private equity firm.

He believed strongly that Canada needed a world-class management school to train a new generation of business leaders, and wanted his last latest donation to be earmarked for innovative projects.

"Joe was very proud of the bold thinking of the faculty at Rotman, and he was very proud of the impact the students are having in business and in society," Mr. Macklem said. "And he wanted to spur the next leap forward for the school."

Faculty at the Rotman School will pitch ideas for projects for the new Catalyst Fund, and they will compete for funding, Mr. Macklem said. The parameters are broad to allow creativity, but "the most compelling ideas" with the "potential for the highest impact" will be selected.

He said the money could be used, for example, to fund "bold research ideas that are aimed at solving some of the world's most pressing and biggest problems" or to finance projects that create opportunities for both research and real-world business experience for students.

The funding could also be used to "scale up" existing high-impact projects, Mr. Macklem said. The Rotman school already has a variety of "labs" where students learn specialized skills and work with companies on current business problems, including a DesignWorks lab to teach students about business design, a "creative destruction" lab to help students learn entrepreneurship, and a finance lab that lets students practice trading securities on a simulated trading floor.

"He recognized that this gift in itself would be a catalyst and would spur innovation and bring forth new ideas, so the idea was not to lock down from Day One exactly how all the money would be spent," Mr. Macklem said. "The money is not to support the core funding of the school. It is to fund bold new initiatives with a competition for ideas and the cream rising to the top."

Mr. Macklem said projects selected by the fund will also support three areas that have been identified as academic priorities for the business school: entrepreneurship and innovation, global business focus and leadership in financial management and governance.

"These are areas where Rotman can provide tremendous leadership and these are areas that Canada and the world really need," he said.

Follow Janet McFarland on Twitter: @JMcFarlandGlobeOpens in a new window

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