On a cold day in December 2009, Canadian businessman and philanthropist Joseph L. Rotman was grinning ear to ear when he received the Olympic torch from his wife, Sandra Rotman, as part of the coast-to-coast torch relay leading up to the Vancouver-based Winter Olympics.

“We felt a sense of pride in Canada as we had never felt before,” Rotman said later. As a key contributor to business, arts and life science innovation in this country, the reverse could just as easily be true: Canada is proud of Joe Rotman.

Last week, Ontario biotech coalition Life Sciences Ontario (LSO) awarded Rotman its prestigious Lifetime Achievement Award, an honour it reserves for “a highly respected leader who has inspired and led the community to imagine a bigger future in biotech.” Winners also must have made significant contributions to at least two other domains, including academia and volunteerism.

For the past 20 years, Rotman has advocated for life sciences research excellence and the biotech industry, serving in leadership roles at many successful organizations such as the Ontario Genomics Institute, the Canadian Institute for Health Research, the Ontario Brain Institute, Grand Challenges Canada, the Ontario BioCouncil Report and the Baycrest Centre for Geriatric Care.

In a recent video tribute from friends and colleagues, Dr. Cal Stiller, Chair of the Ontario Institute for Cancer Research, paid tribute to Rotman’s vision. “So many of the institutions that we see as vibrant, contributing institutions have had the touch of Rotman,” said Stiller. “There are few individuals who have contributed more, and more broadly, to life sciences in Canada and in Ontario than has Joe Rotman.”

As one of the key visionaries who founded MaRS and remained an active member of the MaRS Board of Directors, Rotman has enabled the incubation and growth of companies such as ArcticDX, recently named by LSO as Emerging Life Sciences Company of the Year.

Rotman has also been an advocate for increased communication between the life sciences industry and the business community. His experience in oil and gas exploration, merchant banking, real estate and venture capital enables him to easily straddle the two worlds.

He has served on the boards of businesses such as the Bank of Montreal, Barrick Gold Corporation and Canada Northwest Energy Ltd., and is currently Chairman of Roy-L Capital. In honour of his business success, he was inducted into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame as a Companion in 2009.

Rotman continues to harbour a wide range of interests, and is a fierce advocate for arts and education organizations, with past appointments on the Board of the Art Gallery of Ontario, the Governor General’s Performing Arts Awards and the Canada Council for the Arts. He was also recently appointed chancellor of the University of Western Ontario.

“Science empowers us; the humanities teach us to use that power wisely,” says Joe Rotman, explaining his interest in both science and the arts.

To sum up this philosophy, current president of the University of Western Ontario, Professor Amit Chakma says, “Joe Rotman is a success because he believes in the power of humanity.”

When colleagues describe Rotman’s contributions to life sciences and public life in Canada, they refer to his philanthropy, his gifts to educational institutions such as the University of Toronto and the University of Western Ontario, and his ability to broker partnerships to create lasting change in complex fields such as healthcare.

Recognition for Joseph Rotman’s contributions to the life sciences industry in Ontario is well deserved. We are proud to have such a visionary advocating for life sciences in this province, and as part of the MaRS family.

Joseph Wilson

Joseph was an education advisor at MaRS Discovery District. He writes on topics of science, culture and city issues for NOW Magazine, the Globe and Mail, Spacing and Yonge Street. He is the Executive Director of the Treehouse Group, dedicated to fostering innovation by hosting cross-disciplinary events. See more…