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Patricia Saputo Channels a Passion for Enterprising Families Into Support for a New Endowed Chair

Patricia Saputo speaking at Telfer School of Management

Patricia Saputo is among a growing number of successful Canadian women who are working to strengthen their communities and inspire systemic change through philanthropy. Through this transformational $5 million gift, the largest single contribution to date from a woman to the University of Ottawa, Patricia is supporting a long-term focus on research and training for enterprising families and their future generations.

The year is 1997. Montreal-based dairy producer Saputo Inc. is in the midst of a major upswing, tripling in size after gaining momentum from its first four decades in business. The company completes its initial public offering on the Toronto Stock Exchange on its path to eventually becoming one of the top ten dairy processors in the world. 

Third generation family member Patrica Saputo is working as a tax accountant for Deloitte when she is asked to join the Saputo Inc. board of directors. It is the door that opens a new career path for her.

Patricia Saputo's sons Lorenzo (back) and Tommaso (front) in her home office, 2008.Patricia initially manages the accounting, taxes and estate planning for her immediate family. Then, as Saputo Inc. starts paying out dividends, she administers the investment side as well. Long before the term “single family office” is known, or even recognized as a concept, she creates a central entity for wealth management and professional services for her family members.

“What happened over the years is that this concept of family office came to being,” says Patricia. “I first heard it in the early 2000s, from somebody in the United States, when he asked what I was doing and I gave this long, convoluted answer. He said to me, you're managing your family's family office. And I said, oh, is that what it is?” she laughs.

In the 1990s, there were very few people working in this newly evolving field.

“There were other offices, other families that had it,” Patricia adds. “But everybody was doing their own thing in their own corners of Canada.”

Building a personal legacy 

Patricia gives a lecture to students from the John Molson Accounting Society (JMAS) at Concordia UniversityPatricia is the kind of person who likes to ask big questions. Having spent 18 years on the board of Saputo Inc., 26 years to date heading the family office, and many years on a variety of other boards and committees, she has spent much of her life immersed in the unique complexities faced by many enterprising families. (She also notes that she prefers to be addressed by first name to distinguish her personal identity from the company.) Over time, she developed an interest in generational wealth transitions—and how they can make or break family ventures and the transfer of wealth. 

“No matter who we are, transitions in life are difficult,” says Patricia, who today is also the co-founder and executive chairperson of Crysalia, an advisory services firm for enterprising families. 

“People have liquidity events; now what? Family members inherit wealth; now what?” she adds. “How do you engage the next generation to take on that responsibility, and how do you educate them to understand what their responsibility is in the first place?”

Patricia’s curiosity about the factors that contribute to longevity for enterprising families connected her to the work of the Family Enterprise Legacy Institute (FELI) at the Telfer School of Management. Established in 2019, the institute has sought to refocus academic research in the field—much of which has examined only the first generation—on how to enable successive cohorts of family enterprise leaders to thrive.

Professor Peter Jaskiewicz with Patricia Saputo, at a donor recognition event at Telfer School of Management“NextGens have been overlooked in most academic studies and practices for decades, which is short-sighted, considering they are the future of family enterprise,” says Professor Peter Jaskiewicz, University Research Chair in Enduring Entrepreneurship, and the institute’s founding director. “We know that more than 60% of family enterprises will be changing hands in Canada within the next decade. We also know that the failure of even a fraction of these businesses would be disastrous for the Canadian economy.”

Recognizing the need for more research on the challenges and opportunities for next generation members of business and enterprising families, Patricia recently funded the creation of an endowed chair to serve as FELI’s academic director and to propel new thought leadership and training in this key segment of the Canadian economy.

Patricia Saputo with members of her family after speaking at an annual event in Montreal, 2017.The Patricia Saputo Distinguished Chair in Family Enterprise will help create a long-term focus for the chairholder’s research, offering new insights in the field and building an ongoing research agenda for the institute. This milestone $5 million donation, one of only a handful of gifts this size to the University of Ottawa, will increase academic output for the school. The funding will also support the institute in developing new best practices and training programs to empower the next generation of business families. 

To Patricia, the chair’s research will ultimately lead to more tools to help these NextGens succeed. “The Family Enterprise Legacy Institute gives family members what they need so they can embark on their own personal journey to become responsible citizens, find their purpose and make decisions about what they really want in life. I feel I’ve been at that point and now it’s time for me to give back for all that I’ve learned and gained,” she says.

Through her own process of self-reflection and her experience in shaping and leading one of the first family offices in Canada, Patricia is grateful to be in a position to influence change in the industry through her philanthropy and volunteerism. “This gift is the culmination of my own personal journey: where I’ve been, where I am, where I’m going. Everything is guiding me to help in this area.”

Proud supporter of FELI as a 100-year institute

Although she is not an alumna of the University of Ottawa, Patricia has a personal affinity for the university. As a student, when exploring options for her undergraduate degree, she had originally been accepted to the uOttawa law program but was unable to relocate from her hometown of Montreal.

Patricia Saputo taking a selfie with her immediate family members.“I thought I would become a lawyer, but my father said, ‘no daughter of mine is sleeping outside of my home until she is married’,” recalls Saputo, explaining that her parents were from a more conservative-minded post-war Sicilian background. She accepted this change of course gracefully and pursued her post-secondary education at Concordia and McGill in Montreal instead.

“I would have loved to have graduated from the University of Ottawa, but our family’s culture stopped me,” she reflects. “It wasn’t meant to be, and I embraced where the next road took me, but my tie with the University of Ottawa is actually a special one.”

As a proponent of lifelong learning, Patricia is a member of Telfer’s Strategic Leadership Cabinet, a volunteer advisory board that works to further the school’s vision alongside Dean Stéphane Brutus. 

Patricia Saputo receives flowers from Dean Stéphane Brutus.“With what Patricia has done,” says Professor Jaskiewicz, “by channeling her passion and belief in family enterprise into this extraordinary gift, we will be able to sustain our research, support the leadership of our institute, continue sharing best practices and develop new training programs that help business families to become more united, resilient and successful.”

Like a successful multi-generational family venture, he adds, having a strong foundation with a network of donors, partnerships and a shared mission is key. 

“Our goal is to build a 100-year institute. This donation will not only help us continue to do important research on business families, it will also enable us to embark on long-term projects that help transform the ecosystem. Enterprising families can be more successful if they understand how to manage both their family’s complexity and its connection with their enterprise,” he says.

Patricia is hopeful that other donors and members of the family enterprise community will join in the effort to build a critical mass of research and training to improve outcomes for enterprising families. 

“Everybody gives back in the area they are most aligned with,” says Patricia. “My alignment is in the space of family enterprise, and the Family Enterprise Legacy Institute is all about co-mingling research with practice and trying to understand how we can better future generations so they don’t make the same mistakes that have been made time and time again.”

Largest single gift from a woman to the university

President and Vice-Chancellor Jacques Frémont speaking during a donor recognition event.Patricia’s contribution is notable on two fronts. At $5 million, it is the second largest donation from an individual to the Telfer School of Management. It is also the largest single gift from a woman in the university’s history. 

Her support was commemorated at an event in Ottawa on January 24, 2024. “This generous gift makes Ms. Saputo one of the University of Ottawa’s greatest benefactors,” said President and Vice-Chancellor Jacques Frémont in his remarks. “She is among a growing number of successful Canadian women who are working to strengthen our communities through philanthropy.”

Like Ian Telfer’s 2007 donation, which renamed the school, kickstarted its PhD program and supported a deeper focus on research across disciplines, Patricia’s gift is expected to have a positive impact on Telfer’s research output and augment the family enterprise industry at large.

“The impact of this gift will be far reaching and affect the family business landscape not only in Canada, but globally,” says Professor Jaskiewicz. “Having Patricia as a collaborator and supporter of our institute has helped FELI grow and evolve, with her experiences as a member of one of Canada’s most well-known family businesses, her role in shaping the family office model, and her work helping enterprising families thrive. We are beyond grateful to Patricia for this transformative gift.”

Patricia Saputo with PhD candidates and members of the Family Enterprise Legacy Institute.Having collaborated with Patricia on industry events and initiatives over the past several years, Professor Jaskiewicz says he has seen her role grow to the point that she has become a highly respected advisor, speaker and advocate.

“Patricia is a pioneer in the family office space, a strong leader and an exemplary executive,” he says. “Our research has shown that women in family businesses face systemic bias and barriers; they have typically been excluded from having a seat at the table—a practice so embedded it’s often not even questioned. 

“Patricia has faced these barriers, and through her hard work, resilience and passion she has become a role model and champion for women in business.”

Learn more about the Family Enterprise Legacy Institute

About the Author

En tant que gestionnaire des communications exécutives et des services-conseils, Larissa Buijs travaille avec l’équipe du marketing et des communications de Telfer pour souligner les efforts philanthropiques et le bénévolat des membres de la communauté diplômée, des donatrices et donateurs et des partenaires, qui rehaussent à la fois l’expérience étudiante et l’École.</br></br>As Manager, Executive Communications and Advisory Services, Larissa Buijs works with Telfer’s experienced Marketing and Communications team to celebrate how alumni, donors and partners augment the School and the student experience through philanthropy and volunteerism.

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