When you hear the name Patricia Saputo, it’s tempting to only notice the surname and its connection to one of Canada’s most successful family businesses, Montreal-based dairy company Saputo.
Yet, Patricia Saputo is an established leader in her own right, as a professional business advisor and advocate of family governance. She’s also made philanthropic history at the University of Ottawa through her significant donation to the Family Enterprise Legacy Institute (FELI) at the Telfer School of Management.
Her $5-million gift is the largest single gift ever made by a woman to the university.
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The hospital says donations like RBC’s has helped TOH become one of Canada’s largest teaching and research healthcare institutions.
“I consider this to be my legacy,” she said during a donor recognition event held Wednesday with uOttawa’s academic leaders and key supporters.
Saputo’s gift — the second largest made to Telfer – has allowed FELI to create the endowed Patricia Saputo Distinguished Chair in Family Enterprise, with the goal of bringing together the most promising minds in the field to do research and to empower the next generation of enterprising families by developing and sharing best practices and knowledge.
“Telfer, indeed, is a vital part of our university; the most valuable link to the private sector and an essential institution to help develop the business leaders and entrepreneurs of tomorrow,” said University of Ottawa president and vice-chancellor Jacques Frémont, expressing his gratitude to one of the university’s “greatest benefactors” for her “transformational gift”.
“She is among a growing number of successful Canadian women who are working to strengthen our communities through philanthropy.”
Attendees heard how the Saputo family first came to Canada in the 1950s, leaving post-war Sicily to start a new life in Montreal. They landed on Pier 21 in Halifax with nothing but a dream for a better life.
The patriarchal culture in which Saputo was raised meant she knew from a young age she would never step into a leadership role in the family business. Inspired by her parents, Francesco and Lia Saputo, to get a good education and become a life-long learner, Saputo almost studied law at uOttawa. She was accepted into the program but had to decline “because my father said, ‘No daughter of mine can sleep outside of the house unless she was married’.”
She pursued what she considered to be the next-best thing, and became a chartered professional accountant for taxation services. She completed her schooling at her hometown universities, McGill and Concordia.
Telfer School of Management Dean Stéphane Brutus praised Saputo for embarking on her own career journey. “She did it her way,” said Brutus in making a light-hearted reference to a certain famous crooner, also with Sicilian roots. “Patricia is indeed a proud Saputo, but she forged her own path, seizing her own opportunity.”
The dean spoke about Saputo’s values and about the overall importance of instilling values into family businesses and their next generations. “We know from our research that multi-generational families and enterprises thrive if they find a way to carry strong values from one generation to the next,” said Brutus. “Patricia Saptuo embodies the values of hard work, humility and the importance of family.”
Saputo worked at Deloitte for seven years. She left the firm in 1998 after Saputo Inc. went public, and she was asked to join the company’s board of directors. She played a pioneering role in the startup of a Family Office, long before they were common. Combining her expertise, she put structures in place for investment planning, wills and estates, life insurance needs, and the complex management of family wealth (one only has to watch a few episodes of HBO’s hit series Succession to understand how things can go horribly wrong).
In 2021, Saputo co-founded the business family advisory firm Crysalia Inc.
“Through her work, she has become a leader in growing and supporting family enterprises and the next generation of family enterprise leaders in Canada,” said Frémont. “God knows that family leaders are really making a difference in this country.”
Family-owned businesses account for 63.1 per cent of all private sector firms in the Canadian economy and generate 49 per cent of Canada’s private sector GDP, at $574.6 billion. They also employ roughly 6.9 million Canadians.
There are major shifts on the horizon, however. According to Family Enterprise Foundation, ownership of the more than 60 per cent of family enterprises will be changing hands within the next decade and, within seven years, close to 40 per cent of next generation members will take control of their family enterprises — creating the largest capital transfer in Canada’s history.
“We need the research and we need to apply that research, we need to educate the family members of today and tomorrow,” said Saputo. “We need to understand their personal journeys, where they find their own purpose, understand their place within their families and make the impact that they want to make within the community around them.”
Saputo is a member of the strategic leadership cabinet at Telfer School of Management. In 2021, she received The Dean’s Philos Award in recognition of her outstanding philanthropic achievement and social commitment to her community.
“I am proud of my accomplishments,” said Saputo, who was joined by friends and family, including her husband, Angelo Caparelli, and two of her three sons. “I’m even more proud of this moment, seeing the Patricia Saputo Distinguished Chair in Family Enterprise here at the University of Ottawa’s Telfer School of Management, and I hope this legacy lives on way beyond me.”