23 Feb 2015
Leadership Lens: John Ruffolo
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Chief Executive Officer of OMERS Ventures
This month’s focus is on John Ruffolo. John is the Chief Executive Officer of OMERS Ventures, the venture arm of OMERS or as John refers to it: “the real Dragons’ Den.” OMERS Ventures invests in early to late stage companies in the Technology, Media, and Telecommunications sectors. Overall, after roughly 3 years in existence, OMERS Ventures has become Canada’s go-to choice for small companies seeking funding.
Prior to joining OMERS Ventures, John was a Partner at Deloitte. A chartered accountant, he is also a former partner with Arthur Andersen LLP. John holds a Bachelor of Business Administration from York University's Schulich School of Business. He sits on numerous boards and is the Vice Chair of the David Suzuki Foundation. John was recently ranked 1st on a list of Canada’s 50 Most Powerful Business People by Canadian Business magazine
Over the course of your career, what leader(s) has the most impact on you -- and why?
David Suzuki. He has taught me over the years to fight for what you believe in despite the winds of resistance that you might face.
Of all the leaders in the world today, who stands out as being the most relevant, interesting, inspiring and influential -- and why?
Nelson Mandela. Not only was he committed to his cause, but after what he went through, he went to great pains to collaborate and welcome those same people he struggled with.
Canada was recently ranked 14th out of 16 countries on the Conference Board’s annual Innovation report card. You’ve been very open about how Canada needs to ‘rev’ up their innovation engine. What is the root cause of why Canada has fallen so far behind and what needs to occur to improve the ranking?
I think Canada has a productivity issue; not an innovation one. On the innovation front, we are witnessing the rise of the entrepreneur in Canada and are only in the first inning.
Switching gears, what kind of boss are you?
I like to think I am open, transparent, and collaborative given that I grew up in a partnership environment and not a “command and control” environment.
What do you look for in new hires for OMERS Ventures?
Passion, energy, and a desire for continuous learning.
How has your previous career as a consultant at Arthur Andersen and Deloitte helped you currently as a CEO? What lessons do you pass along to others at OMERS Ventures?
The team at OMERS Ventures is made up of A players and all of them have been successful in their business and/or academic careers. As a result, a partnership mentality is the only type of working relationship that works effectively.
Did you set out earlier in your career to be a CEO? Or, did it just happen naturally?
No. I wanted to be an archeologist. I guess I missed that target pretty wide.
OMERS Ventures has grown substantially in the past several years. How do you balance work and family, and still be productive and relevant?
It is always a challenge but I love the innovation space so much that it does not feel like work to me. Family and physical health do not take a backseat as both are critical to me in ensuring I am in top form at the office.
Last question – What is the one thing that people most get wrong about you?
No one thinks I actually own a tie. I do have two of them…and might actually wear them some day.