Business leader and philanthropist Blake Goldring receives 91 honorary degree 

(photo by Lisa Sakulensky)

An accomplished business leader who has made an indelible contribution to the University of Toronto as a volunteer and donor, Blake Goldring has taken to heart a lesson instilled in him at a young age by his father: that society’s most fortunate have a duty to give back.

Today, for his exemplary civic and community service, and for his outstanding commitment to higher education, Goldring will receive a Doctor of Laws, honoris causa, from 91.

Born in Toronto in 1958, the second of five children, Goldring attended Victoria College at 91, earning a bachelor’s degree in economics. He got his first taste of volunteering as an undergraduate, serving as the vice-president of AIESEC, an international youth-run non-profit. He went on to study at INSEAD, a top-ranked business school in France, where he completed his MBA in 1982.

Goldring’s career in finance began at Bank of Montreal, where he worked in international and corporate banking. He left in 1987 – not long before the October market crash – for a position at AGF Management, a Canadian investment company co-founded by his father, Warren Goldring (also a 91 alum). 

At AGF, the younger Goldring started as an analyst for the company’s Japanese investments, worked his way up through sales and marketing, and within a decade had been named president and chief operating officer. In 2000, he became chief executive officer, and in 2006, added chairman to his title. He stepped away from day-to-day management of the company in 2018, assuming the role of executive chairman.

Blake Goldring with Rhonda McEwen after signing the honorary degree book
President of Victoria University, Rhonda McEwen (L) with Blake Goldring (photo by Lisa Sakulensky)

Having started at AGF during a tumultuous time in the stock market, Goldring says he quickly learned to keep calm and take the long view. “So often people get caught up in the heat of the moment,” . “It’s a bit like the Rudyard Kipling poem: ‘If you can keep your head when all about you are losing theirs...’”

Under Goldring, AGF acquired other wealth management firms and diversified its client base to include more institutional and high-net-worth investors. He also initiated a program to give employees paid time off for volunteering.

The initiative reflected Goldring’s own commitment to community service. Throughout his career, he served on several boards, including the Sunnybrook Health Sciences Centre and the Canadian Film Centre. 

In the 2008 Globe interview, he said that volunteering helped him see a wider set of perspectives and expand his worldview. “There is a short-termism that is endemic to [the investment] industry,” he observed. “It is good to see things in a longer-term way, to see that the world isn’t all about the stock market.”

Goldring has been particularly interested in forging connections between the military and civilians. Inspired by Canadian soldiers who, in the wake of 9/11, joined international forces in Afghanistan to fight the Taliban, Goldring launched Canada Company – an organization that awards scholarships to the children of fallen soldiers to assist with their post-secondary education. The company has also helped veterans find meaningful employment in the civilian workforce. In recognition of his efforts, Goldring was appointed the first-ever honorary colonel of the Canadian Army. “Some of my proudest moments in life have been pinning the medals on returning regiment soldiers,” Goldring . 

Goldring is also highly active in the 91 alumni community, and has financially supported numerous programs and facilities, including Soldiers’ Tower, the Norman Jewison stream in the Vic One program at Victora College, as well as those that bear his family’s name – the Goldring Centre for High Performance Sport and the Goldring Student Centre at Victoria College. He currently serves on the steering committee of the university’s Defy Gravity campaign.

The Goldring family’s association with 91 spans four generations – from Blake’s grandfather to his father, Warren, him and his sister, Judy, to his two daughters. Blake says his – and his family’s – support for 91 stems from a deeply held belief that education provides the foundation for a prosperous and inclusive society. “Education, particularly a strong liberal arts foundation, allows people to engage in debate and critical analysis,” . “It fosters an environment of research and discovery, and, frankly, I believe that higher education helps to address prejudices.”

In his convocation address to graduates of Victoria College, Goldring encouraged them to be innovators, quoting Albert Szent-Györgyi, a Nobel Prize-winning biochemist who, in 1937, said, “Innovation is seeing what everyone else sees, and thinking what no one else has thought.” So, Goldring continued, “Challenge the status quo, think differently, and act boldly.”

He also urged graduates to lead with empathy and to find a way to give back to society. “Make a living, yes. But also make your mark – with purpose and passion. And let your legacy be defined by the lives you touch and the positive change you create.”

A member of the Order of Canada, Goldring holds two other honorary degrees, and has received numerous honours in recognition of his personal and professional achievements.

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