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Q&A with Tony Staffieri, chair of Ryerson’s Board of Governors

Board leader talks innovation, the campus of tomorrow and changing the rules
By: Mary Teresa Bitti
January 12, 2021
Tony Staffieri

Tony Staffieri, chair of Ryerson’s Board of Governors, is helping the university build the campus of tomorrow. Photo: Carlos Osorio.

 

In 2020, Tony Staffieri, chief financial officer of Rogers and head of Rogers Bank, was named chair of the Ryerson University Board of Governors. Staffieri is a board director for the Toronto Blue Jays and Maple Leaf Sports & Entertainment (MLSE), and chairs the MLSE audit committee.

He is a fellow chartered accountant and fellow chartered professional accountant, and holds a bachelor of business administration degree from the Schulich School of Business. Ryerson University Magazine sat down with Staffieri to talk about innovation in education, where Ryerson is headed and helping the university build the campus of tomorrow.

 

 

What interested you about Ryerson when you joined the board in 2016?

I’ve had the opportunity to work with alumni from Ryerson. They really impressed me. So I started to learn more about Ryerson. It’s about real education for a real city. It’s not a campus in the middle of nowhere pondering the higher order of things. You can still think about that but you’re also considering how that relates to where we live and work. 

What’s the best/most surprising thing you’ve learned about Ryerson during your time on the board?

I see Ryerson as the disruptor in education. It’s always looking for the next relevant program. The Ryerson mindset is focused on the upside of what’s possible. For many institutions, the guiding principle is let’s make sure we don’t fail. Sometimes failure is a good thing. We only get better when we know what doesn’t work. Ryerson also blew me away in terms of the diversity of people here and the diversity of thought and experiences they bring.

What Ryerson accomplishment are you most proud of?

The innovation of the school and the pace at which it executes it. Ryerson, working with the private sector and government, quickly got the cyber security centre up and running. It will be a high-demand, relevant program where students will work with real companies as they get their education.

The law school is another example of the speed of innovation at Ryerson. There hadn’t been a new law school in Toronto in more than 100 years until Ryerson decided to launch one. 

And then there’s the DMZ and entrepreneurial innovation. These aren’t university case studies that end up going nowhere. These are real solutions that end up being apps on our phones. I think that’s really cool. Zone learning is another example of how we’re changing education for the better. No more text book theorizing about some other VC success story. This is ours to take. 

What is your vision for Ryerson and the Board moving forward?

I’d like to focus on three main areas: First, ensuring we stay relevant and keep moving forward. That’s really about innovation, new programs and disrupting conventional education. 

Second, improving student life. Our campus covers more than 100 acres in downtown Toronto. How do we integrate the campus to create a memorable, positive experience for students? We always want more and different types of classrooms and student residences but we also want to leave space for moments of reflection, to enjoy the sunshine and the rain. We are looking to create the campus of tomorrow. 

Third, maintaining accessibility and affordability. We want to attract students from all over the world in a way that is thoughtful about integrating different world views so these students choose to stay and contribute to Canada after they graduate. We also need to be as efficient as possible in the way we deliver education. It’s not lost on anyone that our law school has the lowest fees of any law school in Toronto. 

Did you have a professor or teacher who changed your life or made a lasting impact?

One of my university professors, Al Rosen, stands out as someone who really helped shape my thinking. His message was: Change the rules. Figure out your own way of excelling your career. For a young person, that was inspiring and it has stayed with me. 

What one piece of advice would you pass on to a new Ryerson grad?

Most people want to help. Take advantage of that, in a good way, in a positive way. Find those mentors and leaders who are willing to take the time to help you because they are out there. 

What is your favourite part of the Ryerson campus?

Lake Devo. It’s a nice mix of quietness and gentle student traffic. 

What is your advice to management and Board members during the pandemic?

Over-communicate. Take the time to talk to people one-on-one and don’t forget to ask how they’re doing. 

Have you picked up any new hobbies during the pandemic?

Cooking. I became really good at making shepherd’s pie ‒ one of my favourites growing up. When the weather got better, I started playing tennis again.

Lightning round:

Fiction or non-fiction? “Fiction, but I’m currently reading Younger Next Year. It’s about how to stay healthy as you get older. There’s no magic formula. It’s calories and exercise. The last fiction I read was Dick Francis’ Blood Sport, an oldie.”

DC or Marvel? Marvel. I love Tony Stark and Ironman. But my very first comic book when I was seven years old was DC’s Captain America.

Nature hike or gallery wander? Nature hike. I like being outside and I don't know what I’m looking at in a gallery.

 

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