A Philanthropist’s Succession Plan
Story by Eric Geringas
WHEN DAVID SCRYMGEOUR was a Commerce student at the University of Toronto in the 1970s, he won a scholarship. The specifics and precise amount are lost to memory, but the impact never went away.
“It really made a positive impression,” he recalls. “More than the money, it was the recognition—the sense that I had done something to earn that.”
So when he set out on a career in business, he made a promise to himself: when the time came, he would create a scholarship of his own, and give that experience to someone else.
Thirty-three years after he graduated, in 2012, Scrymgeour fulfilled that promise. He endowed the Scrymgeour Scholarship in Entrepreneurial Management at Rotman Commerce, worth $24,000 over four years—50% of Rotman Commerce tuition. The scholarship recognizes incoming students who are academically strong and involved in the community, music or sports.
A few months later in Newcastle, Ontario, a grade 12 student named Siobhan Scott was doing cartwheels down the halls of her high school, having heard that she had been selected.
For Scott, it was a transformative experience. “I was a 17-year-old from a small town moving to Toronto—that was so terrifying.” she recalls. Without the scholarship, “I don’t think I would have felt like I should have been there.”
But Scrymgeour was far from finished: funding one incoming student per year wasn’t enough. He has increased his endowment to support three incoming Rotman Commerce students every year, and three students in Environmental Studies. And in 2014, he made a further gift of $1.2 million, endowing the Building Canadian Leaders Matching Scholarship Program and challenging other donors to come up with the same amount. As a result, more than 50 donors have created 13 new Rotman Commerce scholarships.
Yet this financial generosity doesn’t quite capture the essence of David Scrymgeour, who has made the University of Toronto the focus of the next stage of his life.
Now semi-retired from business after founding, running and selling a series of companies, Scrymgeour is the Rotman Commerce Entrepreneur-in-Residence, and teaches an annual course called A CEO’s Toolkit.
“I teach the organizational model I’ve developed over the last 30 years as a troubleshooter, consultant, starter, builder, manager of organizations,” he says. “It’s a model of how I see the pieces fitting together.”
His weekly presence at the University allows him to keep tabs on the Scrymgeour Scholarship recipients, and provide informal mentorship throughout the year.
“He’s a big listener,” says Scott. “He supports whatever you are happy about, that’s going well for you.”
For Scott, Scrymgeour provided an important vote of confidence for the duration of her undergraduate education. “It was unorthodox of me to want to go into the music and arts industry from Rotman Commerce—it’s a very finance- and accounting-focused program,” she says. “But David thought it was a great idea.”
“It’s one thing to receive money from your program,” says 2014 winner Justin Glaspell. “It’s a totally different experience to get a scholarship where the person really cares and wants to be involved with students.”
Scott graduated in 2017, and is pursuing her dream of a career in the music industry. Glaspell wrapped up his final year in 2018, and is planning to start his own business.
In 2017, three Scrymgeour scholars entered Rotman Commerce, including Eseosa Nosakhare, an accomplished student, athlete and charity volunteer from Waterloo, Ontario. When her father died three years ago, she didn’t know if she’d make it to university at all. “I was thinking I’d have to take a few years off to work, just to be able to save up the money to go,” she says. “The scholarship definitely had a huge impact.”
Scrymgeour spent the first part of his business career looking for successors. He was a management consultant—a fixer sent in to turn around troubled businesses.
“The very first thing I did on a job was to look around for the people who’d take over and replace me when the assignment was done,” he recalls. “You don’t want to go in and build a fix around yourself, and then leave and have the whole thing fall apart.”
With the Scrymgeour scholarships, he’s still doing the same thing—making sure there’s a new generation ready to take his place in the world when his assignment is done.
TOP: left to right: Siobhan Scott, David Scrymgeour, Justin Glaspell and Eseosa Nosakhare