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Centre for Building Sustainable Value · Rebecca Zuker, HBA '23 Candidate

Matt Robertson: Bringing new values into new spaces – Balancing family business & new adventures

Jan 12, 2023

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After spending time in the investment banking industry, Matt Robertson was ready to embark on a new adventure.  He sought a more entrepreneurial path and was interested in businesses that developed solutions to problems facing the environment. During his time as a student at Ivey, and then as a banker at Scotiabank, he did a lot of reading and research surrounding up-and-coming opportunities in the business world.  He noticed two distinct trends - the increased flow of capital into sustainability-centric businesses, and the increased legislation and regulation surrounding the space.  

Key Learnings at Ivey 

After finishing his undergraduate degree in math, and spending several years working in the insurance industry, Matt was eager to learn more about other industries and business models that he was less familiar with. Matt decided to pursue his MBA at Ivey in 2020. Time at Ivey broadened Matt’s perspective and allowed him to understand the relationship between sustainable business practices and companies’ profits.  Professors like Tima Bansal, who approached cases with a focus on sustainability and corporate responsibility, helped him broaden his thinking on this relationship. His overarching takeaway was that if customers, shareholders, and all other stakeholders are demanding that businesses adopt more sustainable practices, these practices are integral and consistent with future profitability.  

“Our professors and administrators at Ivey emphasized the importance of our impact and involvement with the communities we work and live in.  We had many CEOs speak to our class throughout the year, and the majority of them emphasized the importance of “doing right” by all stakeholders, not just the investors – this refined my understanding of great leadership, which is to drive both economic prosperity and social responsibility.”  

A Career with Purpose 

Matt’s career has since evolved into one that prioritizes sustainability. He is a Vice President, Strategy & Corporate Development, at Terraforma Systems Inc. while also helping run his family’s business, Richard Donelle & Associates (RDA). Terraforma locally manufactures on-site composters that allow organizations to transform their organic waste into immature compost, which results in substantial cost and greenhouse gas reduction by eliminating the transportation and logistics associated with food waste disposal. 

Terraforma has also developed a data analytics and climate reporting software that pairs with their equipment, which recommends improvements to operational practices as well as additional savings opportunities through upstream changes in purchasing, handling, and food preparation. Matt has helped the company implement its technology in places like Masonville Mall, Vancouver International Airport, and others.   

Innovating The Traditional 

With his new skill set, Matt also wanted to bring a sustainable lens to his family business - which imports and exports food disposable packaging products and materials. He and his father had always discussed him joining the family business and now he had the perfect opportunity - to aid in the procurement of sustainable products and materials to be used in the industry. Matt’s mother brought a background in health science research, his father was an entrepreneurial spirit, and he now recognized the importance of incorporating sustainable practices into the business.  

He wasn’t the only one - RDA’s customers have increasingly inquired about sustainable materials as alternatives to more traditional packaging materials. Matt’s newfound interest in sustainability has helped him excel in his professional career while creating new opportunities for his family business.  

Know The Industry 

When asked about advice he has for students looking to enter a career with sustainability as the focal point Matt points out that “unlike industries such as investment banking, in sustainability, there aren’t subscription services or prep courses like ‘Breaking into Wall Street’ or ‘Wall Street Prep’ that outline the steps you need to take or the knowledge you need to know in order to break into the industry.  The industry is growing and changing so quickly, so it’s harder to predict where your career will go, even once you break in.  So, for me, researching and understanding the industry (which I’m still constantly doing) is key. There are so many ways to do this, and everyone is different, but I’ve found that I get the most out of connecting with other people in the industry. The nice thing I’ve found about networking with people focused on sustainability is they are generally very passionate and excited to talk to you about their knowledge and experience.  It’s a very supportive network to have!”