John Ruffolo isn’t as famous as some investors, but he’s very well-known in Canadian business circles. The longtime head of Arthur Andersen’s tech, media, and telecommunications practice, he joined OMERS roughly a decade ago when a former colleague became CEO and brought him aboard the pension giant to create a venture fund.
The idea was to back the most promising Canadian companies. Ruffolo steered the unit into investments like the social media management Hootsuite, the recently acquired storytelling platform Wattpad, and the e-commerce platform Shopify, among others other deals. The last was particularly meaningful, given that OMERS owned around 6% of the company sailing into a 2015 IPO that valued it at roughly $1.3 billion at the time. Alas, owing to the pension fund’s rules, it also began steadily selling that entire stake, even as Shopify’s value ticked upward. (Its market cap is currently $130 billion.)
Indeed, after helping OMERS subsequently get a growth equity unit off the ground, antsy Ruffolo left to launch his fund. Then came COVID, and as if the pandemic weren’t trying enough, Ruffolo further underwent a harrowing ordeal last September. An avid cyclist, he set out to ride 60 miles one sunny morning on a country road and was knocked far off his bike by a Mack truck in an accident that shattered most of his bones and left him paralyzed from the waist down.
That kind of one-two punch might drive someone to the brink. Instead, six months and multiple surgeries later, Ruffolo is undergoing training and therapy and intends to bike someday again. He is also very much back to work and just taking the wraps off his new Toronto-based firm, Maverix Private Equity, which has $500 million to invest in “traditional businesses” that already produce at least $100 million revenue and are using tech to grow but could use an outside investor for the first time to hit the gas.
We talked with Ruffolo about the accident and his new fund this morning. You can hear that conversation here (it starts around the seven-minute mark, and it’s worth a listen). In the meantime, the following are excerpts from that interview, edited lightly for length.
TC: You’re surely tired of answering the question, but how are you doing?
JR: Well, when somebody says it’s great to be alive, it is. I never knew how close I was to death, to be honest, until about eight days after the accident. When I asked for my phone, just to see what was going on in the world, thousands of messages came through. And I’m like, ‘What the hell?’
People were copying various articles. I picked off the first one, and it said, ‘John suffered a life-threatening injury.’ And I’m kind of thinking, ‘Life-threatening? Why are they saying that? And the doctors came in and said, ‘Because it was. We thought that you were going to die in the first 48 hours.’ I subsequently spoke to some of the top physicians [in Canada], and they don’t understand why I didn’t die on impact. That scared me a little bit, but I’m so glad to be alive. And my recovery is far ahead of schedule. It was only within a couple of weeks where I started feeling my legs again.
TC: You were pulverized, yet a recent piece about your recovery in The Globe & Mail notes that within a month or so, you were back to thinking about your new fund. Do you think you might be . . . a workaholic?
JR: Some people call it stupid. [Laughs.] For the two months, my first memory was worrying about my family and stuff [but] I have a group of cycling friends — we’re called Les Domestiques — who have committed to cycling. It’s a lot of folks who are investors, CEOs of big banks in Canada; we’re all close friends, [and] they all came to cocoon the family to make sure that nothing went wrong.
So very quickly, all of these folks took over every family element, and the kids were OK; everybody was OK. I then had a lot of time in the hospital, and I did get antsy, and I started placing the calls to the investors who were committing to this fund pre-COVID. I just really wanted to tell them, ‘Hey, I’m not dead. All my faculties are there. Are you still going to be there when I get out of the hospital?’