John Button


John Button, BCom ’12

Strategy and M&A Manager, Technology and Media, Rogers Communications

Drawn to the Centre

Early in life, John Button knew the language of business. Growing up in Whitby, he watched his father commute into the “centre of the Canadian universe” each morning. “My dad was a stock trader, so you start hearing about those things early on,” says John. “Buy low, sell high—the lingo starts to creep into you. Years later, when I did the CFA charter, my dad was more impressed with that than I was. ”

John eventually came to understand that Toronto is more truly the centre of Canadian business. With several family members being alumni, the University of Toronto was a natural choice for him. “UofT was the big school when I was growing up, and I just had huge respect for the institution and the commerce program coming out of that,” says John. “Studying in the centre of Canadian business just made sense.”

John acknowledges however that it wasn’t just academia that attracted him to UofT. “It’s a huge university, with lots of extra-curricular activity and student groups, and extra opportunities both inside and outside of the university,” he confirms, “so I knew it would offer a very multi-polar learning experience.”

As a child, legendary innovators from the early days of industry, and the things they were able to build, fascinated John. “I was always interested in ‘things’,” says John. “Whether it was the tallest building in the world, or cars, or the Titanic. The names that come up around things that changed the world are Ford, Edison, JP Morgan, Andrew Carnegie and the like. Some of those people had inventing backgrounds, but mostly they are known for being popularizers, commercializers, rather than inventors. What they made possible through business, bringing new products to market—that was the interesting thing to me.”

From this early interest grew an understanding of how business can improve the world in very real, tangible ways. “I come back to thinking about JP Morgan,” says John, “who bankrolled a lot of the companies that people still think about today. People who were working during the industrial revolution, their impact was more than just some esoteric, high finance stuff—it was real investments, in real companies, that brought real products to market.”

The Rotman Commerce Experience

Now a senior manager with Rogers, John says he was compelled to give back to the Rotman Commerce community as a graduate. He says his sense of goodwill started with his time as a Rotman Commerce student. “When you are talking about being an active part of the community, it starts even before you become an alumnus,” says John. “Think back to your time in university—did you have a positive experience at the university, outside of just the classes?”

“That was something that was attractive to me about UofT and Rotman Commerce from the start,” he continues, recalling his days treading the university hallways. “I certainly took advantage of those things while I was a student. There was some great work going on at the time from the Rotman student groups, and the wider university as well, so I was very involved and I had a great time at university.”

John’s positive experience as a student set the tone for his desire to be engaged as an alumnus. “That positive association goes further: you actually want to be a part of that community, going forward together,” he says. “I was thinking of that even before I made my choice of university—I wanted something that I could continue to be involved in over the long-term.”

Managing Mentorship

For him, part of that involvement has taken the form of mentorship, and he has become extremely active in helping to guide future generations of students. Since he was a student mentee during his time at Rotman Commerce, he knew the value of that type of coaching. Student mentorship implies a certain level of commitment from all parties, but from John’s perspective, alumni should look for the opportunities that allow them to maximize their time and student exposure. “The mentorship program is an investment, both on the part of the student and the mentor,” he asserts. “As we continue to evolve, we will continue to make those connections not only with the current alumni, but for the next generation. But there are other programs which don’t require that one-to-one relationship. There are speed interviews, networking events, roundtables with certain focuses, so that allows for a very rich ecosystem of all types of mentorship. For students, having those coaches is critical, and I try to make myself available to my mentees as much as possible.”

John is also constantly seeking new ways of building on his experience and staying engaged. He stresses the importance for alumni to find the methods of engagement that suit them best. “I was aware of the mentorship program, because I was a mentee. Also I was aware of the steering committee,” says John. “But I keep finding more ways of being involved in the university as time goes on, not just with Rotman but also the wider UofT community. I’m now also serving as one of three alumni on the academic board. I’m involved with Rise Asset Development, which is kind of a joint venture between Rotman School of Management and CAMH, helping entrepreneurs with addiction and mental illness challenges. So there are really so many ways to get involved that can fit with anyone’s time commitments, experience, academic focus, or career focus.”

As a member of the Rotman Commerce Alumni Steering Committee, John sees tremendous opportunity for alumni to help shape the journey of future graduates, and to provide feedback and direction on the future of alumni mentorship programs. “No matter what your time commitment or where you are from, there is a way to get involved that makes sense,” says John. “One of the things that we’re trying to do, both in the Alumni Relations Office and with the Steering Committee, is to create more of a two-way dialogue with things like the Class Champions program—if you have ideas about how to get involved, we want to make that part of our plan. Alumni involvement has to work for the students and the program, but it also has to work for the alums who volunteer.”

Rational Altruism

The mentorship process has become a part of his lifelong personal development, allowing him to learn from the process as well. “First off, it’s made me a better interviewer,” says John. “The thing I do most often is mock interviews, and I’m pretty relentless with those for my mentees. They say you don’t really understand something until you can teach it, so from my perspective, I got a lot better at doing interviews, and running interviews myself, through having that experience.”

The reflection and wide perspective he requires to guide students has also had correlations in his own career strategy. “If you take a step back and look at someone else’s career aspirations,” he says, “it really helps you to refocus, to rethink about your own career. Helping someone plan the start of their career allows you to reflect to where you are in your own career and your own personal growth.”

That long-term personal growth, and the accompanying strategy, is something that has always been a part of John’s decision-making process. For him, engaging with Rotman Commerce as an alumnus has enabled him to grow through service—something he strongly encourages for all alumni. “The reality is that once you graduate, you have forty or fifty years before your career ends,” he says. “From that time stems all these opportunities to grow, to fail, all sorts of gullies and peaks that you need to navigate through. So for alumni, don’t focus on what your experience as a student was, or what you felt you lacked, but what you need to continue to grow as a person. Look at the opportunity that you have for personal development in giving of yourself to the program.”

“It’s not about getting a job—it’s about improving yourself,” he emphasizes. “It will help make you a better person.”

John says he would give the same advice to students. “Be involved,” he says. “Be involved in Rotman Commerce, in the wider university, in politics, in whatever you find interesting. Volunteer. You will meet great people, and you will have experiences that are good previews for your career journey. You’ll find some of the most accomplished and successful people in the business world understand that development is a lifelong process.”

Continuing to muse on personal growth, John highlights a certain type of rational altruism as a moral framework for understanding the immediate benefits of being an engaged graduate. “By reinvesting in the program and building a stronger future for the students, you strengthen the program and the degree that you already have, and you can grow as a person,” says John. “However, you also create a common good for all Rotman Commerce students. If you have a stronger and more successful graduating class, it means you have a stronger network from a recruiting perspective. Good networks develop good networks—it’s a self-reinforcing cycle. It makes the place that you inhabit better.”

Impacting the World

Today, John is a senior manager with Rogers, working with mergers and acquisitions, divestitures, and a variety of finance projects. True to his values and his early interests, he sees himself as part of a larger community helping to better the world through business. “Working for a Canadian company that touches so many people is a great experience,” he says with evident pride. “You have all these global forces, and you have to manage global competition, while still participating in a market that is close to home and where you can see the impact. I get to see the impact of my work, and incorporate feedback into the projects of the day.”

Ultimately, John Button wants to try to change the world through impactful products. He says his dream would be to become an intrapreneur, helping to incubate and foster new concepts, and bring them to market for the betterment of society as a whole. “I think the Internet of Things, by which we mean the ubiquity of connected sensors and technologies, offers a lot of potential improvements to society in ways that are hard to fully imagine,” John says, his eyes gleaming at the possibilities. “If you can imagine the potential impact of through-energy reduction via smart thermostats and monitors on major appliances – you can reduce the energy consumption of a household by about twelve percent. Spread that across every household in the country, or every household in the world, and that’s a very material improvement to the environment, and to the efficiency of our grid. Or if you think about the improvements that are possible through remote health monitors, for people with chronic illness. Or imagine what that technology could do for traffic management. There is incredible potential to change the world.”