If you ask Richard Blundell what he does, you probably won’t get a straight answer.

That’s because Richard has pretty much done — and continues to do — it all.

Or at least, everything that lies at the intersection of technology and sustainability.

“The most successful companies, and the most successful founders, are driven by purpose.”

Richard has well over three decades of senior management and consulting experience in the global environmental services and technology sectors, including operations management, corporate and market development, mergers and acquisitions, new business initiation and consulting. He is currently Head of Strategy at Pantonium, an artificially intelligent route optimization software based in Toronto.

In his experience, “The most successful companies, and the most successful founders, are driven by purpose.”

Richard is also an executive-in-residence and adjunct professor at the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, where he teaches MBA and executive MBA courses in sustainability, innovation and entrepreneurship. The 2021 Rotman MBA class elected Richard as the top professor for their year.

“That recognition is very humbling and makes me feel deeply honoured to be a part of the students’ lives,” he said.

However, Richard’s early years as a student weren’t quite so successful.

After growing up in Montreal, Richard moved to Toronto to attend the University of Toronto for commerce, and only because “it was the only school that would accept him.” Needless to say, he didn’t last long.

“I only lasted a year and then they asked me to leave,” he laughed. “To learn you have to think, and at school, at least when I was going, it was all learning by rote. And I am not good at memorizing stuff.”

Instead, he went off and wandered around out west for a few years, working on the oil fields, at a cattle ranch in Northern Alberta, and in the timber industry on Vancouver Island. Eventually he went back to school, and while he still wasn’t the most successful student, he managed to graduate with a degree in geology a few years later.

“I barely graduated,” he laughed.

Following graduation, Richard founded a company in Wales with two others building hydraulic and high pressure water equipment for refinery maintenance. They started out in a tiny village — with only one pub that Richard lived on top of. The company grew and in time, relocated to Cardiff, selling its products all over the world.

Richard eventually decided to dabble in education once again, studying for his MBA at a school in Switzerland, and this time it stuck.

“I was excited about learning,” said Richard. “It was the first time in my life that I actually felt like I was learning, and I couldn’t sleep.”

That kick-started several decades of senior leadership roles with various global companies, including Laidlaw Inc. as Director of European Business Development; SGS SA, a global company in inspection, testing, and certification services, as SVP of the Global Environmental Services Division; and Hagemeyer Cosa Liebermann, a technology marketing company in Asia Pacific, as EVP of the Technology Division.

He has run businesses in East and West Europe, North and South America, Africa, and Asia. He started to get more and more involved in sustainability on the entrepreneurial side — specifically with early-stage businesses that were really trying to “move the dial” in regards to the environment and climate. He has since held executive management positions in eight early-stage, clean-tech companies, including a number of Board of Directors appointments.

At one point, Richard helped build an electronic scrap recycling business in Italy while also starting a biopesticide business in Nevada. That meant travelling back and forth, spending two weeks every month in Milan and the other two in the U.S. for almost three years.

“It nearly killed me,” said Richard.

After a failed attempt at an electric car startup in Norway, Richard lost it all. His marriage fell apart, he was broke, and went from living in a beautiful place in South Kensington to the top floor of someone else’s house, sleeping on the floor and eating from cans.

“I remember thinking, my God, what happened here,” he laughed.

So, in true Richard fashion, he started another company and, finally, thought about moving home. He was commuting from London to San Francisco at the time, so Toronto seemed like a good option in between. Richard had tried to move back to Canada two other times in his 35 years abroad, but he never lasted longer than six months.

“I was always back in Europe. I kind of thought I would retire in Switzerland,” Richard said.

But this time was different. With aging parents and three younger sisters with children of their own, Richard wanted to be closer to his family.

And he was building something really cool at the time.

The Global Business Sustainability Network (BSN) started in 2010 as an exclusive and confidential peer-to-peer network of senior executives from non-competing, industry-leading, global corporations. Members of the network included category leaders such as Apple, Oracle, AT&T, Duke Energy, Shell, Tetra Pak, and FrieslandCampina, among others.

Richard was helping them use sustainability as a source of innovation to drive new growth for their businesses. And he was doing it all at a time when the conversation around sustainability was still in its infancy.

“We discovered if you build something just on sustainability objectives, it fails. There has to be a solid business case as well,” he said.

Most of the members — Richard included — had met at the first ever Earth Summit in Rio de Janeiro in 1992. Along with strategic development, they had a lot of fun, too.

“We were a little group of people and we grew up together,” said Richard.

Over the course of six years, the membership-based organization would hold strategic, quarterly meetings, and once a year one of the members would host an annual event. One year, FrieslandCampina hosted the group on a dairy farm in the Netherlands, and members spent an entire trip learning about cows from a Dutch farmer.

“You have a world class consumer electronics company, a world class IT data analytics company, it had nothing to do with this, all sitting there in awe and learning a lot,” said Richard. “It was so cool.”

“Sustainability is not just about the planet, it’s about people. It’s about our wellness, our health, our societies and our communities and the ability to build prosperity for those communities”

When that company finally folded, Richard wasn’t sure what to do next.

He was catching up with an old friend from high school, who had just become the Dean of the Rotman School of Management, when he was handed the school’s strategy for the next five years.

“There was nothing on sustainability,” said Richard. “I said, I don’t understand how you can lead a world class business school and not teach probably the most important topic.”

It turns out the students had an appetite to learn about it as well, and Richard has been teaching sustainability and entrepreneurship at Rotman ever since.  

“Sustainability is not just about the planet, it’s about people. It’s about our wellness, our health, our societies and our communities and the ability to build prosperity for those communities,” he said.

This passion Richard brings to the classroom is something he advocates for in his daily life, too. Especially since moving to Collingwood.

Richard moved to the area with his partner in June of 2019 looking to escape the city and live somewhere where they could enjoy the natural environment.

“We fell in love with the area immediately,” he smiled. “We’re going to spend the rest of our lives here.”

But he is worried about the future of Collingwood.

“If we don’t take care of the natural environment, this as a destination will lose its appeal very quickly,” he said. “That is also going to ruin the diversity that is so beautiful about this place.”

Because of that, Richard has become an advocate for preserving entrepreneurship and sustainability in this area as well.