Walter Schroeder’s parents were immigrants from a German speaking enclave in the Ukraine, and he was born and grew up in Winnipeg, Manitoba. His parents father worked hard, his father as a caretaker of a private college and his mother cleaning houses.
‘My father was frugal and sought stability above risk,’ Walter explains, ‘But he was smart and a very skilled tradesman. He could do anything from plumbing to carpentry. He was proud of our house, and he kept it in good condition. We were poor, but we did not know we were poor because we had plenty of relatives around us.’
Walter grew up with dozens of cousins in his neighbourhood, all of whom spoke German. ‘I didn’t learn English until I was in the first grade,’ he says. ‘But education was very important in my family. I knew that would be my way out of poverty’.
By the time he was in the eighth grade, getting a university education was Walter’s number-1 goal. He became interested in the stock market and taught himself the principles of portfolio management. ‘I told myself,’ he says, ‘that I wanted to become the best equity analyst in North America.’
Walter obtained a bachelor of commerce degree with honors from the University of Manitoba, and then achieved his MBA from McMaster University. He worked evenings until he was licensed as a certified public accountant (CPA) as well as a certified financial analyst (CFA).
In 1969, Walter’s first professional job was with Wood Gundy Ltd., the prominent Canadian investment bank at the time. He established and led the company’s credit analysis department.
After several years, Walter, took his wife Maria on a work trip to Montreal. On the way, with his wife taking notes as he drove, they developed a plan to open a rating agency in Canada. In 1976, they founded DBRS, with start-up capital of only a few thousand dollars. DBRS within a few years became a full-service credit rating agency, rating most Canadian and international companies operating in Canada for global markets, including banks and sovereigns. ‘I got in on the ground floor,’ says Walter. ‘I ended up rating about 120 global world banks and built DBRS into the largest rating agency in Canada and the fourth largest in the world.’
In 2014, he sold DBRS to private equity, and he has moved on to a new career operating a family office in philanthropy. Walter has also started a production company and works as an executive producer of documentaries and musicals.
Other philanthropic efforts include several educational and healthcare projects. For Walter, his philanthropy has become his passion. ‘I like to fight for the underdog,’ he says. ‘My wife was able to graduate high school because her principal gave her family encouragement and a small bursary to keep her in school one more year. That is why we are so passionate to help others with their education. It makes such a difference not only to the individuals you are helping, but also to the whole community.’
Family is still highly important to Walter Schroeder. He grew up 100 yards away from the poorest postal code in all of Canada, but he never realized his family was poor. ‘I have 72 relatives’ aunts, uncles, and first cousins,’ he says. ‘We always had a happy family. We got together often and still have close contact to this day. My wife and I have been married for more than 50 years. She helped to build our business and her support was a big part of our success. I believe that success and a strong family life go hand in hand.’