Walter Schroeder

Class of 2022

  • Founder DBRS Ltd.
  • Chairman Colonial House Capital Ltd.

Making money was never the focus for me.

Walter Schroeder's parents were immigrants from the Ukraine, where they lived in a German enclave while keeping their culture and heritage alive for more than a hundred years. During the Russian Revolution, both sides of his family escaped persecution by immigrating to Canada. They had survived the Communist revolution but lost all their wealth. When Walter was born in December 1941 in Winnipeg, Manitoba, his father was working as a caretaker of a private college and his mother cleaned houses for the rich people of Winnipeg.

"Those difficult times definitely had an effect on my father," says Walter. 'He was frugal and sought stability above risk. 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.'

Both of Walter's parents came from large families. Their native language was German, and Walter grew up with dozens of cousins, who all 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. I can remember hearing once that when a son walks in his father's footsteps, that means he is like his father. I loved my father, but I wanted much more than what he could give us. One day, I was walking behind him in the snow, and I purposefully made my footsteps fall away from his because I was determined my life would be different and did not want to follow in his footsteps.'

Walter's maternal relatives were largely entrepreneurs in their day. They became businessmen when they grew up in Canada, becoming small-time entrepreneurs. 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 honours 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. Part of his responsibilities was to go to S&P and Moody's offices three to four times per year to keep in touch and help advise clients about the process of getting a credit rating.

After several years, Walter, took his wife on a work trip to Montreal. On the way, with his wife taking notes as Walter 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.'

Nearly 40 years after founding the company, Walter was still the sole owner. In 2014, he sold DBRS to private equity, and he has moved on to a new career operating a family office in philanthropy. Grateful for the quality education he received from Canada's universities, Walter now helps deserving Canadian students on their quests for higher education. Winnipeg, Walter's former hometown, has the largest Indigenous population of any major city in Canada. He has hired community service workers to help families, and he operates a school cafeteria, which provides subsidized and free breakfast and warm lunches to more than 200 students daily. He has also started a homework club for students who need added attention. Additionally, he is giving full scholarships to 40 students for four-year university degrees and another 40 ongoing scholarships to community college.

Walter has also started a production company and works as an executive producer of documentaries and musicals. One musical, No Change in the Weather, featuring Newfoundland folk music, has received favourable reviews while touring across Canada in 2019.

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 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.'

Walter also believes that his business was successful because making money was never his focus. 'We had a long-term view of what was needed to build the business, and that is why we were successful,' he says.

Honoured and excited about his Horatio Alger Award, Walter says, 'The scholarships that the Association is awarding fits with my philosophy of helping those who need it the most to gain an education. That is, I believe, where you make the biggest impact. I want to be active with the Association and do all I can to bring more scholarships to Canadian students. Helping poor and Indigenous families is my passion today, and I am honoured to be in an organization that is doing so much to help so many.'