Interview with Sandi Treliving
A high-profile philanthropist is changing the world with the timeless values she learned growing up.
This is the season of giving, and one power couple has reinterpreted this sentiment not only for a holiday, but for a lifetime.
“My husband and I don’t give one another gifts anymore. We’ve stopped doing that — we have enough,” says Sandi Treliving, a full-time philanthropist, who supports a wide range of charitable causes, from mental health to entertainment.
“I want to be in a place where I can say, ‘You know what? What we did today, what we did yesterday, what we’re doing tomorrow is going to make a difference,’” she says. “That would be my gift. Everybody has to find what makes them happy. The gift of giving is extremely, extremely rewarding.”
Giving is and always has been a family affair for Treliving. When she was 10, her brother was diagnosed with schizophrenia, which makes her role on the Board of Directors for the Centre for Addiction and Mental Health (CAMH) Foundation in Toronto particularly personal. Through her efforts, Sandi Treliving has helped raise $200 million, the largest hospital fundraising campaign for mental health in Canada. The hospital has also been getting some unlikely visitors to help raise much needed exposure, as today, one in five Canadians suffer from mental illness.
“Prince Harry came and toured CAMH, so I got to meet him,” Treliving says. “That was so exciting — he was so wonderful, engaged, and knowledgeable. He is a fighter and a champion for his causes, the veterans and mental health, so it was such a big thing for him to come to CAMH. That was a great, great gift for us.”
Treliving’s husband, Jim Treliving, who co-chairs CAMH’s new Difference Makers — 150 Leading Canadians for Mental Health initiative, is also co-owner of Boston Pizza and an investor “dragon” on the hit TV show Dragons’ Den. He stays equally busy on the boards of several charities, such as Hockey Canada Foundation, David Foster Foundation, and Jays Care Foundation.
The “do-gooder” genes have also been passed to the next generation — daughter Cheryl Treliving is the executive director of the Boston Pizza Foundation, and daughter Katie Borger is manager and director of the Boston’s Pizza Foundation for the U.S.
“It’s nice to give as a family, to do things together,” Sandi Treliving says. “We’ve gone and done the house build in the Dominican with the Boston Pizza Foundation and the David Foster Foundation combined, so that was a really fun trip for us. I think that’s a really good conversation to have with your family ahead of the holidays. What can we do this year to make it special? Something that we can all agree upon that makes an impact to others, and is heartwarming for our family and our family values, our family goals. I think that’s a really great way to start the giving season.”
The foundation for a life of giving began much earlier, though, for Treliving. Her father came from a modest background, but worked hard and excelled in manufacturing oils, additives and lubricants. Every Sunday night, Treliving and her three siblings would sit around the dinner table, helping her father label the product.
“We’d laugh and have fun — he always made it enjoyable,” she says. “But the lesson is that nothing really comes for free. We have to work at it, and we have to work hard.”
That drive and ambition has defined Treliving and the great success she’s had in the world of charity and philanthropy. But those early years working with her siblings and father taught her another core life lesson that continues to impact her life today.
“It was a good teamwork lesson — it just carries you forward in a lot of different worlds,” she says.
It seems that teamwork — and the lessons that go along with it, such as respect, caring for others, and selflessness — are an integral characteristic of a healthy, successful business, charity, and even life.
“We’re very fortunate — we have a very strong bond, and we have right from the beginning,” Treliving says about her marriage. She spends 200 nights a year with her husband in hotels around the world. “He counts on me to be supportive of the things that he is doing, and I count on him as well. So we’re very lucky because we really do look at things in a team aspect. It’s important for me to look over and see that he is there. He is there and he’s encouraging me, and I am doing the same for him. I think that’s made us very successful.”
That love for each other, the teamwork, and their passion for helping the world have inspired the Trelivings to truly give in every way they can.
“We are very fortunate that we can give back on the money side,” she says. “But I think both my husband and I, and our family, are doers. We want to ensure that our money is going to good causes, being used appropriately and properly, and the best way for that to happen is to get involved. I think that there’s such a joy in that aspect of it. I can buy a table to your event, and I will ask you to buy a table to mine, but to really get in and to offer something else is exciting to me.”