Ten Richest Canadians – How Did They Get So Rich?

Billionaires From the Frozen North
Any annual listing of the world’s richest people invariably conjures up many of the same names from one year to the next.  Yes, Warren Buffet is on there, and so is Bill Gates.  Ho hum.  But the average American-centric observer usually fails to recognize the wealth and entrepreneurial spirit that continues to thrive in our Neighbor to the North – Canada.  That country has its share of wealthy people, and successful people, and successfully wealthy people.  And even though the recent economic downturn has had some negative effects on those Billionaire Balance Sheets – comparing 2009 to 2008, the world’s billionaires shed approximately $2 trillion in asset valuation – none of these people is expected to show up in a bread line anytime soon.  According to Forbes, the magazine nearly everyone reads when it comes to exploring entrepreneurs and their successes, here are the ten richest Canadians for 2009, along with a brief description as to how they got there in the first place.  Unless otherwise noted, all figures are [not ironically] in U.S. dollars.

1. David Thomson and family ($13.0 billion); media conglomerate
Thomson is the grandson of Roy Thomson, who founded Thomson Corp. in 1934.  The company began as a book publisher, and today it continues to be one of the world’s prominent providers of textbooks for higher education.  But the corporation really took off once it got involved in electronic media and information technology, dominating such sectors as healthcare, financial services, law, and science.  The company acquired the Reuters news service in 2007 and is now formally known as Thomson Reuters.

2. Galen Weston and family ($5.0 billion); retail
The Weston family owns several giant retail establishments in Canada and the U.K., including Loblaws (grocers), Holt Renfrew, and Selfridges.  Weston is a descendent of George Weston, who got the family started in the food business when he founded George Weston Bakeries Ltd.  Loblaws is Canada’s largest retailer, with sales of more than C$30 billion in 2008.

3. The Irving Brothers [James, Arthur & Jack] ($3.9 billion); oil and other natural resources
These three brothers are the sons of billionaire Canadian oil king, K.C. Irving, who died in 1992.  The trio has each taken part of the family’s vast holdings in natural resources and divided up the spoils into areas of their own personal expertise and responsibility.  Arthur looks after Irving Oil and its retail locations across Canada, plus refineries and transportation.  Jack handles various construction, engineering, and steel fabricating entities.  James runs the parent company, whose primary interests involve forestry (and related products such as paper, wallboard, etc.), but also shipbuilding and other forms of transportation.

4. Paul Desmarais, Sr. ($2.6 billion); transportation, finance
Desmarais got his start by operating his family’s bus service.  He soon began acquiring other lines and created a holding company that branched out into other fields, such as life insurance and publishing, always emphasizing the financial aspects of each business.  Today, his Power Corporation of Canada owns interests in the media (including book publishing) and financial services across North America and Europe.  These assets include a significant interest in Total, the French oil conglomerate.

5. Guy Laliberté ($2.5 billion); Cirque du Soleil
Laliberté is one of the few Canadians on this list who did not get rich through inheritance or some other form of previously existing family business.  During his younger years he was an impoverished street performer.  Eventually he became an impresario of circus-type productions – including contracts with various Canadian and U.S. municipalities to stage elaborate street shows – which ballooned into the Cirque du Soleil Empire.  His company has permanent installations in six Las Vegas casinos, plus shows that travel the world, change annually, and are booked many years in advance.

6. Bernard [Barry] Sherman ($2.5 billion); pharmaceuticals
Sherman earned a PhD in astrophysics from M.I.T., but his position as the founder of Apotex Inc. – a giant manufacturer of generic drugs – stems from the experience he gained working for his uncle at Empire Laboratories, a pharmaceutical house he later acquired from the executor of his relative’s estate.  Sherman recognized the potential growth of generics on drug sales worldwide, and he has since positioned Apotex as one of the world’s Top Fifteen generic drug makers.

7. David Azrieli ($2.1 billion); construction
A Holocaust survivor who emigrated from Israel to Canada in 1954, Azrieli used his architectural degree as a jumping off point to begin a modest construction business in Montreal.  His company, Canpro Investments, has subsequently built and operated dozens of office buildings, high-rise residences, and shopping malls across Canada and the United States, as well as in Israel.  His self-named Azrieli Center in Tel Aviv is considered the largest real estate project in the Middle East.

8. Robert Miller ($2.1 billion); electronics
The word most often used in conjunction with Miller is “reclusive,” but there is nothing isolated or withdrawn about the company he founded in 1968, Future Electronics.  One of Quebec’s largest private corporations, Future sells electronic components (everything from circuit boards to LEDs, and tons more) through nearly 170 operations in 40 plus countries.  It is ranked as the world’s fourth largest distributor of electronics, with annual sales estimated to reach C$4.5 billion.

9. Jim Pattison ($2.1 billion); diversified portfolio
Pattison is the founder and CEO of Jim Pattison Group, a Vancouver based company that is Canada’s third largest company in private hands.  Although Pattison got his start as an automobile dealer, he began using profits from that business to acquire companies in a whole range of industries.  These include radio and television stations, outdoor advertising companies, other media type businesses, food distributors, warehouse facility management companies, and even Ripley’s “Believe It Or Not” Attractions!

10. Wallace McCain ($2.0 billion); food processing and distribution
If you have eaten a French fry anywhere in Europe or the Americas over the past 20 years, chances are it was cut from a potato in one of McCain’s processing plants.  Since founding McCain Foods Ltd. in 1956, McCain began buying up French fry facilities in areas as widespread as Atlantic Canada, France, Australia, Argentina, and various U.S. cities.  Anticipating the explosion of demand for frozen food, he later expanded into orange juice, pizza, and frozen vegetables other than just potatoes.

What did these ten richest Canadians have in common?  They either started or inherited their business.  Buy a Business or Buy a Franchise today - we have 100s of Franchise Opportunites and over 32,000 Businesses for Sale!

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