CB’s annual ranking of our wealthiest
Nov 26, 2014
For Roy Thomson, it all started with a $500 investment in a northern Ontario radio station during the Great Depression. For Fred DeGasperis, it was a truck he purchased with his brother to do construction jobs around Toronto in the 1950s. For Terry Matthews, it was an ill-fated plan to build hotel fire alarms. The creation myth for each member of the Rich 100 usually begins in the same humble, unassuming manner and ends with the same result: wealth, and a lot of it. And because these people have been at it for decades, they keep getting fabulously, obscenely, gloriously richer.
Collectively, the individuals on the Rich 100 are worth $230 billion, more than the total gross domestic product of many countries in the world, including New Zealand, Ireland and Portugal. And this year has been one of their best ever. Their combined net worth surged by more than 15%, the biggest increase since 2000. The reward for the wealthy is partly a result of a worldwide market rally—the S&P 500 Index rose more than 16%, while the Nasdaq increased 17%. The S&P/TSX composite, which is more heavily skewed toward commodities, is up just over 6%. While the actual economies of Canada and the U.S. aren’t faring particularly well, so long as the U.S. Federal Reserve maintains its stimulus program, stock markets will tick higher.
They may not always look like titans of industry (Onex CEO Gerry Schwartz and Indigo CEO Heather Reisman were spotted at one of her stores one recent weekend in decidedly non-business attire—he wore track pants, her hair was pulled back with a red scrunchie), but the individuals on this list are particularly good at ensuring they come out on top.
The retail and grocery sectors in Canada have been under siege from Target and Walmart, and yet retailers and grocers typically enjoyed double-digit increases in their fortunes. The Westons and the Sobeys, for example, took aggressive defensive measures to stay competitive. Loblaw snagged Shoppers Drug Mart, and Sobeys bought Safeway Canada. Investors are loving the strategy and sent shares in both companies soaring higher.
As for the Westons and the Sobeys themselves, their net worths shot up by $2.1 billion and $598 million, respectively—gains of roughly 25%. Dollarama founder Larry Rossy has found himself growing richer ever since the recession, when cashstrapped Canadians flocked to his stores in search of cheap goods. Rossy’s net worth bumped up $143 million—an 11% surge. Convenience-store magnate Alain Bouchard, meanwhile, looked beyond Canada and scooped up a European chain last year, combining it with his company, Alimentation Couche-Tard. Investors rewarded the stock. As a major shareholder, Bouchard’s net worth skyrocketed by 48%—almost $500 million.
Few members actually decreased in net worth. Anyone tied to mining, which is undergoing a global rout, suffered badly, however. Gold bug Eric Sprott was dealt a huge blow, falling 17% (more than $200 million). Silver-tongued mining promoter Robert Friedland dropped 14% ($42 million). Rob McEwen’s mining company is struggling so badly he tumbled off the Rich List entirely.
But overall, it’s been a banner year for the super rich. The cutoff for making the list in 2013 was $728 million, compared to $309.6 million in 1999. In a few years the Rich List will likely consist entirely of billionaires. Increasingly the Rich 100 is becoming a class of its own—sailing farther away not only from most of us, but from most multimillionaires, too. Newcomers don’t appear very often, and when they do, it’s often simply because they have managed to dodge the spotlight until now. That’s the case with this year’s new addition, Vancouver’s Aquilini family, which had consistently flown under the radar until an acrimonious divorce proceeding revealed massive wealth and diverse holdings, spanning real estate and agriculture.
More than a quarter of the list is made up of families like the Aquilinis, and while it may be hard to feel sympathy for the pecadilloes of the rich, it’s worth pointing out that being a member of a dynasty comes with its own set of burdens. Roy Thomson, who built a multi-billion-dollar conglomerate, noted in his autobiography that his son, Ken, and his grandsons would have no choice but to manage the family business. “These Thomson boys …are not going to be able to, even if they want to, shrug off these responsibilities,” he wrote. Grandson David, a chairman of the family holding company today, felt the full weight of the Thomson name growing up. “I learned at a very early age that people did not give a shit about me, and when they did, they wanted something,” he said in a 1993 oral history of the private school he attended in Toronto. “Now I am extremely self-sufficient and rather overly aggressive, I suppose.”