Chairman of the board and chief executive officer, George Weston Limited; chairman of the board, Loblaw Companies; chairman of the board, Holt Renfrew; chairman of the board, Brown Thomas Group; chairman of the board, Whittington Investments; and chairman of the board, Selfridges
Born: October 29, 1940, in Marlow, Buckinghamshire, England.
Education: Attended University of Western Ontario.
Family: Son of Willard Garfield Weston and Reta Lila Howard; married Hilary Mary Frayne, 1966; children: two.
Career: George Weston Limited, 1974–1996, president; 1978–, chairman of the board and chief executive officer; Holt Renfrew, 1986–, chairman of the board.
Awards: Officer of the Order of Canada, 1990.
Address: Suite 20001, George Weston Limited, 22 St. Clair Avenue East, Toronto, Ontario M4T 2S7, Canada; http://www.weston.ca; http://www.loblaw.com; http://www.holtrenfrew.com.
■ W. Galen Weston was an optimistic, cheerful man who remembered his childhood as happy and who had a successful, dynamic marriage of equals. He was a daring businessman with an entrepreneurial spirit that drove him constantly to try to build new businesses. Honest and forthright in his dealings with others, he won the trust of England's royal family, political leaders in Canada, and members of the business and social elites from several countries. His hobbies included polo, which he played well into his 50s, and collecting the art of the eccentric artist Christo. As the leader of the Weston-family's holdings of over two hundred companies, he saved George Weston Limited from bankruptcy and built the family fortune while becoming one of the world's richest people. During the late 1990s and early 2000s, he led an expansion of family holdings that increased the family fortune by billions of dollars per year.
George Weston, the American son of an immigrant, founded a bread bakery in Toronto, Canada, in 1882. He expanded his bakery into a food-processing and distribution business that served most of Canada. His son W. Garfield Weston was exceptionally gifted at making business deals, and from 1944 to 1974 he expanded the family business into supermarkets, fisheries, frozen goods, and other retail businesses, while buying over two thousand companies all over the world. Although he always thought of himself and his family as Canadian, Garfield Weston lived in England during the 1930s and 1940s. In 1936 he was elected a Member of Parliament, and he represented Macclesfield through World War II.
During the war Garfield Weston kept his three sons and six daughters in England, refusing to abandon his constituents and insisting that if a bomb hit the family, they would all die together. He and his family were Methodists, and they had a Puritanical streak that included valuing hard work for its own sake. Born in 1940, Galen Weston was the youngest of the nine children, and his six sisters doted on him. He and his siblings did not follow the English tradition for members of the social elite and attend boarding schools; instead, Garfield Weston had his children attend local day schools, ostensibly so that they could learn how his business was conducted and visit him in his places of business, but love of the company of his children was probably a significant reason as well. Galen was taught the family business by his father, but he had fun. He recalled going to Fortnum & Mason after the store closed for the day, where he and his siblings would make ice-cream treats for themselves. He attended 17 different schools in Canada, England, South Africa, and the United States. Jobs in his youth included selling Christmas trees and picking tobacco, as well as working in stores.
Galen Weston was a restless young man, eager to go into business, which was why he quit college while one credit short of earning his bachelor's degree. He went to Ireland, bought a grocery store with an inheritance from one of his grandmothers, and built the store into the Power grocery-store chain, later renamed Quinnsworth. He then bought a clothing store, Brown Thomas, and built it into a 20-store chain. In 1963 Weston met Hilary Frayne on a blind date; she was a fashion model, and he had already seen her on billboards in Ireland. In 1966 the two were married. Immediately, she became his partner in business as well as in life by modernizing the fashions of Brown Thomas, turning the chain's stores into havens of contemporary style.
In January 1972 Galen and Hilary's first child, daughter Alannah, was born. In December 1972, their son Galen Jr. was born and that year Galen Sr. returned to Canada because George Weston Limited was in a financial crisis. In 1972 Galen and his second-oldest brother, Garry, who was 14-years older than Galen, quarreled. Where Galen was upbeat, outgoing, and eager to make deals, Garry was quiet, somber, and preoccupied primarily by numbers and accounting. In 1974 Garry went to England to manage the family's businesses there, much to the relief of his father, who remarked that separating Galen and Garry with an ocean was for the best.
"In the food business you're constantly dealing with demo-graphics, constantly asking where people are going with their desires and wants," Weston later noted ( Vanity Fair , May 1994), and he took action to update the business, especially the grocery chains owned by his family's Loblaw Companies. He built Loblaw Companies into Canada's largest chain of supermarkets. Weston still liked living in Ireland, but in August 1983 the Provisional Irish Republican Army tried to murder him, Hilary, and their two children. The Westons lived south of Dublin, in a 17th-century castle in a 245-acre estate called Roundwood, from which they fled to England after the police learned of the plot from an informant. Seven masked terrorists had a gunfight with police at Roundwood, during which five of the terrorists were shot. The Westons gave up living in Ireland, choosing to reside primarily in Canada and the United States, while shunning publicity for several years.
In 1984 Weston introduced the President's Choice brands, which by 1994 had eight hundred premium products selling in the United States and Canada. In 1986 Weston bought Holt Renfrew. Originally a Canadian company, the clothing retail chain had been owned by foreigners for a decade and was in decline. Hilary became deputy chairman of the board and helped develop new lines of clothing for the chain, including the Holt Renfrew Private Brand. She held her position until the end of 1996.
Wanting to build a business enterprise from scratch rather than taking a failing enterprise over and saving it, as he had been doing, Weston decided to create a resort, perhaps inspired by his oldest brother, George, who had built resorts in the Caribbean. He and Hilary looked first for a location in the Bahamas, where they liked to vacation, but he settled on a location on a former citrus orchard in Vero Beach, Florida, 85 miles north of Palm Beach, because the location offered shopping and other amenities near a beach. In 1989 he named the new resort Windsor, reflecting his close association with England's royal family, especially his close friendship with Prince Charles. Admittedly a frustrated athlete, Weston quickly developed a polo field, tennis courts, and a golf course, while laying out plots for houses on the 416-acre resort. Only select people—wealthy, well connected, and approved by Hilary—were allowed to build there, and they had to follow strict guidelines regarding architectural style, house size, and placement within lots. By 1996 houses with lots were selling for $500,000 to $3 million each.
In England, Weston built Belvedere Farm, near Fort Belvedere, where he kept horses in stables for himself and for others, including Prince Charles. His nearby home was once occupied by King Edward VIII, who abdicated his throne in what was now the Westons' sitting room. Weston said that he liked the speed and glamor of polo, and in England he owned the Maple Leafs polo team, for which Prince Charles played. When not in Florida or England, the Westons lived in the Forest Hills section of Toronto, and in 1989 England's Queen Mother resided with them for two weeks.
Amid a life full of social occasions, visits from notables such as Prince Charles and Jordan's Queen Noor, charitable work (education was Weston's primary charitable interest), and playing polo, Weston still found time to tend to the family business, and in 1993 George Weston Limited and its more than two hundred subsidiaries grossed $8.7 billion. By 1994 Loblaw Companies, 61 percent owned by Weston, included the chains Valu-Mart, Ziggy's, Zehrs, and Loblaw No Frills. By 1996 he had expanded George Weston Limited's holdings and was distributing food in 50 countries. Reflecting Weston's international outlook, homeowners in his Windsor resort communities came from at least 10 different nations.
Already a prominent model, Hilary Weston was featured in many magazines, even on covers, although her husband seemed uncomfortable with seeing her displayed in magazines. Hilary had become a canny businesswoman, as well. Then came politics: On December 12, 1996, the Canadian prime minister, Jean Chrétien, appointed Hilary lieutenant governor of Ontario; she took office January 24, 1997. There was a hue and cry in the press about her appointment being made because she was socially well connected, but she worked hard at her new job and distinguished herself in social causes such as health care, aid for the poor, and education, with a special interest in youth programs. By the time she left office in 2002, she had proven to be one of the most active lieutenant governors in Ontario's history.
In 1998 George Weston Limited grossed $12 billion; Galen Weston's own share was 62 percent. In 1999 the company grossed $14 billion, and Galen Weston had built the family fortune to $1.9 billion; it reached $2 billion the next year. He added Florida's Orchid Island resort to his holdings, while giving up polo for golf. The subsidiary Weston Foods was a major supplier of baked goods in the United States. Subsidiaries Stroehmann Bakeries, suppliers of fresh-baked goods; Interbake Foods, bakers of cookies; and Maplehurst Bakeries, supplier of frozen dough to bakeries, were doing well. In 2001 Weston bought Bestfoods from Unilever for $1.8 billion, and the family fortune was $4 billion.
With the death of Garry, Galen Weston gained control of his family's English holdings, and in 2002 he took the family's Fortnum & Mason department store private. In January 2002 he sold his Orowheat division to Grupo Bimbo of Mexico for $610 million, which helped defray the cost of buying Best-foods. In March 2002, just as Hilary's term as lieutenant governor was ending, Galen Weston entered a fierce bidding war for England's department-store chain Selfridges. Through his company Whittington Investments, Weston made several bids and counterbids. On May 12, 2002, Selfridges' management supported Weston's $958 million bid for the company, which was 60 percent above the company's stock value on April 8, 2002, and in July Selfridges' stockholders approved the sale to Weston. Selfridges brought with it a booming business, a huge London store, and a 250-bedroom hotel. Only $5 million of the purchase price came from Weston's own funds; the Royal Canadian Bank loaned the rest.
In 2002 the Weston family was worth $4.2 billion and Galen Weston was the second-richest man in Canada. As Weston developed his new businesses, the family fortune exploded in size to $6.2 billion in 2003 and $7.7 billion in 2004. In 2004 Weston was the 46th-richest person in the world. In 2003 and 2004 George Weston Limited had the highest gross of any Canadian company, and it had 120,000 Canadian employees, with another 22,850 worldwide.
See also entries on George Weston Limited, Loblaw Companies Limited, and Selfridges Plc in International Directory of Company Histories .
Cantrell, John, "Windsor, American-Style," Town & Country , November 1996, pp. 172–182.
Filler, Martin, "Weston Civilization," Vanity Fair , May 1994, pp. 124–132, 164–166.
"History," http://www.holtrenfrew.com/english/history .
—Kirk H. Beetz