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Illustration of Ken Rowe, executive chairman, IMP Group International Inc. (ANTHONY JENKINS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)
Illustration of Ken Rowe, executive chairman, IMP Group International Inc. (ANTHONY JENKINS/THE GLOBE AND MAIL)

THE LUNCH

Ken Rowe: This captain of industry is still at the helm Add to ...

There was a time when the prospect of lunch with Halifax aerospace tycoon Ken Rowe would have been greeted with unabated enthusiasm. For five decades, he has been Atlantic Canada’s happy warrior, gleefully taking on all comers – whether crossing swords with Russian mobsters or plotting takeovers for his powerful private conglomerate.

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But recently, Mr. Rowe, at 77, seemed to be falling into the pattern of aging chieftains, who lose the thrill of the chase and embrace the quieter pleasures of preserving a legacy and playing year-round golf.

They donate money and have business schools named after them, or they invest in Florida real estate.

Mr. Rowe’s name now graces the school of business at Dalhousie University, and he has spent more than $7.6-million (U.S.) on a beachfront home along Florida’s Gulf Coast.

So has this master and commander of Maritime business, a former ship’s officer who has been tough as nails and proud of it, finally mellowed?

Not a chance, I was pleased to discover over pan-fried haddock at a Halifax country club.

Mr. Rowe clearly enjoys the stature of an elder statesman who can impart his wisdom to MBA students – and his tennis and golf games are at a level much younger men would envy.

But of all the games he plays, “I enjoy business. That’s what I do.

“In the end, it is not the money. As in tennis or golf, you like to win. If you are in business and you are successful, it just happens that money is the outcome [of winning].”

As if to hammer it home, he indicates he has scored some match points in the Canadian business game he entered as a 29-year-old Briton who was assigned to Halifax to run the branch plant of a British company.

Recent acquisitions by his company, IMP Group International Inc., will propel his core aerospace business to a new level, he says, putting it on the map as an international player in maintaining the world’s aircraft.

IMP has bought a significant West Coast aviation company, Cascade Aerospace Inc., thus giving it nationwide presence. Cascade has a good business in maintaining civil aircraft, as well as the Hercules military transport planes.

It nicely complements IMP’s Halifax operations, which perform maintenance and repairs on a range of aircraft including Ottawa’s Aurora patrol planes, and a Trenton, Ont., branch which, among other things, overhauls CT-114 Tutors flown by the aerobatic Snowbirds.

And, just this week, Mr. Rowe sealed a smaller purchase of a Toronto aviation and charter company called Image Air.

In expansion mode

Ken Rowe is thus a prime consolidator in an aerospace sector where Ottawa wants to see big, world-competitive players that can demonstrate expertise across a range of activities. Mr. Rowe’s role in this game plan? He is the guy who keeps the planes running – not just Canada’s planes but those of U.S. and European clients, including, at the moment, replacing wings for Norway’s long-range aircraft. Now he is poised to expand that profile. “We’ve got the critical mass now to really go after the international business,” he says, and is actively scouting for takeovers in Europe and the United States.

Aerospace and aviation are by far the biggest segments of IMP, a conglomerate with revenue of more than $1-billion a year from interests spanning charter airline CanJet and private aviation firm Innotech-Execaire Aviation Group. It has spread its wings into health, with its ownership of Can-med Healthcare, which supplies equipment nationally, ranging from wheelchairs to medical imaging technology. He is a significant investor in Canadian banks, whose stocks he uses as liquid, dividend-paying parking places for his expansion capital, and is reputed to be the largest shareholder of Canada’s biggest financial institution, the widely held Royal Bank of Canada.

He is thus a big beneficiary of the recent run-up in bank stocks. “[Royal Bank CEO] Gord Nixon and his team are doing a good job – I’m very appreciative,” he says.

He owns an array of Halifax real estate, through IMP – which has two hotels and is developing a high-end residential project – and as personal abodes, including a house for sale on Halifax’s elite Northwest Arm, a downtown penthouse condo, and his summer home in St. Margaret’s Bay, on the ocean west of the city. And there is that Florida house, which is one of his few nods to the aging process – the Canadian weather sends him south several months of the year.

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