He is equally lacking in regret over his marathon takeover attempt for Vector Aerospace, a Toronto-based aerospace firm. He became a large minority shareholder and launched an insider bid for a control stake. That was thwarted by another major shareholder and, in 2011, the company was sold for $625-million to a division of European aerospace giant EADS NV. He had wanted to own Vector, but he had no alternative but to sell when EADS stepped forward to pay a sizable premium.
Maritime success story
When anything happens in Halifax, Mr. Rowe is usually part of the action, and he expects IMP will win subcontracting work for the $25-billion warship contract awarded by Ottawa, a project widely heralded as the region’s economic saviour. He welcomes the shipbuilding activity, but warns that “I don’t think it is the panacea for solving Halifax’s or Nova Scotia’s problems.” He knows, as a contractor to governments, that long-term public projects often lose out to future fiscal realities.
He would, instead, look to develop well-educated young people who will stay in Nova Scotia – or return to it – and build companies to diversify the economy. That is why he gave $15-million to the Dalhousie business school in the fall of 2011. An earlier fundraising campaign had already put his name on the school building, but he resisted extending it to the entire faculty. The university pressed him to reconsider, saying the students wanted to be associated with a Maritime success story.
Now that he is fully committed, he expects results, including higher standing for the school in international business school rankings. The academic leaders at Dalhousie had better be on their game. Ken Rowe does not like to lose.
On philanthropy: If people like myself don’t do it, who’s going to? You can’t wait for your children to do it.
The joy of bank stocks: I don’t have time to study every damn company’s balance sheets. I like the banks’ triple-A security, the dividend paying, and they are all liquid. You can dispose of them if you need your money quickly.
Lessons for life: Try to create a passion for what you really want to do, so it will last a lifetime. But understand the difference between passion and emotion. Passion is a really high level of enthusiasm, but there is no place in business decision-making for just emotion.
On competition: I’d rather be beaten by a better tennis player than beat up on someone else who is a lot less capable. But the exception on that is business. If you aren’t the best, there is no place for you.
On being friends with your team: As a Brit, I may be a bit more reserved. I don’t live with my senior team. I get along with them but not as personal friends where I am in their houses all the time. Sometimes you have to give direction and it is easier to give it with authority.
On being popular: It is like when I was at sea. Sometimes I didn’t like one captain as much as another, but I liked a competent captain, particularly when you are in a storm.
On the family business: I’ve never run the company as a family company, although the three children are in it. They are all there on their own merits and became presidents of core groups.
Children as CEO candidates: I wanted them trained on how public companies run, and to know about the company which they may as shareholders inherit some day. They have to compete for the [CEO] job and the board has a responsibility to look inside or out.
Future business: We are having a good look at renewable energy – windmills and what have you, but more as a kind of low-cost annuity. We see higher returns in the industries we’re in now.
- Born July, 1935, near Southend-on-Sea, Essex, England.
- Boyhood dream: Being a sea captain.
- Joined private shipping line in British Merchant Navy.
- Left navy to become corporate secretary.
- He and wife Dorothy have three middle-aged children, all active in the company: Julie Rehemtulla, president, Can-med Healthcare; Kirk Rowe, president, Innotech-Execaire Aviation Group; and Stephen Rowe, president, CanJet Airlines.
- Tries to play tennis three days a week and golf once a week
- He and Dorothy guide their 44-foot motor yacht around the Maritimes.
- “I was a navigator in the British merchant navy. I am very comfortable around boats.”
- Rowe School of Business, Dahousie University
- Kenneth C. Rowe Heritage Hall, Canadian Museum of Immigration at Pier 21
- Lead donor for purchase of MRI unit for the IWK Health Centre, Halifax