Since our inaugural Top 1000 issue in 1984, Report on Business magazine has been reporting on the highs and lows in business, from around the world. Some of the juiciest stories, however, were the ones we never reported. Read all 12 articles here.
It was April, 1992, and the certain collapse of Olympia & York Developments, the world’s top office building developer, was one of the biggest business stories of the year. The company that had built Toronto’s 72-storey First Canadian Place, the World Financial Center in Manhattan and London’s Canary Wharf, the most daring and dazzling of all the projects masterminded by O&Y’s Paul Reichmann, was trying to hammer out a debt restructuring with its bankers to stave off a bankruptcy that threatened to obliterate the family’s property empire. The bankers were owed more than $14-billion (U.S.), or about $24-billion in today’s dollars, and they knew that the recession and global property glut would make it all but impossible for their loans to be repaid.
The restructuring attempt kicked off with a meeting with some 400 bankers at downtown Toronto’s Sheraton Centre hotel. The documents they would see would reveal all the financial workings of the notoriously private company. At the time, Adrian, who is Australian, and I worked for the Financial Post (now part of the National Post). We were wearing suits. Our Plan A was to pose as bankers, casually enter the meeting room, grab the documents, uncasually run like hell and write up the biggest scoop of our careers. But we got tossed out before we even got close.
Enter Plan B.
Adrian and I descended to the bowels of the Sheraton and found the laundry room. We reached into a pile of clothes, pulled out two waiters’ uniforms and strained to put them on. Upstairs we went, making it up on the fly. And there it was, right outside the meeting room: a wheeled coffee tray. Perfect.
We pushed it into the meeting room. So far, so good. An instant later, the security guards gave us funny looks, noticed the uniforms fit like a catwalk model’s bikini on a sumo wrestler, and pinned us against the wall. The gig was up and we spent the next hour answering rude questions from the police.
Impersonation used to be part of the game in journalism. It is no longer tolerated. But impersonation lives on in the world of business. Paul Reichmann and his brothers were ranked as the fourth-richest family in the world in 1991, with a fortune estimated by Forbes at $12.8-billion. The figure, of course, was somewhat exaggerated. O&Y went bankrupt shortly after the Sheraton hotel meeting, and Canary Wharf was put into administration.
In the following years, Reichmann made various attempts to regain control of Canary Wharf and partially succeeded, only to lose almost all his stake in a 2004 takeover battle that went against him. Reichmann died last October, at age 83. While Canary Wharf was no longer his, he had the satisfaction of knowing that his vision had created Europe’s premier office development.
Eric Reguly has been covering business and economics for 25 years and is now European bureau chief of The Globe and Mail.