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Kevin O'Leary: He's not a billionaire, he just plays one on TV Add to ...

To some, an emphasis on ETFs would mean the still-young firm would have changed its product mix, and O’Leary his investment philosophy, not once but twice. At the moment, the two partners are simply weighing the option. They know the more pressing concern is returns. Weak results will only encourage more investors to flee. No matter how hard they market the funds, the numbers don’t lie. O’Leary knows investors value the cold, hard truth.

“Ultimately, in the end, it’s performance. That’s it. There’s nothing else. It doesn’t matter what the marketing is, or anything else. Are you performing? Are you doing what you said you were going to do?”

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O'Leary and the CBC: made for each other

When the CBC hired Richard Stursberg as vice-president of English Television in 2004 to revive the public broadcaster’s anemic ratings, among his remedies was to improve the network’s business coverage and shift the perception that it was too dependent on a leftish downtown-Toronto mindset. By putting Kevin O’Leary on the air, Stursberg solved these issues in one fell swoop. “He’s very clever, he’s quick, he’s opinionated, which is always entertaining,” says Stursberg, who was let go by the CBC two years ago. “All of that works really well on TV.…The fact that he was relatively right-wing was not a disadvantage.”

While CBC programs that were sometimes critical of business—notably Marketplace and the fifth estate—had their budgets cut and seasons curtailed during Stursberg’s tenure, O’Leary’s on-air time ballooned. First, there was Dragons’ Den; then, in 2009, O’Leary and co-host Amanda Lang moved their show over from Business News Network to CBC Newsworld and created The Lang & O’Leary Exchange, which airs every weekday. Finally, this past year brought Redemption Inc., O’Leary’s short-lived effort to apply the Dragons’ Den concept to former convicts.

O’Leary’s presence on the CBC has run up against the network’s own standards and practices about the neutrality of on-air staff and how they should conduct themselves professionally. But O’Leary is said to be a different case. “Kevin O’Leary is not a journalist,” explains Kirstine Stewart, CBC’s executive vice-president of English Services. “He works for us as a commentator. He gives on-air opinion like Don Cherry and Rick Mercer.” (Except, one could note, that the only business Cherry and Mercer are in is being entertainers.)

In October, 2011, The Lang & O’Leary Exchange had Pulitzer Prize-winning former New York Times correspondent Chris Hedges on as a guest to speak about the Occupy Wall Street movement. O’Leary called those activists “nothing burgers” who “can’t even name the names of the firms they’re protesting against.” Hedges objected, pointing out the role of Wall Street in causing the credit crisis and the ensuing global recession. In his retort, O’Leary attributed ideas to Hedges that he hadn’t bruited himself: “Listen, don’t take this the wrong way, but you sound like a left-wing nutbar. If you want to shut down every corporation, every bank, where are you going to get a job? Where are you going to work? Where’s the economy going to go?”

O’Leary’s remarks inspired complaints to the CBC ombudsman, who put out a report noting that Hedges was issued a private apology by the show’s executive producer and that O’Leary was instructed to refrain from name-calling.

O’Leary has also used his CBC forum to attack unions. He’s called them a “parasite,” and declared, “Here’s the right thing to do: Elect me as prime minister for 15 minutes. I will make unions illegal. Anybody who remains a union member will be thrown in jail.” The CBC stood by O’Leary’s comments and did not reprimand him, with the ombudsman noting that the network “has stationed O’Leary as a contracted commentator somewhat outside the ambit of CBC Journalistic Standards and Practices but kept the program [The Lang & O’Leary Exchange] within that policy.”

In 2010, during a discussion with Lang about the implications of the proposed takeover of PotashCorp by Australian-based BHP Billiton, O’Leary opined that shareholders’ interests should rank above the desires of Saskatchewan’s citizenry. When Lang said some of the province’s residents might disagree, O’Leary retorted: “You know, you are an Indian giver with a forked tongue. You sold these rights to somebody who paid hard cash for them. Now you don’t like it any more.” The CBC agreed that O’Leary’s remarks were offensive and violated their policies about the characterization of minorities. O’Leary apologized in a press release after the ombudsman reprimanded him. /Bruce Livesey

From 2001 to 2009, Bruce Livesey was an investigative journalist at CBC programs the fifth estate, CBC News Sunday and The National

Editor's note: This article has been changed to provide further information on distributions of the O'Leary Global Equity Income Fund and to correct the interest rate on Brazilian bonds owned by O'Leary Funds.

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