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Dawn Calleja, editor of ROB magazine, Dec 2021Steph Martyniuk/The Globe and Mail

I come from a big Maltese family. We’re loud and opinionated, and we talk over one another all the time. I’m not saying we don’t get along, we truly do. But stick us in a boardroom and ask us to come to a decision involving millions or billions of dollars, and I suspect we’d end up sounding a bit like the Rogers family circa 2021.

So, I’m always impressed reading about family-run enterprises—which comprise 56% of the nearly 500 businesses on the annual Canada’s Best Managed Companies list. That figure tracks with the national stats: According to the Conference Board of Canada, family-owned enterprises account for 63% of private companies, generating $575 billion in real GDP and employing nearly seven million people, or almost half of Canada’s private-sector employment.

Many of the country’s largest enterprises—both privately owned and publicly traded—are family operations, too, including George Weston Ltd., Alimentation Couche-Tard, Power Corp., Jim Pattison Group, Canadian Tire, Richardson Wealth, Saputo, the Irving Group, CGI, Empire Co., McCain Foods, Linamar, Fairfax Financial, the aforementioned Rogers Communications—the list goes on and on.

It’s tough to quantify how well those that are privately owned fare against their peers. But National Bank’s Canadian Family Index tracks 43 large family-controlled, publicly traded companies with a combined valuation of $700 billion and more than a million employees. According to NBC, these enterprises soundly outperformed their widely held brethren between June 2005 and June 2023, with a cumulative return of 324%, compared to 242% for the S&P Composite. That’s 8.3% on an annualized basis versus 7%.

But just because family-controlled enterprises tend to outperform in aggregate (and it probably helps that many of the largest belong to oligopolies, which we’re very fond of here in Canada) doesn’t mean they don’t mess up. Which brings us to the subject of this month’s cover story: Bombardier, once the pride of Quebec — and the rest of Canada, for that matter— with divisions specializing in recreational vehicles, commercial aircraft, private jets and trains. The company, of course, is controlled by the founding Bombardier-Beaudoin clan — or, as Eric Reguly put it in a 2020 column marking the company’s exit from the commercial jet business: “the overseers of one of the greatest examples of wealth creation, then wealth destruction, in Canadian corporate history.” Nicolas Van Praet traces Bombardier’s fall and its recent upward run (albeit as a far smaller organization, with just one line of business) in “Nothin’ but jet.”

There’s a bit of a Quebec Inc. theme in this issue, as you’ll see in “Hot on the Caisse,” James Bradshaw’s profile of Caisse de dépot et placement du Québec CEO Charles Emond (who, as it happens, is the guy on the other side of Bombardier’s train-division sell-off). With the feds pushing Canada’s pension funds to invest more in the domestic economy, all eyes are on Emond, who’s got a dual mandate: to generate strong long-term returns for Quebec pensioners while shovelling money into made-in-Quebec companies.

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