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Riocan CEO Ed Sonshine in his office.

Charla Jones/The Globe and Mail

RioCan founder Ed Sonshine will step down as chief executive officer as soon as 2021, ending more than a quarter-century reign over one of Canada’s largest mall owners.

After Mr. Sonshine retires as CEO at the end of March, 2021, he will serve as non-executive chairman of the board for two years, according to the real estate investment trust. The CEO retirement date can be extended by one year.

"I love what I do. But being CEO of a public company is not as much fun as it used to be,” said Mr. Sonshine, who turned 72 in January. “It starts to wear you down after a while.”

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RioCan has been grooming long-serving employee Jonathan Gitlin for the top executive position. In announcing Mr. Sonshine’s retirement date, the trust gave the title of president to Mr. Gitlin, who was recently promoted to chief operating officer from senior vice-president.

“Day to day, my role as chief operating officer does not change substantially. It is really just an endorsement by Ed and the board that they like my vision and have faith in my vision and my ability to lead,” said Mr. Gitlin, 46.

As senior vice-president and now as COO, Mr. Gitlin has been leading the trust’s transformation from a mall owner in dozens of Canadian cities to a business focused on the country’s largest markets.

Mr. Gitlin has been in charge of selling approximately 100 of RioCan’s shopping centres in smaller cities, such as Kingston and Guelph in Ontario. As well, he has been leading RioCan’s development of apartments and improving the trust’s malls in the top real estate markets of Vancouver, Edmonton, Calgary, Toronto, Ottawa and Montreal.

There is no real change in strategy under Mr. Gitlin. The new president and Mr. Sonshine had come up with plans to redevelop some of their prime retail property located close to public transportation into apartments or other multiresidential buildings.

Mr. Sonshine said if all goes as planned, he will recommend Mr. Gitlin for the CEO position.

Reinventing RioCan: Ed Sonshine plots a new course for the REIT as he ponders his own next steps

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As for his own future, the founder says he has other ambitions, including perhaps starting a different company. “There are interesting things to do that can’t be done within RioCan,” said Mr. Sonshine, who started his real estate business in 1993 and built it into one of the biggest mall owners in Canada.

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Mr. Gitlin joined RioCan in 2005 from Canadian law firm McCarthy Tétrault, where he worked as a commercial real estate lawyer for six years.

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