The owner and family scion of Irving Oil has stepped down from his leadership role with the company, in the midst of a wide-ranging internal strategic review that could result in the storied fuel supplier putting itself up for sale.
Arthur Irving, who was the chairman of the Saint John-based company’s board of directors, has now assumed the role of chairman emeritus, company spokesperson Katherine d’Entremont confirmed in an e-mail on Tuesday. Mr. Irving, 93, is the sole owner of Irving Oil, which in turn owns Canada’s largest oil refinery, also in Saint John.
His daughter Sarah Irving has also resigned from the company, Ms. d’Entremont said. Ms. Irving was executive vice-president and chief brand officer.
“After careful consideration, Sarah Irving has had to make the difficult decision to depart from her leadership roles within the company,” Ms. d’Entremont said.
“Arthur and his daughter Sarah have both dedicated their lives to the business and remain passionate about the company and its people,” she added. “All of us at Irving Oil are grateful for their leadership and will work hard to continue to uphold and exemplify the values upon which this company was built.”
Despite its dominance in Canada’s eastern fuel market, the company launched a sweeping strategic review of its operations in June. Mr. Irving, his daughter and Irving Oil president Ian Whitcomb said in a statement at the time that a sale of the company was among the possible outcomes of the process.
“No decisions have been made about where this strategic review may lead,” the statement said. “Consideration will be given to a new ownership structure, a full or partial sale, or a change in the portfolio of our assets and how we operate them.”
It is difficult to know exactly how much the company and its assets are worth. Irving Oil is privately held, and offers few financial details.
When the company announced its strategic review in June, Travis Wood, an energy analyst at National Bank Financial, said the Saint John refinery could be worth around $2-billion to $3-billion. The company’s Whitegate refinery, located in Ireland, could be worth $200-million to $500-million, he said.
Irving Oil is 99 years old and omnipresent in Atlantic Canada. A multibillion-dollar sale or restructuring would vastly alter the business landscape in the region.
The company is one of New Brunswick’s largest employers. Its Saint John refinery has a capacity of 320,000 barrels a day, and the Whitegate refinery has a capacity of 75,000.
Irving has a chain of more than 1,000 gas stations in Eastern Canada, New England and Ireland, as well as wholesale and fuel-trading businesses. It also operates the Canaport deep-water oil terminal on the north shore of the Bay of Fundy.
Although oil is Irving’s focus, it is also making steps in renewable energy.
Last year, for example, it announced joint plans with Irish offshore wind-power developer Simply Blue Group to explore integrating a renewable energy hub into the Whitegate refinery. The two companies are examining the possibility of using wind power to produce hydrogen fuel.
Mr. Irving’s net worth is estimated at US$5.8-billion. He is No. 459 on Forbes’s list of billionaires. His wealth recently rebounded after plummeting to US$1.9-billion in 2021, according to Forbes.
Mr. Irving lives in Saint John and is a member of the third generation of the Irving family dynasty. His grandfather, James Dergavel Irving, started the business in the late 1800s. Mr. Irving’s father, Kenneth Colin Irving, or K.C., opened his first garage and service station in his hometown of Bouctouche, N.B., in 1924. He later moved to Saint John to operate the city’s Ford car dealership. Mr. Irving joined the company in 1951.
Mr. Irving and his two brothers divvied up the company after K.C. Irving’s death in 1992. James Irving owns the shipbuilding and forestry parts of the empire, while Mr. Irving split the oil operations with his brother John Irving, who died in 2010. Mr. Irving bought John’s share in 2018.
With a report from Emma Graney