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Edward Sonshine (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)
Edward Sonshine (Anthony Jenkins/The Globe and Mail)

The Lunch

RioCan's Edward Sonshine: He turned the mall inside out Add to ...

"It's a good market up here and every American that's ever come up has done very well," he says, alluding to Target's imminent arrival. "In the United States there's really no new development, not really. There isn't any. So where are you going to expand?"

Regardless of Target's expansion plans, Mr. Sonshine sees an abrupt shift coming for the Canadian retail sector as more city dwellers move closer to their downtown jobs.

"We have to come up with urban formats because retailers are desperate to get downtown locations," he says, adding one of the company's projects is adding a grocery store to the second floor of a condo building in downtown Toronto. "Everybody's recognized that endless suburban sprawl, even if the land exists, is bad. It's bad environmentally and economically. You just can't afford to keep building new infrastructure."

He's not relying on third-party accounts and market research reports about urban intensification - after 26 years of living in a sprawling York Mills home in Toronto, he's bought a condo off Bloor Street and he and his wife will soon move in.

"It's just the two of us rattling around in a pretty big house," he says. "We don't need to move but you know, the concept of living a more urban lifestyle is really what's attractive."

But the king of suburban retail development hasn't gone totally green - the condo comes with four parking spaces. That'll make any weekend trips to the big box stores that much easier.

"Power centres work," he says. "At our larger centres, people actually will shop at one store, get in their car and drive over to the other side. We see it all the time. What can I say? People love their cars."




- The son of Holocaust survivors, Edward Sonshine was born in a displaced persons camp in Bergen-Belsen, Germany. Emigrated to Canada two years later with his parents (who first tried unsuccessfully to move to the United States).

- The family went to London, Ont., but found it too small compared with their original home in Warsaw. They moved to Toronto a week later.

Career highlights

- President and chief executive officer of RioCan REIT (since 1995)

- Executive vice-president of Counsel Management Services Inc. (1987-1994)

- President and CEO of Counsel Realty Corp. (1987-1993)

Family life

- Three children with wife Fran, whom he married in 1968. Daughter Jodi is a doctor, Daniel works in private equity, and Jonathan works at RioCan.

- Eight grandchildren

Business commitments

- Royal Bank of Canada board (Public policy and corporate governance committee, risk committee)

- Cineplex Inc. board (compensation committee, corporate governance and nominating committee)

- Chesswood Group Ltd. chairman

RioCan ownership

- As of mid-November (most recent reporting period, owned 325,000 shares worth $7.1-million (peaked in 2005 near 500,000 shares)

Outside work

"I'm very involved with Mount Sinai Hospital and … I'm the chair of Israel Bonds Canada and the United Way. Lately, though, I support my wife more than anything else because she was the chair of Baycrest Centre and now she's head of the Canadian Society for Yad Vashem in Israel … so I get involved with her."



On building RioCan

For the first 10 years, I just always assumed one day we'd just sell it. To me it was a deal. I hate to put it that way. You know, it's a public company and it has provided a wonderful income to a lot of people who wanted and needed it. But I realized three or four years ago that we were creating a bit of a Canadian institution.

On bringing power centres to Canada

What made me really nervous, and this will show my insecurity at that time, was that the big guys, weren't doing it. Ivanhoe Cambridge, Cadillac Fairview, Oxford - where were they, you know? But usually if it's happening in the States it's going to happen here, so it had to work.

On corporate debt

We're going to take it back a little bit. If you can meet your profit targets with less leverage, you're better off. Whatever the next crisis is, and there'll probably be one, that seems to be the key - not too much debt.

On his last name

The actual name was Zonenszajn. That was my father's birth name, which is actually sort of German/Polish spelling of sunshine, but when he came to Canada there was already a family named Sunshine here and it was quite well known. The guy's name was Harry Sunshine. He owned the Argonauts and he owned big steel. So we changed it to Sonshine.

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