Whether they are worth $200 million or $2 billion, they all share one thing: They would rather we weren't talking about them.
But curiosity got the better of us. How did these individuals amass so much wealth while drawing so little attention? Who hired a PR manager just to keep his name out of the paper? Which real estate scion had a taste for Ferrari Testarossas? Who had his identity stolen and who plans to have his body cryogenically frozen? Inside, everything you need to know-at least everything we could dig up-about the most reclusive figures in Canadian business
Joseph Burnett Burnac Corp. »Lives Toronto »Worth $1.08 billion It's easy to understand why Joseph Burnett prefers to keep a low profile. His nine-year court battle on tax evasion charges was one of the lengthiest and costliest in Canadian history. By the time he was cleared of all charges in 1991, the press had lovingly detailed his taste in fast cars (a $350,000 Ferrari Testarossa) and faster jets (his Learjet); big boats (a 50-foot cruiser anchored in Florida) and bigger homes (a 17,000-square-foot home near Toronto's Bridle Path). For the lawyer-turned-tycoon, the attention was just too much. Burnett and his brother, Ted, went quiet in the 1990s, only popping up from time to time with a million-dollar charity donation. Burnac, the family's private holding company, got rolling in the 1940s when Joseph and Ted's father invested $300 in a pickup truck to run fruit and veggies from Toronto wholesalers to Sudbury's miners. That business morphed into a grocery chain-Super Carnaval-that was sold to Métro-Richelieu. By the late-1960s, the family was building shopping malls all over small-town Ontario. Joe Burnett also added construction financing and financial services to the mix. He's had occasional dust-ups with partners and regulators, but he always comes out on top. At a meeting with other grocery wholesalers, Burnett once offered this as a warning: "There will be no umbrellas, and you're going to get pissed on." » Castle Burnett hides out in his three-bedroom, 7,000-square-foot mansion in Toronto's exclusive Forest Hill enclave. Though he purchased the property for $1.1 million in 1994, the renovated property is now valued, conservatively, at $5.8 million. » Before he was king In his teens, Burnett ran a profitable business placing vending machines in Northern Ontario, netting him $1,000 a week while he attended school. » Unwanted attention The Burnett family has been investigated by the U.S. Department of Justice, Canada Revenue, the Ontario Securities Commission, the OPP, the RCMP and the FBI. Each time, Joe Burnett has emerged unscathed. » Noblesse oblige Burnett has been known to contribute to the United Jewish Appeal Federation and Mount Sinai Hospital, as well as the Toronto General and Toronto Western hospitals. He also sits as a director of the Baycrest Centre Foundation, a fundraising group for geriatric care. »Heirs Burnett has two sons, Lorne and Sheldon; his daughter, Gail, runs the family-owned Royal de Versailles jewellery store. »Recluse factor MEDIUM During his tax evasion trial in the 1980s, Burnett occasionally granted interview requests. Once the trial was over, however, he clammed up. »Google faceoff Joseph Burnett vs. Philip Reichmann, CEO of O&Y Properties Corp.: 55 hits to 1,190 hits
Joseph Kruger Kruger Inc. »Lives Montreal »Worth $1 billion For three generations, the Kruger family was the solid oak of Canada's pulp and paper industry. Led by Joseph Kruger II, however, this generation has threatened to tear the dynasty apart. Founded by Joseph Kruger I in 1904, Kruger Inc. specialized in the manufacture of fine paper. When his sons, Gene and Bernard, took over in 1928, the firm expanded into newsprint, tissue and paperboard. Today, Kruger Inc. has operations in Venezuela, Colombia, England and the U.S. Though the company is perhaps best known for its Scott Paper brand, it has recently spread its tentacles into hydroelectricity and wind-farm projects. The litigious era of the Kruger story began in 1975, when Gene's son, Joseph II-now the company's CEO-took over a Panamanian affiliate, cutting Bernard and his children out of the profits. The protracted dispute settled down in 1993, after Joseph II paid settlements totalling $136 million. »Corporate crown jewels In 1997, Kruger Inc. purchased Scott Paper Ltd, along with the ScotTowel brand (now SpongeTowel). »Castles The family owns a home on the outskirts of Westmount. On weekends, they retire to their country place in the Laurentian Mountains. »Noblesse oblige The family regularly donates to Irish causes such as Concordia University's Canadian-Irish Studies Foundation. »Unwanted attention In 1983, Revenue Canada investigators seized 160 boxes of documents belonging to Kruger Inc., alleging that Gene and Joseph Kruger had evaded taxes by falsely declaring themselves to be residents of Panama in 1980 and 1981. The Krugers' lawyers quickly had the seizure quashed in court. »Blue-blood quotient Kruger was known to vacation at an Irish castle he had inherited, where he hunted with the local gentry. »Who he runs with The far more gregarious Brian Tobin, who sits on Kruger's board. »Trappings of wealth Kruger escapes to his country hideaway by private helicopter. »Recluse factor MEDIUM-HIGH Some say that Joseph Kruger has avoided taking his 10,000-employee empire public, in part, because he finds the idea of addressing shareholders unappealing. »Google faceoff Joseph Kruger vs. Raymond Royer, CEO of Domtar Inc.: 232 hits to 12,100 hits
Marcel Adams Iberville Developments Ltd. Lives Montreal Worth $1.1 billion Born Marcel Abramovich 86 years ago in Romania, Adams, as he is known today, is quick to make a deal and even quicker to hang up on reporters curious about his estimated $1.1-billion empire (we called: he hung up). A Holocaust survivor, Adams was interned in forced labour camps from 1941 to 1944, before escaping to Turkey. Following that, he fought in Israel's War of Independence, before landing in Montreal in 1951. He had hoped to work as a tanner, just like his father, but ended up buying animal hides over the phone in Quebec City. He shortened his name to Adams, he has said, because his boss wanted to save on long distance charges. Adams saved up and, in 1955, purchased property on Quebec City's picturesque Grande-Allée. By 1959, he opened his first mall. He has since acquired almost eight million square feet of commercial real estate in Canada and the U.S. Any regrets? Adams once said that he wished he could have attended university. » Castles Adams moved from his home in Westmount to a luxe condo on Montreal's Sherbrooke Street. The family has a country estate in the Laurentians. » Noblesse oblige In 1986, Adams helped launch the Marcel and Annie Adams Institute for Business Management Information Systems at Tel Aviv University. More recently, Adams vowed to erect a bronze statue saluting immigrants to Quebec City. » Heirs Daughter Linda, a lawyer, is married to McGill history professor Gil Troy. Sylvan, Adams's son, is president of Iberville Developments. » Words from the throne Explaining why he rented his office space instead of owning it, Adams quipped: "Because I'm paying less than I would charge myself." » Recluse factor MODERATE Adams has occasionally granted interviews to the French media. » Google faceoff Marcel Adams vs. René Tremblay, CEO of Ivanhoe Cambridge: 30 hits to 2,660 hits
Fred and Ron Mannix The Mancal Group Lives Calgary Worth $2.15 billion "You run the business as if it were a family, and you run the family like a business." That was Ron Mannix's advice last June to any future tycoons who might be reading the University of Alberta's alumni magazine. They were possibly the most public words spoken by anyone in the family, and they offer some insight into how the Mannix clan managed to cobble together their empire while staying away from the public's prying eyes. The Mannix family story begins in the early 1900s, when Frederick Stephen Mannix, a Manitoba farm boy, founded a construction company in Calgary. (One version of the tale has the Mannix patriarch starting the company after he won earth-moving equipment in a poker game.) Under the guidance of his son, Frederick Charles Mannix (Fred II), the company flourished, growing to include interests in coal, oil and construction. Since then, the family-owned Mancal Group has been involved in everything from building subway lines in Toronto and Montreal to pipelines throughout Western Canada. It was also Fred II who built the family's reputation for reclusivity, prompting one wag to suggest that he was "the closest thing Alberta has had to a Howard Hughes." These days, Mancal Group is run by Fred Charles's two sons: Fred III, now in his early 60s, and Ron, in his late 50s. In 1997, the brothers sold most of the family's major energy assets for $2 billion. The Mancal Group is still in business today. Its energy arm has a minority stake in a sizable natural gas deposit near Calgary. »Noblesse oblige In 1998, the family gave away $100 million through the Carthy Foundation, a charity named for the McCarthy branch of the family. At that point, it was the largest cash donation in Canadian history. The brothers subsequently made a rare public appearance, looking, according to one report, "distinctly uncomfortable" in the spotlight. »Blue-blood quotient Polo is a favourite pastime of the Mannix clan, and the most recent generation has made its mark in the upper ranks of the sport. In 2000, at just 16 years of age, Fred IV was named to Canada's national team. »Honorifics Fred III is a supporter of the Alberta Militia Society, a little-known organization that urges continued vigilance in our national defence. He was also an honorary colonel in the Calgary Highlanders, where, before retiring in 1994, he was known affectionately as "Colonel Fred." Both Ron and Fred have been named to the Order of Canada-Ron in 2005; Fred this year. »Recluse factor HIGH Peter C. Newman wrote in his autobiography that Fred Charles Mannix was the only Alberta tycoon he couldn't rope into an interview. Legend has it that the family docked its PR manager's salary every time the Mannix name appeared in print. »Heirs to the fortune Fred Mannix has at least four children, including Fred IV; Ron has five. »Google faceoff Fred and Ron Mannix vs. Ron Southern, CEO of Atco Ltd.: 109 to 37,400
Aminmohamed Lalji The Larco Group of Companies Lives Vancouver Worth $884 million Until recently, few people outside of Aminmohamed Lalji's inner circle knew he even had a first name. He was often referred to in the plural, as in the Laljis or the Lalji family. An honest mistake, given his history and his penchant for remaining in the shadows (see "When we called," below). In the 1970s, Lalji and his family were driven out of Uganda when dictator Idi Amin gave the country's 50,000 Asians 90 days to leave the country. After landing in Vancouver, Aminmohamed and his brothers, Mansoor and Shiraz, established themselves as solid-if silent-property developers in the Vancouver area and across North America. Shiraz eventually resettled in London, England, while Aminmohamed became the principal of Larco Group of Cos., one of the largest land developers in the Lower Mainland. Larco specializes in hotel and retail properties, though it also has a significant stake in self-store facilities in and around Vancouver. »Sightings At a recent event hosted by Hong Kong Bank of Canada deputy CEO Yousef Nasr, Lalji was spotted rubbing shoulders with prominent members of Vancouver's South Asian community. Among the attendees: Vancouver South MP Ujjal Dosanjh and MLA and former B.C. Supreme Court justice Wally Oppal. For the most part, though, Lalji's wife, Nazmeen, represents the family at public events. »Crown jewels In 1990, Lalji purchased the Park Royal Shopping Centre, an upscale mall in West Vancouver, for an estimated $500 million. At the time, it was the biggest real estate transaction in the province's history. He also owns Whistler Village Centre, at the base of Blackcomb Mountain. »Unwanted attention A 1991 civil suit involving Lalji's sister, Gulistan Shariff, suggests that he keeps his distance from his own family. Shariff had been in a car accident while working for Larco's Maple Leaf Property Management. During court proceedings, Amin Lalji noted that he had little social contact with his sister, "their relationship being a working one." »When we called The receptionist said she was not at liberty to disclose information about Lalji, not even his title. »Recluse factor MEDIUM-HIGH Lalji doesn't talk publicly about his investments. In late 2001, erroneous reports surfaced that Larco was purchasing a Las Vegas hotel and casino. The company-which was actually consulting on the deal-threatened to cease its involvement. »Google faceoff Amin Lalji vs. Joe Houssian, CEO of Intrawest Corp.: 4 hits to 527 hits
Michael Gold YM Inc. »Lives Toronto »Worth We don't know As the man behind such successful mall brands as Stitches, Sirens, Siblings, Suzy Shier and Bluenotes, Michael Gold has his finger on the pulse of almost every tween in the nation. His goal is to have sales flowing close to the $1-billion mark any day now. Gold (né Goldgrub) was raised in Argentina, and moved to Canada as a young man. Though he began his retail career in the 1970s, he made his biggest splash only recently, in 2004, when he purchased the ailing Bluenotes brand from American Eagle Outfitters Inc., causing speculation that Gold's clout among clothing suppliers might be approaching that of Wal-Mart's. In fact, he hired away Wal-Mart Canada's head of apparel shortly thereafter. As a manager, Gold's reputation is anything but relaxed. He is known to fight down to the last dollar, often passing the savings on to consumers in the form of two-for-one promotions and frequent sales. »Castles A tasteful, and reportedly modest, home near Toronto's Bridle Path and a vacation property in Florida. »Unwanted attention In 1983, YM Inc. pleaded guilty to five counts of misleading advertising for selling clothes at sale prices when they had never been offered at regular price. The company was fined $30,000. »Who he runs with Isaac Benitah, "The Godfather of Cheap Chic" and owner of International Clothiers. In 2001, they were reported to be working together on a deal to buy the floundering Fairweather brand. When the deal was announced, many were shocked to find Gold's name wasn't included. »When we called We asked to speak with media relations, and were directed to Gold's wife, Libby. She politely, but guardedly, answered our questions. »Recluse factor MEDIUM Gold's wife, Libby, has been known to scratch their address and phone number off of personal cheques.
»Google faceoff Michael Gold vs. Michael Budman, co-founder of Roots Canada Ltd.: 362 hits to 11,100 hits
Allan Thorlakson Tolko Industries Ltd. »Lives Vernon, B.C. »Worth $386 million Allan Thorlakson has been described variously as a "hard-ass," "brilliant" and "fair." He comes by all of these descriptions honestly. After obtaining his professional engineer designation in 1967, Thorlakson entered Tolko Industries, the forestry company his father founded in 1956. In five years, he rose from plant manager to president; when Harold Belkin died in 1981, he became CEO. The company prospered as a leading supplier of kraft paper and engineered wood products, growing to more than $900 million in sales, with mills in every province of Western Canada. With virtually no middle management-each plant reports directly to the CEO-observers believe Thorlakson has the flexibility he needs to ensure Tolko is the strongest independent forestry company in Canada. As one industry veteran put it, "He's a tough nut." »Castles Thorlakson owns a $441,000 home overlooking Kalamalka Lake in Coldstream, B.C., as well as a similarly modest condo in downtown Vancouver, valued at just $377,000. »Who he runs with Thorlakson pretty much runs alone, with Tolko's offices based far from any of the country's primary financial centres. When he does make an appearance at one of his mills, he typically shows up unannounced. »Sightings Thorlakson often visits Vernon's semi-swank Silver Star ski resort, where he has a $550,000 chalet. »Trappings of wealth In 2004, he was spotted driving an Audi A8 sedan. (This year's model: $186,000, fully loaded.) »Noblesse oblige In the wake of hurricane Katrina, Thorlakson donated $75,000 to Habitat for Humanity. »Recluse factor MEDIUM-HIGH When we called, his assistant politely explained that Thorlakson "generally does not speak to the media." »Google faceoff Allan Thorlakson vs. John Weaver, CEO of Abitibi-Consolidated Inc.: 220 hits to 25,900 hits
Stuart Belkin Belkorp Industries Inc. »Lives Vancouver »Worth $485 million When the average person has his identity stolen, the thief commonly runs up a sizable charge on the victim's credit card. When Stuart Belkin's identity was stolen in 2003, thiefs hit the jackpot, literally. In a two-week Las Vegas gambling spree, they ran up charges of $205,537 on his MasterCard. Of course, that's less than a drop in the bucket when compared with the family fortune, amassed by Belkin's father, Morris. The story goes, the elder Belkin arrived in Vancouver via Calgary on a cattle car during the Great Depression, tending the animals to pay his way. Once settled, he launched what would eventually become Canada's largest paperboard packaging company. He died in 1987, shortly after selling Belkorp's (then Balaclava Inc.) papermaking operations for $235 million. Stuart Belkin, one of six children with a stake in the family fortune, took the reins, investing in various businesses: real estate, paper recycling, waste disposal. He now controls a pool of capital estimated at $600 million. His most notable investment came in 1997, when he teamed up with Gerry Schwartz to beat out billionaire Jimmy Pattison for control of B.C. Sugar Refinery Ltd. Belkin's wife, Shannon, a renowned painter, has a fondness for farm animal portraiture. »Castles Belkin's home, a $2-million palace registered in his wife's name, sits on a 40,000-square-foot swath in Vancouver's Southlands district.
»Noblesse oblige In 1995, the University of British Columbia renamed its art gallery after Morris and his wife, Helen, in honour of the family's contributions. »Sightings Belkin, who owns a number of racehorses, is occasionally spotted at Hastings Racecourse. In 2003, his two-year-old filly, Frozen in Time, won the B.C. Cup Debutante. Belkin can also be seen at Big Sky, the golf and country club he owns in Pemberton, B.C. »Who he runs with Real estate entrepreneur Caleb Chan, of Burrard International Holdings Inc. Belkin also serves on the board of the right-leaning C.D. Howe Institute, whose directors include BMO's Tony Comper and Clive Mather, CEO of Shell Canada Ltd. »Family feud Before he died, Morris Belkin set up a trust-valued then at more than $200 million-to support future generations of the Belkin clan (its final payout is set for 2066). In 2001, two of Morris's grandchildren, one residing in Dubai, the other in Monte Carlo, petitioned to have the books opened on the suspicion the funds had been reorganized. Stuart Belkin declined, insisting they first sign an agreement of confidentiality. »Recluse factor MEDIUM-HIGH Belkin rarely, if ever, grants interview requests. »Google faceoff Stuart Belkin vs. Jimmy Pattison, president of the Pattison Group: 175 hits to 15,100 hits
Robert Miller Future Electronics »Lives Montreal »Worth $878 Million No photo of Robert Miller has ever been published. When we called the Montreal electronics firm that he owns to ask for one, the spokesperson who picked up the phone simply laughed. In fact, Robert Miller (rumoured to be 62) hasn't grunted a word to the media since his rise to prominence in the 1970s. Miller's rags-to-riches tale contains all the earmarks of the genre: the precocious beginnings, the canny business mind, the inexhaustible drive. To wit: At the age of 22, he started distributing electronics, and by 1976 he had bought out his partner, Eli Manis, for $500,000. "We were like night and day," Manis says today. "He [Miller]was a very shrewd workaholic who demanded absolute loyalty from his employees." In the 1980s, Miller began to stockpile electronics parts-everything from wires to pricey semiconductors to electromechanical components-used in manufacturing PCs. It was just before the market in personal computers exploded, and the well-positioned Future Electronics grew to become a leading distributor in the burgeoning industry. Salesmen were pushed hard to maximize profits, many of them grumbling about unconventional methods. Be that as it may, the company remains a big player in the industry, operating 155 offices in 35 countries. »Castle Miller resides in the Upper Westmount mansion once owned by the Bronfman family. »Not-so-hermit queen Miller's wife, Margaret, handles the couple's real estate interests, which have included shopping malls in Florida, New York and Quebec. »Heir Miller himself. Although he has two sons, now in their mid-20s, Miller is planning to have his body cryogenically frozen when he kicks off. He plans to squirrel away a portion of his fortune in a trust, so that he may be reunited with his cash when he thaws out. »Unwanted attention In 1999, 35 RCMP and one FBI agent raided Future Electronics' Montreal office, investigating complaints of fraud. Documents signed by Canadian and U.S. investigators alleged that Miller and three other Future executives, known internally as the "A-team," conspired to fraudulently collect millions of dollars in rebates from its suppliers. Lawyers for the company argued in court to quash the warrant. The company was later cleared. »Money buys you Last year, when it looked like Future Electronics' low-scoring amateur hockey team, the Townies, would be doomed to an early exit from a charity league tournament, Miller sent his private jet to Scottsdale, Ariz., and lured two NHL veterans off the golf course. Miller cheered from the stands as Stephane Matteau and Donald Audette helped the team win the competition. »Recluse factor OFF THE CHART Robert Miller has a private entrance to his office, away from prying eyes. It seems that few employees at Future Electronics regularly see their boss in the flesh. »Google faceoff Robert Miller vs. K.Y. Ho, retired chairman of ATI Technologies Inc.: 201 hits to to 33,700 hits