As W. Galen Weston Passes Baton to Son, George Weston Ltd Shows its Generational Staying Power

TORONTO — Loblaw president Galen G. Weston was a foregone fit to take the helm of family-controlled food conglomerate George Weston Ltd., though multi-generational leadership within one family company is far from typical.

Over 134 years, this business started by a baker’s apprentice has transformed into Canada’s biggest company, a conglomerate that sells a lot more than bread. Continue reading.

“Reaching a fourth generation represents unique longevity among family-led firms, and my father’s success over four decades sets a high bar for the next generation of our business,” Galen G. Weston said Wednesday after the company announced he had been named Chairman after his father, W. Galen Weston, stepped down as Executive Chairman of George Weston.

The senior Weston will retain the honorary title of Chairman Emeritus.

Bruce Winder, partner in Toronto-based firm Retail Advisors Network, said investors would see the transfer of power as a “natural move,” particularly given the younger Weston’s ability to grow Loblaw during his tenure in the face of an aggressive grocery expansion by Walmart Canada.

“Galen Jr. has cut his teeth over the last 10 years in the business and has done some really sophisticated things with Loblaw. It is one of the leading digital companies within grocery right now — the loyalty program has blown away everybody else, in that regard. And appearing on the TV ads made a connection with people to help position Loblaw as a relevant, progressive and innovative company.”

Winder said the successful acquisition of Shoppers Drug Mart in 2013 has earned the younger Weston respect in the business community.

“That was a big bet, and sometimes big bets don’t work. It’s a pretty big feather in his cap to have the guts and foresight and knowledge to make a big acquisition and do it properly and not wreck it, but to nurture it.”

The elder Weston said Wednesday that his move to step down from executive control of George Weston would follow a tradition set by his father, W. Garfield Weston, who also stepped down from the board at the age of 75.

“I see this as a good time to create space for the next generation,” W. Galen Weston said in a statement.

“I have absolute confidence in my son and the George Weston Limited board and leadership. I look forward to using my time to focus on the exciting opportunities ahead in our luxury business and some truly ground-breaking potential with our charitable foundation.”

Nathan Denette/The Canadian Press
Nathan Denette/The Canadian PressW. Galen Weston speaks to shareholders at the George Weston Limited annual general meeting in Toronto, on Tuesday, May 12, 2015.

During the course of his more than four decades at the helm of George Weston, supermarket subsidiary Loblaw transformed from a company on the verge of bankruptcy into Canada’s biggest food retailer and drugstore chain. Its Weston Foods division, the business that formed the roots of the family empire in 1882, is the country’s bakery, producing brands such as Wonder Bread, Country Harvest and Ace Bakery.

The appointment of Weston, 43, marks the fourth generation of the family to lead the business.

It’s a remarkable feat: According to Boston-based association Family Firm Institute, fewer than a third of family businesses — about 30 per cent — last into second generation. Just 12 per cent survive into the third generation, and only three per cent last until fourth generation or longer.

Galen Jr. has cut his teeth over the last 10 years in the business and has done some really sophisticated things with Loblaw.

Executive Chairman of Loblaw since 2006 and president of Loblaw since 2014, Weston was named Deputy Chairman of George Weston Ltd. in March.

Galen G. Weston is not the only member of his generation to carry on the family tradition. His sister, Alannah Weston, was appointed as a director on the George Weston board this year and has served as creative director of British department store chain Selfridges since the Weston family bought it in 2004.

In 2014, she was named Deputy Chairman at Selfridges Group, which owns the luxury retailers Holt Renfrew, Ireland’s Brown Thomas, Selfridges and de Bijenkorf in the Netherlands.

“We will benefit from the strong legacy traits of Weston companies, and my sister and I look forward to our father’s continued guidance and support,” Galen G. Weston said Wednesday.

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