Galen Weston, the entrepreneur who built an Atlantic-spanning business network that made him one of the richest Canadians, has died. He was 80.
Mr Weston died on Monday “peacefully at home after a long illness faced with courage and dignity,” the Weston family said in a statement.
“In our business and in his life he built a legacy of extraordinary accomplishment and joy,” his son, Galen G. Weston, chief executive officer of George Weston Limited, said.
His daughter, Alannah Weston, who chairs the Selfridges Group, added, “The luxury retail industry has lost a great visionary.”
A friend of Prince Charles and lover of polo and art, Mr Weston oversaw and expanded a high-end family retail empire that also includes Britain’s Selfridges, Canada’s Holt Renfrew and de Bijenkorf of the Netherlands. Through George Weston Ltd, the company named for his grandfather, the family holds the biggest stake in Canada’s largest food retailer, Loblaw.
Willard Gordon Galen Weston was born in Buckinghamshire, England, on October 29th, 1940, the youngest of nine children in a prominent family.
His father, Willard Garfield Weston, had helped expand the family’s bakery company into a multinational food empire, and served as a member of the British Parliament during the Second World War. One brother, Garry H. Weston, who died in 2002, was one of the richest people in Britain, and chairman of Associated British Foods.
In 1962, Mr Weston graduated from the University of Western Ontario and moved to Ireland where he met Hilary Frayne, an Irish fashion model; they married in 1966. With financial help from his grandmother, he bought a grocery store, building it into the Power Supermarkets chain, and then began acquiring clothing stores.
He gave luxury retailer Brown Thomas to his wife as a present, just as his father had bought Fortnum and Mason for his mother during their marriage. Hilary was put in charge of revamping the Brown Thomas fashion department, as well as that of Todd Burns, an Irish department-store chain that later became Primark.
At his father’s request, Mr Weston returned to Canada in the early 1970s, taking the helm of Loblaw, which he is credited with saving from near-bankruptcy and subsequently turning into the country’s largest grocer.
Mr Weston, who had two children, continued to make business a family affair. His son Galen G. Weston became executive chairman of Loblaw in 2006, and chief executive officer of George Weston Ltd in 2017 – the fourth generation to lead the business.
His daughter Alannah Weston has also served as a director on George Weston’s board, as well as deputy chairman of Selfridges Group, which Mr Weston acquired in 2003 and under which the family’s other luxury department stores are held.
The family stable of retail assets includes a handful of other retail names in Canada as well as the Joe Fresh line of low-cost clothing. Loblaw agreed to buy Shoppers Drug Mart, the leading Canadian drugstore chain, in 2013 for about $12 billion. Weston Foods, the commercial bakery business that gave the empire its start, was put up for sale last month.
Mr Weston had a net worth of $10.7 billion, according to the Bloomberg Billionaires Index. His wealth sometimes came at a cost. In 1983, police tipped off Weston and his family about a planned kidnapping attempt at their estate in Ireland. During a police ambush, several members of the Provisional Irish Republican Army were reportedly shot and captured.
Despite his prominence in society circles on both sides of the Atlantic, the incident led Mr Weston to keep a low media profile throughout much of the rest of his life. He has continued to lease the historic Fort Belvedere in Windsor Great Park in southeast England, a 17th century “folly” where Edward VIII abdicated.
In 1989, Mr Weston and his wife founded Windsor, a wealthy resort community in Vero Beach, Florida, helping design the lay-out of the community, golf course and polo field. The Westons also maintained ties to Toronto, keeping a house in the tony Forest Hill neighborhood where members of the British royal family sometimes stayed when they visited Canada.