Just Who Is Jerry Zucker, Anyway?

Though raised in the Deep South, the man behind the bid for Hudson's Bay Co., Jerry Zucker, is no stranger to Canada. Indeed, as part owner of two South Carolina AA hockey teams and full owner of two Toronto hockey arenas, he apparently has a deep affection for Canada's national sport. Now, with his $1.1-billion offer to buy HBC, Zucker is looking to acquire another icon of Canadian culture.

Zucker, 56, is shrouded in mystery. Born in Israel and raised in Jacksonville, Fla., he graduated from the University of Florida in math, chemistry and physics. He later earned a master's degree in electrical engineering at the University of Florida. He's been described as a scientific genius, and has registered close to 300 invention disclosures and patents in his life–ranging from a method for removing and disposing hydrocarbons absorbed in a fabric to a process for purifying excess ink recovered from printing.

After working in pulp and paper, Zucker's business career took off in the early '80s after forming the InterTech Group Inc. in North Charleston, S.C. InterTech and its affiliates manufacture a variety of polymer- and elastomer-based products, microporous membranes and cryogenic insulation products. Forbes put InterTech at 120 on its 2004 list of the largest private companies in the U.S., with annual revenues of about US$2 billion. In addition, Zucker has made a very lucrative career out of buying and selling companies, including those in Canada. “There's a lot of opportunity here,” says Robert Johnston, vice-president of strategy at InterTech; Canadian companies are often undervalued compared to their American peers. Johnston, a Canadian from Montreal, began working with Zucker after one of the companies Zucker controlled, Polymer Group Inc., took over Montreal-based Dominion Textiles for close to $1 billion (including debt) in 1997.

Though he resigned as CEO of Polymer when the company emerged from bankruptcy protection in 2003, Zucker has kept up his connection to Canada. Among other companies, he owns a 46% stake of Circa Enterprises, based in Calgary, which makes electronic surge-protection equipment. And earlier this year, Zucker upped his stake in Galvanic Applied Sciences Inc. of Calgary, which makes equipment for the natural gas industry, to more than 18%. While Zucker has obviously dipped his toes in Canadian waters, his purchase of HBC, if successful, would be his biggest splash yet.