Peter Gilgan — The Builder

When he started building residential houses in the late '70s Gilgan wanted to try something new — building homes according to human needs.

When Peter Gilgan started building residential houses in the late '70s, he wanted to try something new. Tired of bland communities, Gilgan, president and CEO of Oakville, Ont.-based Mattamy Homes Ltd., set out to construct individual-looking exclusive homes that were “planned according to human needs, not lot sizes,” as the company website proclaims. He is known for his unique WideLot design, which allows more of each house to face the street. Besides the fact that fewer houses on each street make for less traffic and a more neighbourly feel, the design also allows his homes to have front porches, more windows, shorter hallways and usable backyards. Gilgan loves his work. “I love the dynamics of it, the reality of it,” he says. “I love how it affects people's lives.” And he's affected quite a few: over 21,000 houses in 76 Toronto-area communities later, Mattamy is one of Canada's largest new-home builders.

Mike Czestochowski, vice-president of commercial real estate brokerage firm CB Richard Ellis, says Mattamy has a reputation for building high-quality homes and providing excellent service. Describing the company's growth over the past decade as “explosive,” Czestochowski says Mattamy has been on the right path with its quick, aggressive approach. “They were aggressive in terms of buying lands,” he says, “and bought in the right places at the right time.” According to a Royal LePage report released Sept. 15, the right time is continuing: across the country, sales of higher-end homes are growing at an unprecedented rate. In the first two quarters of 2005, Toronto alone saw a 48% year-over-year increase in sales of luxury homes. The demand can mean only good things for Mattamy and Gilgan, who entered the ranks of the Rich 100 this year at No. 93 with an estimated net worth of $397 million.

On a personal level, Gilgan is well respected among his peers. “He is one of the people you want to deal with in this business,” says Czestochowski. “He's very down-to-earth, straightforward, honest.” He's also into building communities in more ways than one. Gilgan is sponsoring a home-building management program with Toronto's George Brown College, offering students an opportunity to learn not only technical skills but also soft skills such as marketing and customer service. He expects to hire some of the graduates, “but the broader outcome is that we hope to upgrade the skills of the people coming into the industry and to improve the professionalism,” he says. He also recently finished chairing a capital campaign to build a new YMCA in Oakville, and is currently co-chairing a capital campaign for Sheridan College. Why get involved? Gilgan says the communities he works in have rewarded Mattamy by approving and buying their homes, so saying thank you is a must. “We need to give back,” he says. “We can't just take, we have to spend some time giving.” He estimates he spends a significant amount of his time, about 25% to 35%, on community initiatives. “I don't regret it,” Gilgan says.

Gilgan is known as a family man: the company's name comes from the amalgamation of his two oldest kids' names, Matt and Amy (he has eight children). Stelumar, one of his building manufacturing divisions, is named for his third, fourth and fifth children, Stephanie, Luke and Markus. But that's about as personal as Gilgan is willing to get with an inquisitive reporter. He values his privacy and rarely talks to the press. Why the low profile? “I'd rather my deeds speak,” he says.