Silver spoons

It helps if you get a bit of a head start.

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Sixteenth-century Spanish novelist Miguel de Cervantes once wrote, “Every man was not born with a silver spoon in his mouth.” But for more than a handful of the people on this year's Rich 100, the good fortune of being born into oodles of money (and translating that wealth into a controlling stake in the family business) brings the meaning of the word “nepotism” to a whole new level. Despite the advantages of being fabulously rich, however, the silver-spoon set is also painfully aware of the pressures of carrying forward the family legacy.

Charles Bronfman's nephew Edgar Jr., whose disastrous merger of Seagram's with French media conglomerate Vivendi SA in 2000 ultimately lopped more than $3 billion off the family money tree, is a prime example. Bronfman's portfolio, which used to include his father's once legendary Montreal booze business, is now valued at a cool $1.85 billion, down 7% from last year.

The Eaton brothers, who dropped off our list in 2000, also know a thing or two about the fall of a family empire. After more than a century as the first family of Canadian retail, they watched as their great-grandfather's department store chain was swallowed by its competitors.

To be fair, there are a number of silver spoons on our list who, despite a series of million-dollar hiccups, have continued to work hard to disprove the old cliché that says it takes one generation to build a financial empire, the second to consolidate it and the third to squander it. Media scion Pierre Karl Péladeau, who together with his brother, Érik, is worth an estimated $480 million, has managed to resuscitate his family's ailing Quebecor Inc. portfolio after a multibillion-dollar convergence spending spree a few years back threatened to turn their father's printing and forestry empire to pulp.

Then there's Gail Regan and Rosemary Phelan, who, along with niece Holiday Phelan-Johnson, took the family's 121-year-old restaurant conglomerate, Cara Operations, private in February in an attempt to cook up some fresh excitement. And in a bid to keep the fizz in the $498-million Molson family fortune, Eric Molson, chairman of the 218-year-old brewing empire, proposed a so-called merger of equals with Colorado-based suds maker Adolph Coors Co. this summer.

As for the New Brunswick-based Irving clan, its rising fortunes (their net worth is up 29% this year, mostly on the back of high oil and lumber prices) may lead to a future heir being born with an entire table setting in his or her mouth.