The invisibles

They're rich — and really, really secretive.

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Unlike fashion mogul Peter Nygård, a perennial favourite of paparazzi, or Galen Weston and his familiar visage, a number of Canada's wealthiest prefer to remain in the shadows, wary of the spotlight. Skilful at deflecting attention from themselves, nary a photo can be found of folks like Robert Miller, the secretive founder of Future Electronics, who comes in at No. 41 on the Rich 100, with $907 million, or the Mannix brothers who, at No. 11 on the list, with $1.91 billion, are the country's quietest billionaires.

The Koschitzky family, ranked No. 69, with a value of $495 million, is another unit that has traditionally remained silent. While dutifully building its roofing products company, the IKO Group, into a dynamic empire, with 3,000 employees that stretches across North America and Europe, the family has assiduously avoided publicity. “We just like to do our own thing and quietly go along,” says David Koschitzky, in a rare interview. “I'm sure there are lots of people who like to be in the public eye, but we just don't.”

Nonetheless, Koschitzky, who lives in Toronto with his wife and five children, offers a glimpse of IKO's internal workings. Started in 1951 by Israel, the family patriarch, an immigrant who had worked for his father's roofing business in Poland before settling in Calgary, in 1949, the private company is now managed by his sons, Saul and Henry, and his grandsons, David, Jonathon and Hartley.

While the family isn't “big on titles,” says Koschitzky, Saul tends to take care of sales while Henry dedicates his time to manufacturing and engineering. The younger generation divides the labour differently: David heads up North American operations while Jonathon and Hartley oversee efforts in Europe. “There are other siblings,” says Koschitzky, “but they're not involved in the roofing business.” As for the next generation taking over, Koschitzky indicates they “would be welcome to join,” but warns that working for the family biz “is not a privilege or a right, it is an opportunity,” one that the youngsters “have to earn.”

In North America, the construction boom has been a boon to IKO's asphalt-shingles business, helping bump up the family's wealth by 32% over the past year. But Canada's rising dollar and clogged border crossings into the United States are major challenges for this export-oriented company. Even so, with operations in Europe taking off after IKO's 2000 acquisition of U.K.-based Ruberoid Building Products, the Koschitzky family is poised to remain a major player on the global construction scene. Just don't expect to see a photo of them any time soon.