The Rich 100: The man behind Brascan

Veteran Jack Cockwell spreads the wealth

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Mention the name Jack Cockwell to all but a few business veterans, and you'll likely get a blank stare. Who? Only the man who built Brascan into one of the largest conglomerates in the world, let alone Canada, using a controversial strategy of maintaining maximum control at minimum cost. Yes, Edper Enterprises, which eventually controlled Brascan, was bankrolled by Edward and Peter Bronfman, outcasts from the Seagram family empire. But the company was largely Cockwell's making. So much so that Cockwell wrested control away from the Bronfmans.

At its peak in the 1980s, Brascan was a tangled corporate structure of more than 200 often intertwined companies that would no doubt leave today's corporate governance do-gooders tied up in knots. At one time or another, Brascan held stakes in Noranda, Labatt, Royal LePage, London Life and MacMillan Bloedel, among many others.

Pretty lucrative work for an expat South African accountant who emigrated to Canada in the mid-1960s, after getting his start at what is now Deloitte & Touche. By some accounts, Cockwell was the ultimate backroom wheeler and dealer, sometimes referred to as “the manipulator.” Yet, he's also a publicity-shy man who nearly cried during one of the few interviews he granted while in power, when the subject of Peter Bronfman's death, in 1996, was brought up.

Now that Cockwell's semi-retired — he's still group chairman at Brookfield Asset Management Inc., the new name for Brascan — he's actively involved in charitable work. During the past few years, Cockwell has donated at least $5 million to the Royal Ontario Museum, $500,000 to Ryerson University's Invest in Futures campaign, at least $250,000 to the United Way and $50,000 to the St. Michael's Hospital Foundation in Toronto. Who better to have in your corner than someone who knows how to pull a few strings?