Richest People

Canada’s Richest People: The Thomson Family

Canada’s Richest People
Thomson Family
(Photo: Frank Gunn/CP)

Thomson Family

Net Worth:
$41.14 billion
(▲5.2% from 2017)

Rich 100 rank: #1
Change in rank from 2017: No change
Major company holdings: Thomson Reuters, Woodbridge Co.
Location: Toronto

Canada’s richest family maintains its spot at the top of the list on the strength of the company that bears its name, Thomson Reuters. After a rough patch early in 2016, the company has been slowly gaining back ground. By late summer 2017, Thomson Reuters’ shares had hit an all-time high on the New York and Toronto Stock exchanges. Meanwhile, the company is boosting its operations in Canada: A new 50,000-square-foot technology hub in Toronto is expected to add 400 positions to its payroll in this country over the next couple years, with longer-term ambitions to employ up to 1,500. The company is upping its Canadian cred further by relocating its CEO, Jim Smith, and its CFO, Stephane Bello, to Toronto.

The family’s initiative remains global, however; if you want to tap into one of the fastest-growing economies in the world, it pays to have powerful friends, and David Thomson clearly understands this. Over the past few years, the chairman of Thomson Reuters has forged a friendship with Sheikh Mohammed bin Rashid Al Maktoum, the prime minister and ruler of Dubai, and one of the most influential leaders in the Middle East. It could be a lucrative relationship that will open the door for Thomson Reuters to expand in the region.

The clan’s fortune originated with a single radio station in North Bay, Ont., started by Roy Thomson as a way to boost demand for the radios he was selling. Seeing the financial opportunity in the fledgling medium, he executed an aggressive acquisition strategy, eventually branching into newspapers and other fields—retail, insurance, travel agents, oil. His son, Ken Thomson, later focused on streamlining the conglomerate, selling off many non-core assets. He also largely extricated the family from newspapers in advance of the internet’s undermining its business model. Instead, Thomson Reuters has become concentrated on high-margin specialized digital information sources: legal and medical databases, high-speed financial data services and more. When Ken died in 2006, David Thomson took over and quickly distinguished himself with the blockbuster $17.2-billion purchase of Reuters news service. Despite the many changes to the company over the years, Canada’s Globe and Mail newspaper has remained part of the family portfolio, evidently an heirloom with sentimental value all its own. “That’s sacred,” Ken once told a reporter. “As long as we have the Globe and Mail, we’re happy.”

The family suffered a major loss this year with the death of their matriarch, Marilyn Thomson, who had been a grounding figure for her three children and, in many ways, inspired their ambition. “She was tenacious and determined and would never take no for an answer,” said Peter, the youngest sibling, in a eulogy to his mother in June.

Updated Thursday, November 9, 2017

#1: Thomson Family

#2: Joseph Tsai