Canada’s most powerful business people


Mark Wiseman

Age 43, President & CEO, CPP Investment Board

Mark Wiseman

Mark Wiseman manages a portfolio worth $183 billion. That’s more than the annual GDP of the Ukraine, the largest pot of investable money in Canada. His decisions affect the fate of 18 million Canadians, many of whom are counting on him for their retirement incomes. His organization runs one of the most visible and high-profile private equity funds in the world—industry observers put it in the same class as those run by legendary buyout giants Kohlberg, Kravis Roberts and Blackstone. (Don’t talk to Wiseman about stakes smaller than $75 million—they aren’t worth his time.)

Yet the only thing that seems to make him anxious is posing for a photo shoot he’s scheduled to do just down the hall. “I’ll spend as much time with you as I can if it means less time with your photographer,” quips the CEO of the Canada Pension Plan Investment Board as he sits down for an interview.

Canada's Top 25 Most Powerful Business People

Power Breakfasts

It’s a good thing Wiseman isn’t the nervous type: his position at the head of the single largest pool of assets in the country, and one of the largest national pension funds in the world, thrusts him into a role that gives him enormous sway over the country’s biggest corporate players. And his power is growing. Within the next 20 years, CPPIB could control more than half a trillion dollars.

If Wiseman isn’t happy with an investment, he’s in a position to do something about it, and earlier this year he demonstrated a willingness to throw around his considerable weight. The CPPIB took the lead with seven other institutional investors and successfully fought the board of Barrick Gold Corp. over its decision to award an $11.9-million signing bonus to co-chairman John Thornton. CPPIB could have walked away, but Wiseman says he wanted to make a statement. “We thought there was something particularly egregious with that compensation structure that wasn’t aligned with the best interest of shareholders,” he says.

Aside from shaking up the boardroom, the pension board is also developing a reputation as a global player that has the cash to swing large deals, and the wherewithal and sophistication to get them done fast. In the past few years, it has inked a deal with Formula One racing, poured almost a billion into real estate and acquired Australian toll road operator Intoll and Cintra Infraestructuras for $4.1 billion.

Just one year into his term as CEO, Wiseman has already developed a reputation as an innovative and forward-thinking investor, says Colin Blaydon, director of the Center for Private Equity and Entrepreneurship at Dartmouth College. “[The CPPIB] is being watched very carefully,” he says. It’s not just an academic opinion: Onex Corp. CEO Gerry Schwartz says you can feel the weight of the CPPIB in the marketplace, and Wiseman’s influence. “He’s done a marvellous job,” he says. Under Wiseman, the CPPIB has adopted a global scope, says Schwartz. He adds the pension board isn’t just an investor; it’s actively engaged with the assets it acquires and the firms it works with.

But the real power of the CPPIB isn’t in the boardroom; it’s over the millions of Canadians who pay into the pension plan. While few believe they will ever have to rely on the CPP, more and more Canadians find themselves doing just that, which puts even more pressure on the organization to ensure it can meet those needs.

Federal and provincial politicians regularly float the idea that the pension plan should take even more responsibility for Canadians’ retirement incomes, taking even more of a deduction out of paycheques and managing a larger pool of assets. Giving the CPPIB a larger role would be only one of several potential recourses to mitigate the problem of Canadians’ failure to save for retirement, says Wiseman, who stresses that it’s ultimately up to policy-makers to decide. But if his time at the CPPIB is any indication, it’s clear he’s game to take on a bigger challenge. Wiseman doesn’t think small—he’s always been an overachiever.

Mark Wiseman on having a job with meaning and feeling good about what you do

A Fulbright scholar with a law degree and an MBA, the Burlington, Ont., native has “a big brain,” says Brent Belzberg, a longtime friend and founder of TorQuest Partners, a mid-market private equity firm. Wiseman was just 22 when he joined Belzberg’s firm, but he was already picking up the business. Wiseman would eventually pursue his career as a lawyer over in Paris, but when he and his wife were looking to return home, Belzberg was eager to take him back.

Still, smarts isn’t the only reason Wiseman excels; he also surrounds himself with the right people. “He understands the power of his community and utilizes it,” explains Belzberg. “Everyone recognized his brilliance. But in addition to his big brain, he was able to attract some big people.”

Given the demands of the job—not to mention being father to two boys under the age of 15—how adept is he at separating work from home? The question forces him to pause and reflect. “You should ask my wife that,” he says under his breath. He stumbles for a moment in search of a better way to answer the question. When he realizes there isn’t one he blurts out, “Bad,” followed by a full-throated laugh. “My executive assistant agrees with a statement my wife makes. She says: ‘Mark has an undying belief that time will somehow expand to meet his needs.’ ”

That helps explain why Wiseman is always 15 minutes late. Even when he’s on track, time has a way of conspiring against him. Four shots into Wiseman’s photo shoot the battery packs for the flashes knock out. “We’re done!” Wiseman says with a grin. “I see Building Services got my message.” Still, he waits for the photographer to get things back up. And then he’s 15 minutes behind schedule again.


Who needs a hotel ballroom?

Event spaces can be so impersonal and (let’s face it)
plebeian. Some of the country’s most influential philanthropists
now throw VIP charity events in their own
backyards. Heather Reisman and Gerry Schwartz
(she of Indigo, he of Onex) recently hosted an inviteonly
barbecue fundraiser for the Right to Play foundation
at their luxurious compound in Toronto’s Rosedale
neighbourhood. Gord Downie and Jim Cuddy played
acoustic sets, and Jessica Paré performed her infamous
Mad Men song-and-dance number “Zou Bisou Bisou.”

[adspot align=”center”]


Gordon Nixon

56, CEO, Royal Bank of Canada

Gordon Nixon

As the well-connected head of the country’s largest bank for the past 11 years, Gord Nixon is naturally a top contender for any list of Canadian movers and shakers. But this year he’s up to much more: he’s also spearheading the launch of a new stock exchange. Going head-to-head with the TMX could prove a tougher challenge than some Nixon has weathered recently (including negative PR surrounding the bank’s use of temporary foreign workers), but RBC and the group of backers behind Aequitas are banking on investors’ discontent with high-frequency trading to help it grab market share.


Bruce Flatt

48, CEO, Brookfield Asset Management Inc.

Bruce Flatt

When Brookfield Asset Management makes a buy or sale, the market pays attention—and not just because of the magnitude of the deal. CEO Bruce Flatt, who controls a sprawling international empire worth more than $175 billion, has an exceptional knack for targeting distressed assets and scooping them up for pennies on the dollar. When Flatt revealed a $4-billion fund to invest in real estate in 2009—with an eye on the downtrodden U.S.—market watchers took it as a strong sign that property prices had finally reached bottom. Investment dollars have poured into the U.S. since then.

Flatt and his Brookfield team are exceptionally well-connected. To demonstrate the breadth of the company’s links to the business world’s elite, CIBC World Markets produced a list of 100 boldface names who serve on corporate boards that also include at least one director from Brookfield. The list includes André Desmarais, David Dodge, and T. Boone Pickens. Connections like these allow Flatt to keep tabs on assets coming up for sale. “These guys have unbelievable information,” says CIBC analyst Alex Avery of the team at Brookfield.

Not to mention incredible assets, which include 300 million square feet of real estate around the world, more than 100 malls, 50,000 apartments, 48 million square feet of industrial property, and nearly 8,000 acres of land in the U.S., a good chunk of which is ripe for development. And then there are a couple hundred renewable power operations, pipelines stretching thousands of kilometres, and a couple million acres of timberland. Flatt’s eye for value extends to his personal life, too. He earned a total compensation package last year worth $5 million, and yet he’s been known to ferry himself around in a Smart car. “I’ve never seen him fly anything but economy,” adds management consultant Doug Steiner. When you’ve got this much power, you don’t need to show it off.


Murray Edwards

53, Chair, Canadian Natural Resources Ltd.

Murray Edwards

Input from this influential, Regina-born billionaire lawyer was reportedly instrumental in shaping the foreign-ownership rules for oilsands companies that the Harper government hastily drafted in response to CNOOC’s $15-billion bid for Nexen last December. A rare federal Liberal in the oilpatch, Edwards has long had the ear of all stripes of government. Best known as chair of Canadian Natural Resources, he also chairs Ensign Energy Services, Mississauga-based Magellan Aerospace and the Calgary Flames hockey club. Other playthings include Resorts of the Canadian Rockies, the private operator of six snow-sport destinations including Nakiska, Fernie and Mont-Ste-Anne. While known as a backroom deal maker, Edwards’s public appearances are rare, and always a hot ticket.

It’s not really about the art

Since its inception 10 years ago, the Miami Beach iteration
of the annual Art Basel fair has become a must-hit
item on any globetrotter’s social calendar—a bonfire of
inanity that’s ostensibly about art, but increasingly about
social-status peacocking. Canadian attendees include
Rogers honcho Phil Lind, grocery magnate Galen
Weston Sr. and impresario David Mirvish. Some complain
the fair is too commercial, but it’s hard to hear the
protests over the roar of private jets.

[adspot align=”center”]


Prem Watsa

62, CEO, Fairfax Financial Holdings Ltd.

Prem Watsa

When BlackBerry’s stock touched new lows in January 2012, and investors were losing hope in the company, Prem Watsa stepped in. Not only did he reveal a 5.12% stake, but he also took a seat on the board of directors. Investors took note. If a guy like Watsa believed in BlackBerry, perhaps there was hope for the company after all. Indeed, Watsa’s power comes from his ability to shape investors’ perceptions. Born in Hyderabad, India, Watsa has become Canada’s most influential investor. He owns big stakes in William Ashley, Thomas Cook India, and Prime Restaurants (owner of East Side Mario’s and Casey’s) through Fairfax, which has a market cap of $8.5 billion. The majority of its business is derived from the insurance companies it owns, however, such as OdysseyRe and Zenith National Insurance Co. That financial clout allows Watsa to pull other companies back from the brink—not just BlackBerry. He’s admitted to getting “burned” by media investments, but Watsa has more hits than misses, and investors hang on to his every word.


Julie Dickson

56, Superintendent, Office of the Superintendent of Financial Institutions

Julie Dickson

Five years after the financial industry’s 2008 meltdown, Dickson’s office enjoys a sterling reputation for its prudent and aggressive regulation of a banking sector that swanned through the financial crisis with hardly a scratch. When she leaves her position next year at the end of her seven-year term, that legacy will be remembered. Dickson’s high-level policy-making seems to emanate from an ultra-exclusive bureaucratic club called the “heads of agencies,” which includes the governor of the Bank of Canada, the heads of the provincial securities commissions and senior Department of Finance officials. Case in point: when Carney last year began warning about the dangerous increase in Canadian consumer debt levels and a possible housing bubble, Flaherty responded with tougher mortgage rules, while Dickson’s team anted up something called “Guideline B-20,” which essentially made Canada’s senior bank executives and boards directly responsible for their institutions’ mortgage-writing operations. No one outside the rarefied world of banking policy has ever heard of B-20, but Finn Poschmann, VP of research at the CD Howe Institute, calls it “a fairly significant philosophical shift in Canada’s regulatory framework.”


Stephen Harper

54, Prime Minister of Canada

Stephen Harper

Even the most ardent of Ottawa watchers are hard-pressed to say who advises the PM on business issues. Six months ago, the answer was clearly Nigel Wright, Harper’s emissary on crucial economic issues, from foreign investment in the oilsands to the trans-Pacific trade talks. With Wright now gone, Harper has handed the thorny implementation of the Canada Job Grant to Jason Kenney, a loyal follower, but there’s little doubt the strategy flowed from the Prime Minster’s Office. Want further proof that the PMO is now the hub of economic and industrial planning in Canada? Consider that it was Harper, not then–industry minister Christian Paradis, who announced the approval of the takeover of Nexen Energy by China’s CNOOC late last year. On the big issues, it’s Harper—and only Harper—who matters.


Darren Entwistle

51, CEO, Telus Corp.

Telus may be the smallest of Canada’s Big Three telcos, but CEO Darren Entwistle has been the collective’s biggest voice, leading the charge in a PR blitz against Verizon’s proposed move north via acquisitions of Wind and Mobilicity. Upstart Entwistle has launched a full-on offensive, meeting with government ministers, visiting editorial boards and hammering home his point to any other media that will listen. He took things a step further in late July by announcing Telus would be taking the federal government to court over clarity in Canada’s wireless spectrum policy. If Verizon’s Canadian ambitions are slowed, Entwistle will deserve the lion’s share of credit.


Galen Weston Jr.

40, Executive Chair, Loblaw Cos. Ltd.

Galen Weston Jr.

Who would have thought that the seemingly lightweight prince of a fading family empire would broker the deal of the year? A decade ago, Galen Weston Jr. was known more for his parties than for his business sense. Today, he stands alone atop a retail behemoth. By engineering Loblaw’s $12.4-billion takeover of Shoppers Drug Mart, Weston climbed forever out of the shadow cast by his famous family. And if the Shoppers deal closes, he will control a company with unparalleled retail heft in Canada. Together, Shoppers and Loblaws brought in $42 billion in revenue last year. They own or lease 56 million square feet of retail space across the country. Even before the deal, Weston already had the power to close a mega-merger with a handshake in a van on a country road. When the companies merge, he’ll have the power to put his products in front of more customers in more locations than almost any of his competitors do. That means Weston can wrench better deals out of his suppliers, sell more of his own house brands and further solidify his place as a legitimate titan in Canadian business. He’s not G2 now (a reference to his better-known father). He’s just Galen Weston.


Robert Prichard

64, Chair, Torys LLP

Robert Prichard

On Bay Street, there are few powerbrokers as deeply entwined in the dual worlds of public and private business as Rob Prichard, the former law school prof who has held, by his own account, three of the most high-profile gigs in Toronto: president of the University of Toronto, CEO of Torstar, and, now, chair of Metrolinx, the provincial transit agency tasked with building $50 billion in new subways and LRT lines across Greater Toronto. In his day job, Prichard is non-executive chair of Bay Street law firm Torys, where he specializes in arbitration and public-private partnerships. He also heads the BMO board, and holds several other directorships. Known for his connections to both Bay Street and establishment Liberal circles, Prichard as head of U of T was credited with talking Paul Martin into rewriting the tax rules to allow gifts of stock to be eligible for charitable credits—a game-changing move that unlocked untold millions of philanthropic donations. It was the first of many high-stakes forays into public policy. The provincial Liberals recently tapped him to work out a $275-million settlement between the government and several aggrieved hedge funds that saw controversial contracts to build gas plants in Toronto’s western suburbs cancelled during the 2011 election.

Wondering who else made the top-50 list? Grab a copy of our Power 50 issue, on stands now.

Photo credits: Hasnain Dattu, RBC, Chris Hughes, Tony Fouhse, Chris Wattie/Reuters, Darren Calabrese/CP, Ontario Chamber of Commerce