The Old Gent

When Eaton’s closed its catalogue division in 1976, the event was deemed to be so seismic that family members personally paid courtesy calls on a federal cabinet minister as well as senior aides and premiers in New Brunswick, Ontario and Manitoba to give advance notice. After all, 9,000 employees would be thrown out of work. The Eaton “boys” as they’ve always been called, despite the fact that they were all in their thirties at the time – John Craig, Fred, Thor and George – took media training to prepare for the anticipated public outcry at the icon’s demise. But when...

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Buona Pasqua

Easter celebrations in Florence reach a crescendo on Sunday at the Duomo. Beginning at 10 a.m. there is a procession along Via Roma of celebrants in medieval costumes that includes drummers, trumpeters and flag-tossers as well as official representatives from the police, church and city. What makes this parade different from the many others throughout the year is the carro, a huge wooden cart that’s about ten meters high and looks Oriental in design. The cart, which is loaded with fireworks, was pulled in the past by two white oxen. In recent years, all the hard work to position the...

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A line in the snow

Thank goodness Industry Minister Jim Prentice is taking an extra month to consider the sale of MacDonald Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (MDA) to foreign interests. At the end of his consideration, he must reject the transaction. Canada has too few global brands. In our more than 140 years as a nation, you can count on one hand the Canadian manufacturing firms known around the world: Massey-Ferguson (long gone), Bata, Nortel (for a time), Bombardier and Research in Motion. MDA belongs among the celebrated because of Canadarm, Canada’s contribution to the International Space Station, as well as Radarsat-2, an observation satellite....

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There will be more blood

Never in my thirty years as a business writer have I seen so many scary stories following one upon the other. JP Morgan’s offer to buy Bear Stearns may lance that particular boil but there remains a toxic waste of acronym debt that until recently few knew about but far too many held. Some of those deadly instruments were peddled by the very investment banks that are now threatening to bring down other houses. The investments, which today seem ludicrous, were touted by the wounded right until the moment they reared up and snakebit their creators. I asked the wisest...

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The mighty and their midgets

March is a glorious month in Italy. The warm weather arrives; temperatures moderate from winter’ss chill to the mid-teens Celsius. Buds begin to burst; shop owners stuff sidewalk pots with flowers. We visit Lombardy to pay homage to two sixteenth century women. In Parma there’s Giovanna da Piacenza, a Benedictine abbess who discovered Antonio Allegri, the painter later known as Correggio. He created a gazebo in Giovanna’s bedroom, Camera di San Paolo, by painting the thin ribs of the domed ceiling to look like bamboo surrounded by fruit, putti, and allegorical panels. The other leader is Isabella d’Este, wife of...

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The refrain that follows Bronfman

Andrew Ross Sorkin has an excellent piece in today’s New York Times about Edgar Bronfman Jr. that expands upon the themes in my recent post and adds some other thoughtful comments about everyone’s favorite corporate pinata.

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How to write a book: part six

The first commandment about writing a book is to care passionately about your topic. For each of my dozen books, I have spent two years researching and writing the work, so you have to care deeply about what you are doing. If there’s any chance you’ll get bored along the way, don’t take on the project. If you lose interest, imagine how readers will feel. OK, how do you recognize the right topic? You can’t simply say, “I’ve always wanted to write a book,” you have to say, “I want to write a book about [fill in the blank].” The...

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Edgar Jr. redux

When last we looked in on the life of Edgar Bronfman Jr. (July 13, 2007), he’d just sold his Manhattan townhouse on East 64th Street for $50 million, a stratospheric sum that remains among the top prices ever paid in New York. He’d bought the 31-foot wide townhouse in 1995, renovated the heck out of it, then dwelt there starting in 1999. Edgar Jr., subject of my book, The Icarus Factor, now appears to be seeking an even faster real estate flip. Last month he paid $19.5 million for an eleven-room co-op on Fifth Avenue at 85th Street, with views...

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