Going, going, gone

Since the April death of Galen Weston, his son, Galen G. Weston, has been busy selling off what were once among the crown jewels in the family empire. It’s almost as if he didn’t want to make any of these moves as long as his father was still alive. Unlike many family businesses, this one has prospered since founder George Weston went into the bread business in Toronto in 1882. But what to make of all this recent activity?
Among the many aspects of the business sold in recent months was the very core of the company — the bakery. Gone are bread, fresh and frozen baked goods as well as cookies and crackers. Also sold off was Brown, Thomas & Co., the department store in Dublin where Galen went in the 1960s to learn the business despite being one course short of a university degree, so keen was he to get started.
His eagerness paid off. He courted Hilary Frayne, a tall, local, blonde fashion model and they were married in 1966. He spent five more years in Dublin before buying Brown, Thomas in 1971. The couple lived in various homes, not the least of which was Fort Belvedere, in Windsor Great Park, where Edward VIII signed his abdication papers in 1936. Galen played polo on the same team, The Maple Leafs, with Prince Charles.
Selfridges in London is also gone, bought by Galen in 2003. His daughter Alannah, Selfridges creative director, once shocked the Brits by putting a woman in the window on Oxford Street who stripped down to naked in order to promote a fragrance.
After all of this sell-off manoeuvring, the company says it will focus on real estate and retailing (Holt Renfrew, Loblaw and Shoppers Drug Mart.) This is not just some fly-by-the-seat-of-someone’s pants family like the Bronfmans who went “shirtsleeves to shirtsleeves in three generations.” Galen G. Weston (called G2 for obvious reasons), represents the fourth generation. Few family businesses get this far. Only 10 percent of family businesses make it to the third generation. But I wonder what W. Galen Weston would have said to all this recent change when he was intimately involved in what was built and was suddenly no longer wanted. Or am I just a romantic who likes to see what’s been created continue to be treasured?

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