AP Photo/The Canadian Press, Frank Gunn
David Thomson in 2008 after the launch of Thomson Reuters on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Canada’s richest family came to real estate relatively late, and not for the reasons you might expect.
Real estate is often a way to preserve generational wealth and security. For David Thomson, it was his way of asserting his independence from a fortune so large it could almost certainly never be destroyed.
David’s grandfather Roy was a radio salesman in Ontario who set up a radio station in the 1930s to give his customers something to listen to. He parlayed the profits from this venture into Canadian newspapers, before heading back to his ancestral Scotland and buying British newspapers and TV stations, including the famous Times and Sunday Times, which he eventually sold to Rupert Murdoch.
He was given a hereditary peerage, Baron Thomson of Fleet, which the family still carries today.
In the 1990s, David’s father, Ken, transformed the company into the financial services data business that merged with Reuters in 2006. Woodbridge, the family holding company, is mainly invested in media companies, including holding a big stake in Thomson Reuters, although it did own Canadian department store giant Hudson’s Bay from 1979 to 1997.
David made the family’s first major foray into real estate, setting up Osmington Inc. He reportedly sold around $100M of Thomson Reuters shares to seed the business. It is revitalizing Toronto's Union Station into a significant retail-dining-entertainment hub.
In the subsequent 22 years, the company has grown to an estimated $1.5B in assets under management, but perhaps more interesting has been its recent evolution. It has bought and sold shopping centers in Toronto and beyond, but in 2004 it took a stake in True North Sports via a land deal that saw the development of the 15,000-seat Bell MTS Place, an ice-hockey stadium complex that allowed the city of Winnipeg to win an NHL franchise, the Winnipeg Jets.
More recently the company has been something of a technology and clean energy investor. In May it invested in Peak Power Inc., an energy storage service provider, and according to Crunchbase it has invested $100M in precision farming firm Farmer’s Edge Laboratories. In the traditional real estate world it is also undertaking a major redevelopment of Toronto's Union Station. Thomson maintains the family title and the hereditary position of chairman of Thomson Reuters, but his heart appears to lie at the more innovative edge of real estate. — Mike Phillips
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