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Leo: A Life

Leo Kolber
WITH L. Ian MacDonald
Copyright Date: 2003
Pages: 320
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  • Book Info
    Book Description:

    For thirty years Kolber was chairman of Cemp Investments, the Bronfman trust, and Cadillac Fairview Corporation, one of the largest real estate firms in North America. He charts his directorship of Dupont and other companies in which the Bronfmans held an important interest and reveals the inner workings of mega deals, including the Bronfman acquisition of MGM in the 1960s. The memoir also offers a sobering look at Edgar Bronfman Jr's disasterous decision to sell Seagram's 25 percent interest in DuPont in order to buy MCA-Universal Studios, a deal that Kolber strongly opposed and which signalled the dissolution of a great business empire.

    eISBN: 978-0-7735-7157-0
    Subjects: Management & Organizational Behavior

Table of Contents

  1. Front Matter
    (pp. i-vi)
  2. Table of Contents
    (pp. vii-2)
  3. Introduction
    (pp. 3-5)

    The prime minister was buying lunch.

    It was pretty informal, standing up at a hot dog stand on a golf course at Grand-Mère, Quebec, a six-minute stop after the ninth hole. Jean Chrétien mentioned that if Tiger Woods came to the Canadian Open in a month’s time, he would be invited to play with Woods in the pro-am the day before the 72-hole championship began at Royal Montreal.

    I thought the chances of Tiger showing up were pretty good, since he was the defending champion and since Royal Montreal’s famous Blue Course was the only place he had ever missed...

  4. 1 Neither Rags, nor Riches
    (pp. 6-17)

    I was born on the eve of the Depression in 1929. My first childhood recollection is of being woken up by my parents on Hanukkah and finding presents hanging on my little bed in the back room of our house in Montreal.

    We lived at 262 Villeneuve Street, a Jewish neighbourhood near Park Avenue in the north end of the city. My father, Moses Kolber, was a dentist, and his office and waiting room were at the front of the house. When I started going to school, I would tiptoe in so as not to disturb anyone. It wasn’t a...

  5. 2 “Mr Sam”
    (pp. 18-39)

    Everyone else called him “Mr Sam.” I just couldn’t bring myself to do that. I called him “Mr Bronfman.” Always did. He was my father figure, my mentor, and I was extremely fond of him. But he could be pretty tough. And when he let loose with a string of epithets, I never heard such profanity in my entire life.

    I was eighteen, in third-year university, when I first met him in 1947. He told me that when he was my age, starting out in Brandon and Winnipeg, he had a vision that someday he would create a brand of...

  6. 3 Charles
    (pp. 40-60)

    My relationship with Sam Bronfman, and his sons, Edgar and Charles, has sometimes been compared to that of Robert Duvall as Tom Hagen, theconsigliereto the Corleone family inThe Godfather,in the sense that I was a surrogate son as well as an adviser to the father, and a friend as well as a counsellor to the sons. There’s a certain amount of truth to that, in that I was brought into the family as an outsider and became privy to its innermost secrets.

    When I first met Charles, he was a skinny kid with big ears. As...

  7. 4 Edgar, Minda, and Phyllis
    (pp. 61-82)

    Edgar Bronfman and I were born in the same year, 1929, in the same city, Montreal, though we grew up in rather different circumstances. I was the son of a middle-class dentist and a mother, widowed early, who opened a hat shop to pay the Kolber family bills. Edgar was the scion of the wealthiest and most powerful Jewish family in Montreal. My issue with my father, Moses Kolber, was that he had died so young. Edgar’s issue with his father, as he would tell you to this day, was that Sam Bronfman never told him he loved him.


  8. 5 Taking Toronto
    (pp. 83-94)

    The Toronto-Dominion Centre changed the skyline of modern Toronto. The Eaton Centre changed the shopping habits of Torontonians. We built them both, the TD Centre in the 1960s and the Eaton Centre in the 1970s.

    At fifty-four storeys, the TD Bank Tower was not only the tallest office building in Canada and the Commonwealth when it was built, it determined the shape of the modern Toronto skyline, with the Big Five bank headquarters all clustered within a few blocks of one another at the south end of Bay Street. The TD Centre, designed by the renowned Mies van der Rohe,...

  9. 6 From Cemp to Cadillac Fairview
    (pp. 95-111)

    In the beginning, there were just the two of us, my secretary, Marion MacIlwain, and me, in an office in the Mount Royal Hotel. Every now and then, an accountant named Nat Gesser, who kept the books for my mother’s hat shop across the street, would come in and write up a quarterly statement in longhand. We didn’t even have Cemp’s name on the door, and it wasn’t yet called Cemp Investments, but Cemp Holdings, the trust established by Sam Bronfman in the name of his four children, Charles, Edgar, Minda, and Phyllis. The trust consisted almost entirely of Seagram...

  10. 7 Family
    (pp. 112-124)

    In the summer of 1956, when I was on a modest retainer with the Bronfmans to do land deals for them, Mr Sam asked me to go down to Daytona Beach in Florida, where he and several partners owned a fabulous stretch of about five miles of what would later become one of the most famous beaches in the world. For reasons that were unclear to me then, the old man wanted to sell, and my role was to find a buyer.

    I went down to meet with prospective buyers, and a man named Sam Sair, from Winnipeg, also came...

  11. 8 Travels with Trudeau
    (pp. 125-141)

    I first met Pierre Trudeau at the Grey Cup in Montreal in 1969, the time he famously showed up wearing a cape for the ceremonial kickoff. I was chairman of Grey Cup Week, so Sandra and I had a suite at the Queen Elizabeth Hotel, and Trudeau came to a party there on the Saturday night before the game on Sunday afternoon.

    It was first time I saw the effect Trudeau had on a room when he walked into it, though certainly not the last. At midnight, in swept Pierre, and I mean swept. He immediately became the centre of...

  12. 9 Prime Ministers, Premiers, and Pols
    (pp. 142-165)

    When Charles Bronfman bought the Montreal Expos as Canada’s first team in Major League Baseball, he asked former prime minister Lester B. Pearson to become honorary chairman of the club. Pearson was a great baseball fan, so much so that when he visited Hyannis Port after his election in 1963, President John F. Kennedy had one of his close aides, Dave Powers, give the PM a quiz on baseball statistics and trivia. He passed with flying colours. As he wrote in the concluding volume ofMike,his admirable memoirs, “I am not sure whether President Kennedy was impressed by my...

  13. 10 The Bagman
    (pp. 166-178)

    It was Marc Lalonde who got me involved in fundraising for the Liberal Party of Canada in 1980. He was then minister of energy in the Liberal government and Pierre Trudeau’s Quebec lieutenant. As such, he was the boss, and I do mean boss, of the government and the party in Quebec. Everything the Trudeau government did in Quebec, every project, every grant, every appointment, crossed his desk. Every dollar that was spent, every patronage plum, was approved by him. Lalonde wasn’t just dispensing patronage and pork in Quebec, he was also fighting the separatist government of René Lévesque. And...

  14. 11 Hooray for Hollywood
    (pp. 179-201)

    The Hollywood connection began with a sixty-second Polaroid.

    In the late 1950s, a noted New York stock analyst named Sam Steadman recommended we take a position in Polaroid, even before it became one of the Nifty Fifty, the great growth stocks of the era. Edgar thought it was a good idea and took it to his father.

    “We have a whisky business to run,” Mr Sam said dismissively.

    “What are you giving me with Polaroid?”

    Then Edgar, in a brilliant move, brought Sam Steadman to his father’s palatial office in the new Seagram Building. They showed Mr Sam the camera,...

  15. 12 Authors and Artists
    (pp. 202-209)

    Mordecai Richler got it wrong – the best revenge is to outlive someone, as Sam Bronfman used to say. Solomon Gursky, the central character in his thinly disguised novel on the Bronfmans, said that “Gerald Murphy got it wrong – living twice, maybe three times, is the best revenge.” And Solomon did, living the life of a Canadian bootlegger, a British peer, and an Israeli intelligence official. Gerald Murphy was the friend of F. Scott Fitzgerald, the model for Dick Diver inTender Is the Night,who once said, “Living well is the best revenge.”

    Oh, Mordecai! He was such a great...

  16. 13 Anti-Semitism and the Jewish Mosaic
    (pp. 210-227)

    I first experienced the sting of anti-Semitism when we moved from a Jewish neighbourhood off Park Avenue at the foot of Mount Royal to a Gentile one in Notre-Dame-de-Grace in the west end of Montreal. My father had inherited a house on NDG Avenue, and my mother transformed it into a little jewel of a home. But it meant that instead of going to a school where the enrolment was 98 percent Jewish and 2 percent Gentile, the class was now 98 percent Gentile and 2 percent Jewish.

    Many times during my years at West Hill High during the Second...

  17. 14 Israeli Friends and Friends of Israel
    (pp. 228-241)

    In the summer of 2002, while spending a few days in Palm Beach, I received an urgent call from Nancy Rosenfeld, who works for Charles and Stephen Bronfman on their Jewish philanthropies.

    She said the Israeli government was about to close its consulate-general in Montreal as an austerity measure, while keeping open its delegation in Toronto. For the Jewish community in Montreal, this would be a double blow. For one thing, the Israeli consular office was a symbol of the community’s close connection to Israel and a rallying point for pro-Israeli demonstrations during crises in the Middle East. For another,...

  18. 15 Management and Leadership in Business
    (pp. 242-259)

    I think I am a reasonably good manager, but I’m not a detail guy and never have been. The big picture has always been what interested me. If you read the business autobiographies, from Lew Gerstner of IBM to Jack Welch of GE, or if you look at the success stories in a book likeIn Search of Excellence,the common thread is the importance of having a vision. But you can’t have the vision and be the one executing it. That’s why they have CEOs and COOs – the chief executive officer should have the vision, and the chief operating...

  19. 16 The Senate Banking Committee
    (pp. 260-274)

    In October 2002, I received a phone call from Kevin Lynch, the deputy minister of finance, asking if the Senate Committee on Banking, Trade and Commerce would help out his minister, John Manley, with the touchy issue of large bank mergers, a game that was again afoot in talks between the Bank of Nova Scotia and the Bank of Montreal. In Canada, large, or Schedule I, banks must be widely held, with no shareholder holding more than 20 percent of the voting stock. Small, or Schedule II, banks are typically regional or subsidiaries of foreign banks, and may be closely...

  20. Afterword
    (pp. 275-278)

    I’m one of those people who have always been lucky in life. And I’m a firm believer that luck and happenstance, being in the right place at the right time, have a lot to do with success. The rest of it is about what you do with the opportunities presented to you.

    Well, I’ve been exceptionally lucky in every part of my life. I had the good fortune to attend McGill University and to switch from science to arts, which allowed me to transfer to the main campus in downtown Montreal from a suburban one south of the city. Otherwise,...

  21. Co-author’s Acknowledgments
    (pp. 279-283)
    L. Ian MacDonald
  22. Selected Bibliography
    (pp. 285-298)
  23. Index
    (pp. 299-314)