Galen Weston is the man behind the Loblaw, National Tea, and Primark ice cream operations. The University of Western Ontario grad met and married his wife Hilary Frayne in 1966. During this time, he also began purchasing clothing stores. He gave his wife the luxury retailer Brown Thomas for a wedding present, and she was soon put in charge of the store’s fashion department. In the years that followed, the company became a global food and clothing chain.
The Galen Weston corporation oversees the grocery giant Loblaw Companies and its sister company, Weston Foods. It also owns the Selfridges Group and Canada’s Ogilvy’s department store chain. Galen Weston’s father, Willard Garfield Weston, served in the British Parliament and was one of the richest men in the country. Weston’s sons, Galen Jr. and Hilary Frayne, are the executives behind the food and fashion empire. They are rarely in the spotlight and avoid giving interviews to the press.
The food empire of the Weston family began with its bread baking business, and it grew into a successful retail business. The family’s wealth was built on a tradition of hard work. The Westons’ ancestors first established a bread factory in Toronto, and then expanded it to encompass the entire country. By the 1880s, the Weston family had grown to become one of the largest food companies in the world.
At age 31, W. Galen Weston took over the Loblaw grocery chain, which had been facing mounting pressure from price wars and increasing competition. He also tapped into the skills of his son, who became the executive chairman of Loblaw. The Weston family has a proven track record for tapping into the right people and transforming their vision into a global food empire. While Weston’s kids were born one year apart and eleven months apart, they share the same love for good food and quality products.
In July, Mr. Weston’s management team launched a strategic review of its initiatives, including a focus on the fundamentals of retail. The company overhauled approximately 20 unprofitable stores, converted some to discount formats, and closed three locations. The company now boasts a strong portfolio of brands and products, which has helped it remain one of the top food retailers in Canada. In addition, Loblaw has invested in new stores and renovated old ones to make them more customer-friendly.
When Willard Garfield Weston decided to start his own company, he did so with the goal of turning the bakery into a global company. After graduating from the University of Western Ontario, Weston met his future wife Hilary Frayne in Ireland. They married in 1966, and soon after, he bought a grocery store with the help of his grandmother. Weston soon began to expand, purchasing clothing stores and other businesses. He gave his wife a gift of a luxury retailer, Brown Thomas. She became in charge of the fashion department at the new retailer, Todd Burns, which later became Primark.
The family food empire continues to expand, as George Weston purchases the Bestfoods Baking Co., the largest bakery in North America. The company makes nearly 65,000 deliveries a day. Among the Weston food brands are Arnold, Brownberry, Country Harvest, Entenmann’s, Maplehurst, and D’Italiano. The Weston family remained closely involved in the business and their children run the company today. Weston is the grandson of Garfield Weston and owns over 60% of the company.
Loblaw’s ice cream operations
Several years ago, Loblaw was facing financial crisis. A new competitor, Walmart, was rapidly devouring the Canadian supermarket market. As a result, Loblaw’s share prices had plummeted. Weston’s team was put on an aggressive turnaround schedule. In addition to cutting head-office staff, Weston also made a televised pitch to consumers. The results are obvious.
As the world economy turned more people to online shopping, Loblaw was facing an increasingly challenging set of challenges. It had to fight off new rivals, such as Wal-Mart Canada, a global retail giant that was slowly chipping away at its position as the undisputed leader in the ice-cream market. Meanwhile, distribution issues were leaving inventory stranded in warehouses. Furthermore, new general merchandise offerings were proving to be unpopular with consumers. Weston’s new strategy included revamping Loblaw’s ice-cream operations to improve profitability.
Loblaw’s unionization rates
Despite annual returns well above the Toronto Stock Exchange average, Loblaw’s unionization rates are hovering around 50%. The company has fought tooth and nail to reduce worker pay, benefits and scheduling rights, and has clawed back past unionization gains. The Weston family has made record profits while at the same time limiting the unionization rate to 50 per cent. Whether Loblaw’s workers will strike or not is yet to be seen.
Loblaw’s labour costs continue to rise, despite the company’s efforts to reduce labour expenses. The UFCW has been trying to organize workers for years, but has yet to succeed. Only a small fraction of Shoppers employees are represented by a union in Ontario. And despite the company’s efforts to cut costs, only a few percent of Loblaw’s 125,000-plus employee base is unionized, with 80 per cent of those workers unionized in the chain’s 1,000 corporate outlets.
George Weston’s commitment to philanthropy
As a family man, George Weston committed himself to his businesses, philanthropy, and community service. His business interests allowed him to give back in a variety of ways, including the creation of the Selfridges Foundation. While he retired as the chairman of George Weston Ltd. in 2016, he continued his philanthropic work through the Weston Family Foundation in Canada and the Selfridges Group Foundation in the U.K., where he had been a longtime trustee and family partner. His wife Hilary, who remained his devoted companion, played a role in the family business and philanthropy, including her five-year term as the 26th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario.
While maintaining the philanthropic ethos of his company, the Westons remained committed to increasing their financial returns, focusing on acquisitions and capital improvements. In 1967, they acquired the Todd Burns department store, now known as Primark outside of Ireland. In the same year, they opened four more stores under the name of Penneys. By 1989, they expanded to eleven stores throughout Ireland, with a focus on canned sardine and farmed Atlantic salmon.