Who’s next in line for leadership at five of B.C.’s top firms?

Company veteran, boss's kid or talented upstart? Several of B.C.'s top firms have long-standing leaders who must be wondering: Who's next?

Company veteran, boss’s kid or talented upstart? Several of B.C.’s top firms have long-standing leaders who must be wondering: Who’s next?


Karen Flavelle’s approach to succession at Purdys Chocolates is coloured by the approach her own father took with her. Twice he refused to let her join the firm, forcing her to work as a marketing executive with firms including General Mills and Cara Operations. Finally, in 1994, he made her executive vice-president, and in 1997 sold her the business. Having a broad base of experience has helped Flavelle run Purdys, she believes, contributing to rapid growth that now sees it with about 65 stores in three provinces, a growing online presence and more than 1,000 employees. Also resonant for her is a conversation with someone who told her he’d been conceived to take over the family business and has hated every moment of it. Accordingly she has encouraged her own three children, currently in their 20s, to go do whatever they want–”and maybe it will lead them back to the business, maybe it won’t.” With any handover likely a decade away, she has no formal succession plan but instead calls regular family meetings to discuss the business and other matters.

The Pattison Group

The succession plans of no other B.C. company are speculated upon as frequently as the Pattison Group’s, both because it’s so big, with 41,000 employees and 2015 revenues of $9.1 billion, and because founder and sole owner Jimmy Pattison is now 88. Well, that speculation can keep right on growing because Pattison still isn’t revealing details of a plan that he put in place some four decades ago and updates every year. Son Jimmy Jr. is currently head of one of the group’s divisions but isn’t regarded as a likely successor. Instead, most point to one-time NDP premier Glen Clark, who’s been with Pattison since 2000 and is currently president of the company, and Dave Cobb, who was second in command at Vancouver’s Olympics and briefly CEO of BC Hydro before joining Pattison in 2012. Neither should be measuring Jimmy’s corner office, however. Maureen Chant, his secretary of 53 years, says he’s as busy and energetic as ever.

H.Y. Louie

Another private company that engenders its share of speculation, H.Y. Louie–which operates retail chains including London Drugs and IGA–is currently headed by a mere septuagenarian, Brandt Louie, who’s 73. Son Greg (a trained radiologist) oversees the company’s health clinic business, Highroads, while Stuart (a lawyer) provides counsel to all of H.Y. Louie’s divisional heads. When asked by BCBusiness in 2015 if he saw a time when he would transfer responsibility for H.Y. Louie to one or both of his sons, Brandt responded: “I think so… I guess I can never completely withdraw from at least being part of the business, but probably within the next three to five years, they’ll be able to take on the role I play now.”

Telus Corp.

Back in 2014, it seemed the question of who would succeed Darren Entwistle as CEO of Telus had been tidily answered. Company veteran Joe Natale was a popular choice as his replacement, but after just 17 months, the company announced that Natale would be leaving the position due to being unable to relocate to Vancouver from Toronto, and Entwistle–who as executive chair of the board had not abandoned day-to-day involvement, in any case–would return to his old post. So, what now? Entwistle is only 54, but he has confirmed that he would still like to follow through on his stated intention of returning to the U.K. and a teaching position while also saying that he is back at Telus for “the long term.” If a replacement is needed sooner rather than later, the name of David Fuller, executive VP and president of consumer and business solutions, has been floated in media reports, but the company has no comment.

Black Press Group Ltd.

David Black’s Black Press publishes more than 170 newspaper titles in two provinces and four states, including the San Francisco Examiner. Moreover, he’s the principal of Kitimat Clean Ltd., which has proposed a $13.2-billion oil refinery to refine bitumen arriving there via a future pipeline. The 70-year-old says that a succession plan is in place but offers no details other than “the Black family will continue to own the business.” Black has four grown children: twins Alan and Fraser, and daughters Morgan and Catherine. Only Fraser is known to work with Black Press, as an editorial consultant. 


Related Article