David Thomson, the scion of Canada’s wealthiest family, is known for his extreme love of privacy. But the Thomson Reuters chairman will soon be spending more time in the spotlight, according to a front-page feature this week in the Wall Street Journal, which says that tough times have forced Thomson to take a more active role. The article also reveals some juicy insider details about the family business, including the changing extent of the clan’s fortune and what David wears to business meetings (hint: it’s not a suit). We round up the top five tidbits below.
1. The Thomsons’ wealth is shrinking, but they’re still filthy rich…
On this year’s Forbes billionaires list, the family’s $17.5 billion in assets netted them the 35th spot, a significant drop from the 16th spot they occupied the year before. Thomson-Reuters is part of the problem: Woodbridge Co., the family’s holding company, controls about 55 per cent of the media giant, a stake whose value has dropped from $16 billion to $12.6 billion.
2. …so rich that they need a family newsletter to keep track of their investments
Woodbridge is owned by David Thomson, his brother Peter, his sister Taylor and four cousins, but different branches of the extended family across Canada are also involved in different aspects of the business. In May, the clan talked about hiring someone to write a newsletter to make sure everyone could easily follow the performance of their investments, according to one of the Wall Street Journal’s sources.
3. After 50 years, the family business has a new strategy
For decades, Woodbridge engaged in aggressive deal-making, buying and selling assets and companies. Now, the Journal reports, it will become a more traditional holding company, with a focus on generating revenue rather than acquisitions. As an early sign of the new direction, Geoff Beattie, a noted deal-maker who championed the merger with Reuters, stepped down last week after 15 years as Woodbridge’s president.
4. David Thomson is no style icon
Thomson’s reclusiveness has long marked him as business-world eccentric, and his wardrobe choices further suggest he’s not your average billionaire playboy. According to the paper, Thomson wears suits and shoes for years before replacing them and “sometimes arrives at business meetings in jogging gear or cargo pants, or wears sneakers with his suit.”
5. Thomson would rather gab with the little people than the bigwigs
Apparently Thomson, a photo collector, “sometimes called editors at Reuters’ photographic agency business to talk about pictures, yet rarely reached out to top executives.” And, though Thomson rarely spoke with Thomson Reuters’ biggest investors, he hung out and ate sandwiches with smaller investors after the annual meeting in May.