Family that runs B.C.’s largest industrial property developer are also front-rank philanthropists.


Gerry Bellett, (THE VANCOUVER SUN) — There’s a grand frivolity in contemplating that Beedie Development Group — the province’s largest industrial property developer with a gazillion in assets — might not exist today if the coin company patriarch Keith Beedie flipped in the air one day in 1968 had not landed heads.

Tails and it would be bankruptcy, heads and Beedie would make what seemed to sensible people at the time a hopeless attempt to save a busted company.

And today as he contemplates the company’s 60th anniversary in business, that coin toss signifies how the margin between success and failure is sometimes separated only by a whim.

“That’s how I did it,” said Beedie, 87, in his office at the company’s Burnaby headquarters. “Tossed a coin.”

Heavily in debt to the bank and his subtrades, Beedie found himself stuck in 1968 with homes he had built on spec but couldn’t sell due to a downturn in the housing market.

Then he discovered an employee had been embezzling the accounts and the combination of it all led his chartered accountant to advise him to seek bankruptcy, something he was reluctant to do.

“He was a good friend and he said ‘you need to go bankrupt because you are bankrupt’. I said ‘OK I’ll flip a coin and see.’”

Getting the go-ahead from the Gods, he went to the bank and the subtrades and pleaded for more time and within a year, as the housing market recovered, he had rescued himself.

“I paid everyone I owed and gave the subtrades seven-per-cent interest,” said Beedie, chairman and CEO of The Beedie Group.

Today the company is run by his son, Ryan, 46, who was appointed president by his father in 2001.

“My dad is amazing. I joined the company in 1993 and was running the development side in my 20s and then he made me president,” said Ryan Beedie.

“This business has been his baby from the beginning and he’s devoted his life to it. He’s been a good dad to me but he’s not Mr. Family Man. He gave me a lot of authority at a young age but his priority has always been his business, and that’s just the way it is,” he said.

Since he became president, the company has grown 10 times in value and revenue, and has expanded its operations into Alberta.

Its industrial portfolio now amounts to 8 million square feet of developed industrial space and a hefty land base for future developments.

Three years ago Ryan Beedie set up a multi-family residential division, Beedie Living, moving the company back into the residential market after decades of only developing and building industrial properties.

Beedie Living — in partnership with Anthem Properties — is now developing Station Square, a five-tower highrise residential-commercial complex on nine acres in Metrotown that will be worth in excess of a billion dollars when completed sometime around 2020.

“That’s our biggest development to date. For me, I just want to make my dad proud of what we are doing. We’re not going to be the biggest residential builder by any means, but I’d like to be a force in that space,” said Beedie.

As the big decisions are made between father and son, the company has a nimbleness not found in public companies of similar size burdened with a board of directors.

“If we like something it’s boom, let’s go. I don’t have to care about quarterly reports and we are able to look at things on a long-term time horizon. We made an acquisition two years ago with a return on investment in the short term that isn’t great. But we know in 15 years there’s a tremendous value that’s going to be unlocked,” he said.

Ten years ago it was the “boom, let’s go” that pitched them into an enterprise that would put them in the public eye — the decision to buy the Vancouver Canucks with partners Tom Gaglardi and Francesco Aquilini.

“When the opportunity came to invest in a group to buy the team, I took it to my dad and he got all excited. He is a big hockey fan and had hardly missed a home game in 40 years. So I looked at it and it made some sense, so we ended up on a journey that didn’t work out,” said Beedie.

The Canucks ended up in the hands of Aquilini. Beedie and Gaglardi sued Aquilini, claiming he had violated their partnership agreement, but their high profile case was lost in B.C. Supreme Court.

“I’m at peace with it all now and for me, I think it’s good it didn’t happen,” said Beedie. “But I’m glad Tom has since bought the Dallas Stars (hockey team).”

Three years ago Keith and Ryan Beedie were again in the headlines, this time for making a $22-million donation to Simon Fraser University’s business school. It put them into the front rank of B.C. philanthropists and the school was renamed the Beedie School of Business.

“There isn’t a day goes by when I don’t pinch myself and think ‘wow, how lucky we are to have done this.’” said Ryan Beedie, who received an undergraduate business degree from SFU.

“I see ads in the paper for the Beedie School of Business and it’s wonderful to know we have invested in scholarships and bursaries that will give some students the chance to get the education I received, but could afford,” he said.

Daniel Shapiro, dean of the Beedie School of Business, said the $22-million gift was “transformative.”

“I was dean before we received this so I have seen first-hand the difference it has made,” said Shapiro. “Putting a name on the business school has transformed how we think of ourselves and how the world thinks of us.”

The money was designated for faculty recruitment and retention, and to provide bursaries and scholarships for students. “It has helped us remain competitive with the salary structure of larger and better-endowed business schools, and helped maintain a faculty that is of high quality,” he said.

“It’s also helping us recruit students who otherwise would not be able to come.”

The donation might never have been made had Ryan Beedie not read an article in Canadian Business by businessman and philanthropist Seymour Schulich.

“He said there’s a lot of wealthy people in Canada who say they give a lot of money to charity but really, when you look at it, they don’t.”

Both Keith and Ryan Beedie have supported many charities over the years, giving donations to various Metro Vancouver hospitals and such causes as the CKNW Orphan’s Fund. Keith, from his own foundation, had given $1.4 million to build a woman’s softball pitch at SFU.

But Ryan Beedie found Schulich’s words a challenge.

“Reading that article I thought ‘he’s right,’ we should do something significant and maybe others will see they can do it, too. That donation will have a long-term impact — it’s not just a gesture,” he said.

“It’s been one of the most rewarding things I’ve done in my life and it’s a motivator for me in business. We’ve been very fortunate but my life’s the same as it was 10 years ago. We want to build the business and reinvest in the business but the more you make the more you can give back.”

So how much has Beedie Development Group given back?

“Over $30 million, but don’t tell my dad.”

“We want to build the business and reinvest in the business but the more you make the more you can give back.”