Retail visionary WG Galen Weston, who passed away at the age of 80, was the heir to the struggling Canadian supermarket group which he turned into £ 8 billion personal fortune in a life of work. His commercial interests extended across the Atlantic.
As a humble billionaire, he liked nothing more than to stroll through the elegant halls of his Canadian landmark, Holt Renfrew, to chat with customers about their experiences and to chat with employees about the advancement of new products and clothing lines.
Under his tutelage and that of his daughter Alannah, the family acquired control of a fading and filthy Selfridges store on London’s Oxford Street in 2003.
Power couple: Galen Weston was married to Mrs. Hilary – a former Irish model – for 55 years
With a huge investment, modernization and a keen interest in high fashion and style, they re-created the old Selfridges and made them arguably Britain’s most alluring department store at a time when the format was on the decline.
The food hall and restaurants known to serve salt beef sandwiches have become a popular destination for tourists from the United States, Japan, and China.
Galen Weston was an offspring of an empire built by his grandfather, George Weston, on the Canadian prairies, which supplied the wheat for a bread and bakery business in Toronto.
When Galen took over the reins from his father Willard Garfield in the 1970s, the bakery had grown exponentially and acquired what is now Canada’s largest supermarket group, Loblaw.
It would be easy to think of Galen as just the caretaker of the family name. But his colleagues credit him for being one of the greatest wealth creators in Canadian history.
Shopping Center: Selfridges on London’s Oxford Street has been restored to its former glory
He was born in Buckinghamshire on October 29, 1940, the youngest of nine children in an already prominent family.
He spent his first years in business buying supermarkets in the UK before returning to Canada to save Loblaw.
Over a long career – he did not retire until the age of 75 – he developed a retail giant that today employs more than 200,000 people and which includes the Canadian chains Shoppers Drug Mart and No Frills. One of Loblaw’s best-known products is the Decadent Chocolate Chip Cookie brand.
“I think when people think of the Westons, they think of history and family. But he was a real retailer, ”said Gordon Nixon, the former head of the Royal Bank of Canada who served on Loblaw’s board of directors.
Legend: Galen Weston in his prime
The acquisition of Selfridges and later the upscale Brown Thomas and Arnotts stores in Ireland appealed to his taste for maintaining great shopping.
In the 1980s, Galen was the subject of a failed attempt at kidnapping by the Irish Republican Army. Despite his Canadian roots, he was deeply loyal to Great Britain, the land of his birth, and formed a close friendship with Prince Charles.
In 1975 he rented one of Britain’s most famous homes, Fort Belvedere, in Surrey, which was owned by the Crown Estate.
Built 1750-1755 for William Augustus, son of George II, its main claim to fame was the residence of the late Edward, Prince of Wales, Duke of Windsor, where he entertained his future wife, Wallis Simpson.
Under Galen Weston, it was restored and renovated at their own expense. The house proved to be a great place for lavish champagne gatherings and marked its philanthropy through the Weston Family Foundation in Canada and the Selfridges Group Foundation in the UK.
It has long been a tradition in all branches of the Weston family that dividends on their substantial holdings are paid directly to charity.
A separate British branch of the Weston family currently controls Associated British Foods under the direction of George Weston.
It is the owner of the no-frills fashion company Primark and the luxury store Fortnum & Mason.
Galen Weston died peacefully after a long illness. He is survived by Hilary, his 55-year-old wife, a former Irish model who served as Lieutenant Governor of Ontario, daughter Alannah (Cochrane), and son Galen G Weston.
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