|The Other Bronfman|
|On a sun-sweet summer day Stephen Bronfman, the 42-year-old grandson of Seagram's founder, Samuel Bronfman,
relaxes on a porch at Cap Nord, his salmon camp on Quebec's remote north shore. The camp, which he bought from the
Molson family in 2000, is a scattering of four white clapboard buildings on 5,000 acres at the mouth of the
little-known Godbout River. With his name and family wealth (his father, Charles, is worth an estimated $2.8
billion), Bronfman could have opted for a far glitzier lodge on a famous river anywhere in the world. But Cap Nord
is more his style: manageable and inconspicuous. It fits neatly into his philosophy of taking the long view in
both his investments and philanthropy. "I run this camp as a business," says the tanned and blond Bronfman. "But I
really see myself as more of a steward, preserving it for the next generation. And we have a lot of fun here."
If the Bronfmans are Canadian royalty, Stephen Bronfman is the prince you've never heard of. Although quite visible on the charity circuits of Montreal, he's rarely been the subject of profiles and is mentioned only in passing in Nicholas Faith's recently published The Bronfmans, a family biography that focuses on his uncle (Edgar Sr.), his father (Charles) and his first cousin (Edgar Jr.). Stephen has remained in his ancestral city of Montreal, the last male Bronfman to do so, with his wife, Claudine Blondin, a former Molson marketing executive, and two young children. Through Claridge, his private equity firm, he has made numerous under-the-radar and so far profitable investments, most notably in high-end organic foods.
He stands in stark contrast to his 51-year-old cousin Edgar. "Two totally different people," says Leo Kolber, a former Canadian senator and longtime business partner of the Bronfman family. Edgar Jr., an American citizen who basks in the far brighter New York City spotlight, was chief executive of Seagram (following in the footsteps of Edgar Sr.) and now runs Warner Music Group. Edgar Jr. got much attention-more than he wanted-in 2000 for trading in the family's liquor business for a stake in the more glamorous but less profitable entertainment sector (the family's net worth dropped from $6.5 billion to $2.9 billion in two years). Stephen has never had such grand ambitions. "Stephen's been very happy doing what he's doing and doesn't want to be the king," says his father, Charles, who was cochairman of Seagram from 1986 to 2000. "He feels very comfortable within certain limits in his business and philanthropy."
Growing up, Stephen Bronfman had no interest in the family business. "I'd see my dad come home in a suit and tie every night, and I didn't want to be like that," he says. He thought about being a professional skier. Sure, his family name and wealth were a blessing, he says, but "sometimes you can have too much choice."
Bronfman graduated from Williams College in Massachusetts in 1986, then returned to Montreal, where he worked briefly in the marketing department of the Expos, then owned by his father. Still unsure of a career path, in 1990 he enrolled in Montreal's Concordia University to study geology.
In 1991 Bronfman had an about-face. Working in business wasn't such a bad idea, after all. "I began to realize that the stuff done before me was pretty important and interesting," he says. He joined Claridge, the investment firm started by his father. "I was pretty hesitant and felt a little out of place at first," says Bronfman. After a four-year apprenticeship he made his first solo investment as part of a consortium that bought the broadcast assets of the Canadian brewer Labatt, which included sports networks. In 1999 the company, renamed Netstar, was sold to Canadian broadcaster CTV. Bronfman's investment of $45 million (converted to U.S. dollars at today's exchange rate) gained 90%. "Management did extremely well," says Robert Foster, chief executive of Capital Canada in Toronto, who negotiated the transaction. For Bronfman the deal was transformative. "I really felt like I was a teenager until then," he says. "But you grow into things if you want. With that deal I started having fun and made other people money."
In 1997 the young Bronfman took over Claridge. His investments have expanded ever since. That year Toronto concert promoter Michael Cohl approached Bronfman in the hopes that he would invest in U2's Pop Mart tour. He instead opted to take an undisclosed stake in Cohl's company. "We didn't want to do just one tour," says Bronfman, a music fanatic. "We wanted the big picture." Since then the company has produced tours by the Rolling Stones, Madonna and Crosby, Stills, Nash & Young. It has also produced Broadway shows, including Spamalot, which got a Tony award for Best Musical in 2005.
In 1999 Bronfman put up $1 million to join a group of Montreal investors who wanted to keep the Expos in the city (his father had sold out in 1991). Their efforts went for naught when New York art dealer Jeffrey Loria bought a majority interest in the team and flipped it for the Florida Marlins, forcing the Expos to move to Washington. Bronfman was part of a failed lawsuit in 2004 against Loria for fraud. "We had a tough time trying to take the U.S. national pastime to court in the U.S.," he says. Bronfman still owns a minuscule piece of the Marlins and even received a token World Series ring for the 2003 championship season. "We had two thoughts with the ring," he says. "One was to put it up for auction for charity. The other was to blow it up in a public ceremony." He ended up just keeping it.
Bronfman was named to Seagram's board in 1999. "It was a great honor, but the timing was terrible," he says. His stint lasted for a year and a half, until his cousin engineered a sale of the company to Vivendi Universal , a former water company that bought its way into the record and film business. Bronfman calls the sale "a sad time" but says he's refrained from reading the numerous books about the episode. "I'm not interested," he says. "I know what I know. I'm very proud of my family history and have great relationships with my cousins."
In 2001 Bronfman created the Claridge Food Group. His holdings include Les Plats du Chef, a frozen-soup and frozen-dessert maker; Glutino, which produces gluten-free foods; and VLR, which makes appetizers for sale under retailers' names. One of his biggest hits is SunOpta, an organic-food company in Toronto. An initial investment of $2 million in 2001 has grown to $48 million, as the company's revenues have climbed to $426 million from $101 million and its profits to $13 million from $2.5 million. "We've decided not to go against the Krafts and Procter & Gambles of the world," he says. Bronfman sells his products to stores like Trader Joe's, Albertsons and Costco.
As Bronfman has made more money, he has begun to give more away. Tzedaka-Hebrew for charity--is a family tradition that started with his grandfather, Samuel. With 15% of his profits from the Netstar deal Bronfman started a foundation that donates to environmental, educational and Montreal causes. He participates in nearly every big-name fundraiser that takes place in Montreal, including those for breast cancer, Lou Gehrig's disease and cystic fibrosis. Bronfman estimates that he splits his time evenly between business and charity. Kolber says of Bronfman's exhaustive philanthropy schedule: "I feel for the guy. I don't know how he keeps up with it."
"I'm having fun," Bronfman says, still finding time to live an active outdoor life, skiing at Mont Tremblant and fishing at Cap Nord. "I'm involved in a lot of things I like to do. The business is interesting, and the philanthropy is good for the soul." He has no plans to leave Montreal for bigger lights. He recently bought his grandfather's 15,000-square-foot castlelike mansion and is busy renovating it. "I like roots and continuity," he says, noting that his newborn son, Samuel, will be living where his namesake once did.
By Monte Burke, Contributor