BUSINESS WATCH

Derring-do with a conscience

Peter C. Newman March 7 1988
BUSINESS WATCH

Derring-do with a conscience

Peter C. Newman March 7 1988

Derring-do with a conscience

BUSINESS WATCH

Peter C. Newman

When he landed on Feb. 22 at Vancouver International Airport, 47 hours, 43 minutes and 26 seconds after he had left the same point to fly around the world, Edgar Kaiser had jetted 23,414 miles and set nine new speed records for the size of aircraft (a British-built Aerospace 800) that he and his two copilots had been flying. As a result, he became the first owner-operator to set a round-the-world record since Howard Hughes did it in July, 1938.

One purpose of the journey was to collect funds for Kaiser’s favorite philanthropy, the Kaiser Substance Abuse Foundation, which he and his wife, Judy, had set up just over two years ago to help prevent drug abuse by the Pacific province’s youngsters. More than $160,000 in pledges have been received for the flight, but immediately after he returned Kaiser was more interested in its psychological implications. “The real issue was less raising money than raising people’s consciousness,” he told me. “If the kids we’re trying to reach with our program can visualize a middle-aged top gun going around the world and all that neat stuff, they know what can be done by staying healthy and not getting on drugs. That’s really what made the trip important.”

Kaiser thrives on creative philanthropy. He has already put more than $3 million into the foundation to “confront the collective denial” of alcoholism and misuse of drugs by British Columbia’s adolescents. The focus is on prevention. “At the rehabilitation stage,” Kaiser declared, “helping means rebuilding; it’s bricks, mortar and lost time for those in therapy. That’s the high-cost way to deal with the problem. If you explain about drugs and alcohol abuse in the context of an established value system, particularly as part of the regular curriculum—that’s the efficient way to go.”

The foundation’s main project at the moment is to help develop and establish a drug education program in British Columbia’s primary schools from kindergarten to Grade 7 by the fall of 1989. Said Ross Ramsay, the professional addiction expert hired to run the foundation: “We believe prevention efforts should be focused on people, not on substances. The emphasis must be on people’s empowerment and freedom, not on their disabilities and addictions.” British Columbia should be fertile territory for the Kaiser mission: a 1982 survey

showed that of the province’s youngsters aged 14 and under 58 per cent had smoked, 57 per cent had drunk alcohol, 28 per cent had used cannabis, 21 per cent had inhaled glue, seven per cent had tried cocaine, and two per cent had used heroin. Ramsay added that a 1987 B.C. ministry of health survey bore out the previous data, and emphasized that children are deciding at an earlier age whether to try those substances.

The former chairman of the Bank of

British Columbia, Kaiser is a rare bird, even among the high-flying acquisitors who roost on Canada’s Pacific coast. The son and grandson of moneyed U.S. aristocrats (the Kaisers owned major steel, coal and aluminum interests, building most of the U.S. Second World War Liberty ships), he took out his Canadian citizenship in 1980 and has since turned over at least two fortunes in various resource ventures. Edgar rarely involves himself in projects that do not link his affinity for physical adventure with his

propensity for risk. He is one of those rare derring-do entrepreneurs who believe that a man reduces himself by backing away from any challenge—even if it is self-imposed. “I realize that my round-the-world trip wouldn’t have much appeal to someone like the chief executive officer of General Electric,” he told me just after he landed, “but it does appeal to the kids I am trying to reach as an adventure they can identify with.”

Kaiser works hard and plays hard. The round-the-world air race was only the latest of his exploits. He is a championship skier, sailor and guitarist, and he recently piloted his own yacht, the Calliope, up the Amazon. (The vessel’s communications equipment is so sophisticated that it has its own area code.)

On the business side of his ledger, Kaiser has been investing in such leading-edge enterprises as fish farms and the marketing of glacier ice—to make drinks more exotic. The company in which he owns a key interest, Aquarius Sea Farms, will hit the market with 650 tons of cultivated salmon, shipped live and destined for luxury restaurants in Canada and the United States. With 11 farms, it is already the largest integrated fish producer in the country, but Kaiser’s imagination does not stop there. He says he is convinced that careful development of the industry could turn the Pacific province into the world’s best pleasure-fishing destination. “I can visualize the international chains putting huge hotels into Campbell River, for example,” he said, referring to a mid-size fishing mecca on Vancouver Island’s east coast, “with a full-scale jet strip to accommodate Americans and Japanese coming by the ton-loads to enjoy the sport.”

Kaiser’s core staff of 20, led by an adroit finance expert named John Thomas, has agreed to purchase up to 12 per cent of Ice Age Inc., a company pledged to exporting “the Perrier of glacial ice” from northern British Columbia as well as one million shares of Allure Industries Corp., which recycles hazardous wastes. The latest recruit is Terence Heenan, the former president of British Columbia Telephone Co., who has been hired to organize Kaiser’s new merchant banking venture.

Edgar Kaiser is one of a kind, and his next venture—he is rumored to be organizing a Formula One racing team for an Asian car manufacturer—will stretch his capacities and his nerves even further. Right in line with his personal (and his foundation’s) credo: “I am—I can.”