For Alfred J. Billes, the feisty founder of the Canadian Tire Corporation, it was a question of loyalty and tradition. But for his three children, it all boiled down to a question of money. In 1986, Billes, who founded the hardware-and-auto-supply firm in 1927, got wind of some disturbing news. His two sons, David and Alfred W. Billes, and his daughter, Martha Gardiner, were planning to sell their 60.9-per-cent controlling interest in the family firm to a group of Canadian Tire dealers for $300 million. Billes, who had already chased one headstrong nephew out of the company, was not about to allow other family members to sell what he had worked so hard to build up. He summoned his children to a meeting in his Toronto apartment to resolve the issue—but it quickly turned into a verbal brawl. Martha, whom he once described as a “red-haired devil,” stormed from his home. To his anguish, the children pressed ahead, but their plans were vetoed by the Ontario Securities Commission. Since then, the ownership question has languished. A J., as he is popularly known, is now 90. During the takeover battle, he told Maclean’s that he expects his children will eventually sell out. “Legally they have the right to sell,” said A. J. “But morally they do not.”
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