A Confluence of Canadian Success Stories

Imasco Limited, with headquarters in Montreal, is one of Canada’s largest corporations. It was formed in 1970 to diversify Imperial Tobacco Company into other consumer markets.

Hallmarks of Imasco’s growth have been investing in outstanding organizations and expanding the potential of each. All Imasco companies illustrate the same driving spirit: responding to consumer needs with the highest quality goods and services while helping to build strong communities. Imperial Tobacco, Shoppers Drug Mart, and Canada Trust represent a trio of Imasco’s – and Canada’s – top success stories.

Imperial Tobacco Company: The Origins of Imasco

In today's tobacco industry, being a cost-effective producer is a market imperative. Imperial Tobacco's new, high-speed cigarette makers are part of the company's $118-million investment in streamlining and modernizing manufacturing operations to increase productivity.

Imperial Tobacco Company was incorporated in 1912 when the Canadian tobacco industry was still in its infancy. It began as a consolidation of two Montreal companies and, in the course of its 85-year history, has acquired many other Canadian tobacco businesses.

After World War II the Canadian economy surged, and Imperial constructed additional plants in Ontario and Quebec. Company engineers began experimenting with machinery for processing leaf tobacco that was subsequently licensed to manufacturers around the world, launching a tradition of technological leadership by Imperial that continues to this day.

The passing decades saw many changes in the tobacco industry. Health concerns emerging in the ’60s led to greater regulation of tobacco products. By the early ’70s Imperial voluntarily discontinued all TV and radio advertising, and the company began fine-tuning its ability to adapt to market requirements. In response to changing consumer preferences, lighter brands were developed to complement existing brand families. These products were well received and, by 1980, Imperial’s Player’s brand was Canada’s most popular cigarette.

Today, Imperial Tobacco employs 2,700 people in all phases of the industry, from the purchase of raw tobacco leaf to the distribution of final products. Its brand families Player’s, du Maurier, and Matinée lead the domestic market. In recent years, Imperial has invested heavily in upgrading its production facilities and information systems to ensure that the company remains competitive long into the future. And Imperial’s du Maurier Arts program has made a singular contribution to the arts in this country since its founding in 1971 by supporting fresh and exciting entertainment performed by Canadian artists. From modest beginnings, the program has grown into one of the country’s largest sources of private-sector arts funds, with total contributions exceeding $40 million over its 26-year run.

Shoppers Drug Mart: Joining Forces with a Force

When scarcely 20 years old, Murray Koffler inherited two neighbourhood drug stores in Toronto. He went to pharmacy school, learned the heart of the business, then proceeded to redefine it. The end result was Shoppers Drug Mart.

With typical bold strokes, Koffler revamped the concept of the 20th century “drugstore” in Canada by ripping out the soda fountain and emphasizing the pharmaceutical dispensary, requiring pharmacists to wear starched white coats as a symbol of their professionalism. For the general merchandise sections he developed groundbreaking consumer-oriented approaches in displaying and promoting products. In the mid-’50s he began acquiring other drugstores, organizing them around a franchising model in which pharmacist “associates” own and operate their own stores. The concept turned out to be a cornerstone of the system’s success.

For each new prescription, a Shoppers pharmacist reviews a personalized Health Watch Reminder with the patient. Private counseling is the fastest-growing area in pharmacy, and Shoppers healthcare advisory services are helping patients with chronic diseases better to manage their care.

In 1962, Koffler’s 17-store chain became known as Shoppers Drug Mart. It went public, and major expansion occurred through acquisitions and mergers in the ’60s and ’70s. Upon entering the chain, stores typically doubled their previous year’s profits.

When it was time to sell his business, Murray Koffler chose Imasco largely because of its strong financial position, but also because he liked Imasco’s tradition of sponsoring worthy Canadian causes. A philanthropist in his own right, Koffler had seen to it that Shoppers established a reputation as a leading educator on health issues as well as a supporter of hospital fund raising.

Shoppers Drug Mart continues to grow and develop under Imasco’s ownership, and today the system comprises more than 800 stores. In step with the evolving Canadian health-care system, Shoppers’ pharmacists have become important liaisons between physician and patient. Private counselling is the fastest-growing area in pharmacy, and Shoppers Drug Mart health-care advisory services are helping patients with chronic diseases to better manage their care. It’s a far cry from soda fountain days!

Canada Trust: Helping to Build a Community

In 1986 Imasco acquired Canada Trust, one of the most respected financial institutions in Canada. The company had its origins in the frontier days of Canada as the Huron & Erie Savings and Loan Society (H&E) established in 1854 in London, Ontario, then the country’s western edge. H&E was one of Canada’s earliest “building societies,” a concept that helped shape a stable and prosperous community by financing land purchases by individuals. Capital was scarce in Canada’s early pre-confederation days, for banks handled only commercial accounts and people literally stashed their savings under mattresses. The building societies permitted people to pool their savings so as to finance the purchase of land by others. Innovative rules allowed borrowers to pay back their debt in monthly instalments of principal plus interest.

Loans that enabled farmers to buy their land were H&E’s dominant business for many years. In 1898, H&E acquired General Trust Corporation of Calgary, which led to the formation in 1901 of an H&E subsidiary named Canada Trust.

Customers want to complete their financial transactions at times and places convenient to them, and Canada Trust is dedicated to "making banking easy." EasyLine telephone banking (pictured) and ATM banking are well-used alternatives to the branch, and the company is now expanding to PC banking and secure Internet services.

The depression brought on difficult times, made more so in the prairies by drought and the subsequent abandonment of land and loans. The company sup-ported its beleaguered customers, advancing money for seed, sometimes accepting harvested crops as payments on mortgages. Not surprisingly, profits dwindled and did not regain their 1930 level until 1950.

The outbreak of World War II began an economic recovery, and by 1946 the company initiated a growth strategy of acquiring other trust companies. By 1957, its two names had melded into one corporate image, Canada Trust.

Over the ’60s and ’70s, Canada Trust emphasized personal financial services and cultivated a reputation of friendliness and convenience through such innovations as 8-to-8 service – which floored a public used to “bankers hours” – and imaginative promotions such as “mortgage-burnings,” which caught their fancy. The tradition of convenience evolved further in the ’80s and ’90s, thanks to technology. As we approach the second millennium, EasyLine telephone banking and brokerage services, CT CONNECT personal computer software, and EasyWeb Internet service complement the company’s 421 full-service branches, 802 automated banking machines, and 118 drive-thrus to give customers an array of service options. And, true its roots, Canada Trust’s active residential mortgage program is continuing the company’s earliest mission of helping Canadians invest in their communities.