Sam Belzberg's comeback and his answer
Belzberg continued to be an active and opportunistic investor. In 1992, he started Gibralt Capital as his main investment vehicle post First City. He took advantage of opportunities like the Savings and Loans crisis in the US in the 90s and distressed property in Alberta after the oil price crash also in the 90s. Belzberg had another vehicle involving external investors called Second City, a name which shows some humour. Belzberg is the one who bought and revived The Keg franchise we all enjoy. As recently as 2011, he led a proxy fight against Bennett Environmental. He came back from his First City debacle and managed to build a fortune of around $500m (my guesstimate). Sam Belzberg passed away on March 31st, 2018 after suffering a stroke while he was working away at his desk, aged 89. The Wall Street Journal and the New York Times had an obituary, but there was little coverage in our own national press!
I wouldn't be the journalist I pretend to be if I didn't mention that Belzberg had a reputation for playing with sharp elbows. Whatever his reputation, I found him generous with his most precious commodity - his time. I appreciate that he was direct with his feedback to me and for a mogul, pretty accessible. In our Ottawa meeting, he told me "As a friend, my advice would be that you should be more analytical." I took note of that. In fact, he told me in a few different ways, that I couldn't get by with my superficial trading instincts. He was absolutely right, I invest a lot differently now. In the end, Belzberg never invested with me. First, he got busy with a big transaction, the leveraged buyout of Skyservice Airlines. He eventually told me he didn't want to invest in a one-man shop. Belzberg is a guy who genuinely farms out money to all kinds of people, my failure to convince him, is entirely my own. Of course, he was no buy and hold exemplar either. He sees himself as an opportunist, "who takes advantage of situations and opportunities". I can't help but point out that I definitely outperformed Skyservice though!!! The company promptly went bankrupt.
By any definition, the Belzberg family remains a dynasty, several of them have prominent roles in business and finance. Traders will know Sid Belzberg, founder of the trading software company. Daughter Lisa Belzberg was married to Matthew Bronfman. Brent's brother Murray runs Perennial Asset Management. You will find successful Belzbergs in Toronto, New York and Rancho Mirage.
By his boldness and combativeness, Sam Belzberg was really an American in spirit. Once I knew that he wasn't going to back me, I felt I had talked to enough people in Canada and turned my attention to Americans. And that's a story for another time.
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