ROBERT FUNG

 


This suave smooth businessman has good connection and hold good titles in Toronto.  

ROBERT FUNG

  • His son Marc worked as Aide in Prime Minister of Canada's Office during  Jean Chretien's reign
  • brokered Llyodminster deal to Li Ka-Shing's Husky Oil in 1980's, an oil refiner which cost the government $20 million to construct.  The Li group subsidiary acquired the assets at a fraction of the cost.
  • university room mate with Paul Martin, former Prime Minister of Canada

NEWS STORIES 
"Water Front man"

Robert Fung might have known he'd get ambushed by the airport. Back in October, when the chairman of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. introduced his ambitious strategy to make over Toronto's lakeshore and harbour area, he deftly deflected queries about a proposed expansion of the long-contentious little facility on Toronto Island. He similarly sidestepped questions about the Gardiner Expressway, a much-hated elevated highway that separates the city from the waterfront. His message was clear: pet causes pushed by special interest groups were not going to sidetrack the TWRC. The Corporation, as he likes to call it, was above the waterfront infighting that historically had been as grimy as the port itself.

So on this sunny Saturday morning in November, Fung heads into the first of a series of planned public forums, held in a community hall at the harbour's western edge, expecting to beat the drum for his blueprint and field suggestions. Minutes into the meeting, however, his agenda comes off the rails. It's apparent that most of the 200 or so present have but one issue on their minds: How could any plan purport to cover the waterfront, speaker after speaker wants to know, yet not mention the implications of a proposal to expand the airport that dominates the area? Even as noise from arriving and departing planes threatens to drown him out, Fung doggedly insists that the airport falls outside the mandate given the TWRC by the three levels of government that fund it. By the end of the session, however, the normally unflappable Fung is forced to acknowledge, with a hint of exasperation, "I'd have to be pretty deaf not to realize there is a great deal of interest over the airport issue."

The financier, who looks a decade younger than his 64 years, is not accustomed to losing control of his meetings, or to having practical arguments elicit emotional reactions. But the waterfront project, in both scale and public visibility, is like no other deal Fung has ever tackled. His $17.4-billion plan for redeveloping the 10-kilometre strip of Lake Ontario shoreline -- the biggest urban renewal project ever undertaken in Canada -- is the city's best chance in decades to turn a long-festering eyesore into model neighbourhoods and hives of economic activity. The area, which includes Toronto's inner and outer harbours, a dilapidated port and acre upon acre of long-fallow industrial land, is potentially some of the city's most valuable real estate. But it has been neglected, mismanaged or attacked piecemeal by a succession of commissions and boards going back almost a century. Indeed, scarcely a citizen in the city would dispute the TWRC's understated observation in its mission document that there has been a "general lack of a clarity of vision...creating an impression of ill-coordinated expediency."

Bob Fung's appointment as waterfront czar, made by Ottawa, Ontario and the city in 1999, signalled an intent to bring private-sector discipline to the project. Though little-known outside Bay Street boardrooms, his skills at first glance seem custom-made for the job. In his more than three decades as an investment banker, he engineered high-profile mega deals and politically fraught privatizations while developing close links to leading power-brokers in Canada and abroad. Jean Chrétien was a business partner, Paul Martin his university roommate. Hong Kong mogul Li Ka-Shing and Paul Reichmann take his calls. As chairman of a junior gold company, he successfully navigated through labyrinthine bureaucracies in developing countries. During an 18-month stint as deputy-chairman of high-tech brokerage Yorkton Securities Inc., he soaked up the think-outside-the-box mantra of the New Economy. Though two firms he worked at were plagued by scandal, Fung seemed to emerge with his reputation unblemished. As a director of a Toronto hospital, his civic-mindedness is beyond reproach.

Promised support and funding from a rare coalition of three usually quarrelsome governments, Fung has produced a 30-year plan for a sweeping renewal that would put Toronto's waterfront architecturally and culturally in the league of Barcelona, New York and Sydney. It calls for 500 acres of open space and parks, including one the size of Vancouver's Stanley Park, 7.6 million square feet of new commercial space -- almost three times that available in Toronto's First Canadian Place, Canada's biggest office tower -- and more than 40,000 residential units. The polluted portlands are to be transformed into a "District for Creativity and Innovation." To ease sticker shock at the $17-billion price tag, Fung is only asking for $4.3 billion in public money, planning to raise the rest from the private sector. But the public can't lose, he says: he's promising a 14% annual rate of return and $3 for each taxpayer dollar invested.

The broad-strokes plan, presented in 2000, caught the public imagination. But the more specific strategy that followed this fall has been greeted less enthusiastically. The preliminary steps, including an arterial road extension and a subway platform expansion, have also been uninspiring, more closely resembling public-works projects than the beginning of a grand vision. Commentators have been pounding away at what's missing from the TWRC's agenda rather than what's in it. Dismantling the expressway, which caught the public fancy, for instance, is gone. And the airport issue just won't go away. The approval in November of a bridge to the airport, a first step toward the facility's expansion, ratcheted up already feverish rhetoric, with some questioning whether the decision has permanently scuttled Fung's big plan, relegating it to the dusty shelves laden with forgotten government promises. Nor has it escaped notice of critics that the man asking for "overarching authority" to spend billions in public funds to reshape a big chunk of Canada's largest city has never been elected, or even run for public office. "How in the hell, other than Fung [being] an acquaintance of Jean Chrétien, can we take a stockbroker and make him a developer and give him a 30-year mandate and $17.5 billion with the smallest little board of directors anybody every saw?" provincial MPP Morley Kells has railed.

Those who know Fung say the spotlight he finds himself in is bound to feel hot. "You have to remember that he's been a very behind-the-scenes guy before this," says Patrick Gossage, Pierre Trudeau's former press secretary whose PR firm works with TWRC. And as alliances shift and complications pile up, some wonder why on earth, after a stellar corporate career, he would want this job at all.

A few days after the town hall meeting, and running a little late, Fung strides purposefully into the Chinese restaurant a few floors below the TWRC offices overlooking Toronto harbour. He had been tied up in a meeting of Crystallex International Corp., the gold-mining company he chairs, he apologizes. Crisply tailored down to monogrammed cuffs, he admits over dim sum that the vehemence of the anti-airport protesters was a sobering reminder of just how different it is to work in the public sphere. "The Corporation would like to do everything in its power to avoid dealing with the Island Airport," he concedes, "but the public at large would very much like to make it our issue. In the private sector, you wouldn't have to deal with that [pressure]."

Fung's initial involvement with the waterfront was supposed to be limited to what he knew best: finance. When the City of Toronto launched its bid to host the 2008 Olympics, the idea was that the games would serve as a catalyst for transforming the decrepit portlands into a complex of valuable facilities, and John Bitove, head of the corporation spearheading the bid, asked Fung for help distinguishing games costs from normal building costs within the $2.8-billion Olympic budget. "The come-on was that it will take a few hours and it's not a big issue, so come and have fun," Fung says.

Of course, Toronto didn't get the Olympics, but by then Fung had become fixated on the waterfront's potential. In a pre-Olympic flush of bonhomie, Prime Minister Jean Chrétien, the then-Premier of Ontario Mike Harris and Toronto Mayor Mel Lastman -- an unlikely coalition dubbed the "Three Amigos" -- had appointed Fung to head a task force to flesh out the redevelopment idea. By the time the Olympic bid died in July 2001, none of the politicians was willing to can its proposals. They reaffirmed their pledge to pitch half a billion dollars each into the waterfront pot and in December 2001, turned the task force into the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. Fung was named chairman, charged with drawing up a strategy for implementing and paying for the recommendations.

What TWRC has come up with certainly doesn't lack for scale. "The economic model is what I call the New Canada," says Fung, leaning forward intently. The vision, drawn up with the help of experienced hands such as internationally known architect Michael Kirkland and urban planner Tony Coombes, who oversaw both Canary Wharf and Battery Park City on behalf of the Reichmann family, goes well beyond Toronto. The Greater Toronto Area, Fung points out, accounts for nearly half the provincial GDP and a fifth of Canada's GDP. As the world's cities grow more like city-states, he argues, they will vie with each other for industry, jobs and tourism. Those quickest and best at reversing decaying vestiges of their industrial pasts will succeed. Successful waterfront megaprojects like London's Docklands and New York's Battery Park have all been developed under a single, accountable organization with authority to coordinate an integrated strategy. That's the role he wants for TWRC.

When Fung warms to the subject he can hold listeners in thrall, his speech a mix of chamber of commerce enthusiasm and vernacular reminiscent of tech-bubble days. To draw visitors and attract investment, he says, Toronto needs "signature cultural buildings" and "something that focusses attention and is globally recognized, like Disney World." He wants to see an expansion of Toronto's "benchmark clusters" -- companies in knowledge industries such as biotechnology, new media and financial services that naturally group. "We can build flex buildings that can change from small apartments to studio apartments to small laboratories to small research centres," he enthuses. The synergistic comingling of people sharing ideas and research spawns new goods and services that collectively represent an economic force. And a vibrant community is essential to attracting investment, since knowledge workers select where they live based on quality of life, not work. "In the 20th century, people followed jobs," he says. "In the 21st century jobs are going to follow people."

The first of the jobs, if Fung's plan lifts off, will be somewhat closer to the ground. He plans to spend public money cleaning up toxic acreage and building infrastructure so it can be sold at a profit to developers -- who will build the signature buildings and mixed-use communities. Proceeds from land sales will then finance further infrastructure and land rehab.

He's counting on the $1.5 billion pledged by the three levels of government, to be paid out annually in $100-million instalments, to fund the first five-year phase. But Toronto is already balking: it wants to pay its share with land, which TWRC would have to clean up before it could be turned into cash. Fung is trying not to be impatient, but can't help asking, "Why are we so afraid of mega projects?" But he need look no further than Toronto's failure as a port for the answer. It died when the St. Lawrence Seaway, a mega project if ever there was one, proved obsolete before it was finished, unable to handle the huge ships built to carry containers, the new technology of shipping.

From the south-facing windows of Yorkton Securities headquarters on the 31st floor of Toronto's BCE Place, Fung's task looks deceptively easy. Though no longer deputy-chairman of Yorkton, he retains an office and salary as adviser to the board. From here, office towers and condominiums appear miniature, sandbox toys that can be picked up and plunked down somewhere else to open the city core to the harbour and Lake Ontario. Open spaces below can easily be filled, expressways buried, sewerish rivers cleaned and diverted. Factories and warehouses marring the vista can be shuffled to the periphery.

Fung has spent much of his professional life at heights like this. After a brief flirtation with a career in medical research, he switched to finance. He spent the late '60s and much of the '70s at Dominion Securities Ltd., then Bay Street's biggest brokerage, where he rose to be the head of Asian and Middle Eastern investments. But his greatest successes came after he joined Gordon Capital Corp. in 1980. The firm had already earned renown -- and not a little jealousy -- on Bay Street for its Liberal connections, daring inventiveness, rich partners and an omertà-like code of silence toward the press that CEO Jimmy Connacher -- a.k.a. "The Piranha" -- imposed on all employees. Fung specialized in big-ticket M&A transactions in the oil patch. By the end of the '80s, his handling of deals such as Imperial Oil Ltd.'s $5-billion purchase of assets from Texaco Canada Inc. established him as a serious rainmaker at Gordon; that deal alone earned more than $8 million in fees.

Fung's forte was his ability to read and react quickly to shifts in the political winds. When American-owned Chevron Corp. bought the parent of Gulf Canada Resources Ltd., for example, Gulf was unable to take advantage of benefits the National Energy Program gave Canadian companies. Gulf hired Fung to find a Canadian buyer. Tony Pullen, now vice-chairman of Yorkton, thought he'd found a purchaser that would earn his firm a fee. "But by the time I figured out that the Reichmanns [who were amassing a resources empire] were logical buyers, Bob was already there working on their behalf," he says.

Fung's deal-making, characterized by diplomacy and amiability, seemed to earn him respect from all parties. In 1992, hired by troubled Canadian Airlines Corp. to find an investor to help keep it alive, Fung offered to keep Sid Fatterdad, a former senior vice-president at Canadian who'd been helping employees structure a buyout. When Fung got American Airlines to invest, employees were upset that Canadian forced them to make salary concessions in exchange for equity. Far from blaming Fung, union leaders took him out to dinner. "They said, 'We got screwed, but it was nothing to do with you,'" says Fatterdad, now CFO of B.C. Workers' Compensation Board. "'Bobby Fung is still very much persona grata [with airline unions]."

Paul Cantor, head of CIBC's investment banking operation in the mid-'80s when it negotiated a joint venture with Fung and his partners at Gordon, says Fung's style was to pick his spots, then work the deals hard until they were done. "Unlike the others [at Gordon] who were doing a deal a minute, or a day, or a month, Bob thought in broad strategic terms," he says. "He might do a deal a year, or every two years, but they were elephants that required incredible patience, long negotiations and exceptional creative thinking." Bob Cross, a former investment banker in Gordon's mining section and now a private investor, recalls Fung as being tenacious and calm. "He wasn't the shark-like animal that people tended to associate with Gordon Capital."

Fung, who emigrated from Trinidad in the '50s (his family followed in the '70s), has proven adept at making high-echelon friends (see "The Gold-Plated Rolodex," p.68). His roommate at University of Toronto's St. Michael's College, for example, would become federal finance minister. "We've remained friends ever since," says Paul Martin, now Prime Minister-in-waiting. "My wife, Sheila, and his wife, Enid, [from whom Fung is separated] are good friends, too. In fact, I'm godfather to one of his sons, Bob Jr."

Fung became a mentor to Richard Li, son of Hong Kong billionaire Li Ka-Shing, when Li joined Gordon out of university to learn the investment business. Later, Fung's son Robert Jr. worked as a developer on Vancouver's False Creek development with Concord Pacific Group Inc., in which Li Ka-Shing is a major shareholder. Similarly, when Jean Chrétien bowed out of politics in 1986, Fung arranged an office and adviser's salary for him at Gordon. Chrétien returned the favour after his Ottawa comeback, taking Fung's son Mark to Ottawa as a junior staffer.

Fung himself has been a director of Export Development Corp. and a number of other federal business-advisory boards. Mutterings about patronage grew to howls in 1995 when Finance Minister Martin appointed Gordon one of the lead underwriters in the Petro-Canada privatization, which made Fung an adviser on the deal. Gordon shared about $66 million in fees with a dozen or so firms.

The accusations never did Fung much damage. "He's a little bit Teflonish," says a colleague, quickly adding that he regards Fung's integrity as above reproach. That reputation proved beneficial when Gordon Capital ran afoul of the Ontario Securities Commission for failing to maintain sufficient capital on hand. In 1993, the OSC threw Gordon's chief trader out of the industry, banned its head of derivative trading for 10 years and gave CEO Jim Connacher a 90-day suspension. Yet Fung, a senior partner, emerged unscathed. By 1999, though, four years after his former protégé Richard Li bought control of Gordon, Fung decided that it was time to move on.

Fung Doesn't lack for hobbies. He flies his own twin-engined plane and admits to being a horse and skiing enthusiast. He has a getaway in the Bahamas and a farm north of Toronto. "It's a full-out farm, not some prestigious weekend hangout club with a lot of toy stuff," says Ron D'Ambrosio, a 28-year-old broker who went there for an annual outing Fung hosts for young colleagues. In jeans and a T-shirt, he wades into the barnyard to show off his animals, a TWRC aide recalls. "It's a different side of him. He's usually so neat and business-like."

Post-Gordon, Fung dabbled in venture capital and joined the board of StockHouse Media Corp. that runs an Internet stock-touting bulletin board. As well, in 1996, as a favour to Montreal developer Robert Nihon, he'd joined the board of Crystallex International Corp., a Vancouver-based junior gold miner. Within two years, he was named executive chairman. Although CEO Marc Oppenheimer tends to diminish Fung's role, Fung says he's been "driving [the company] strategically since 1997."

The company's primary asset is the right to develop the ore-rich Las Cristinas property in Venezuela. When Placer Dome Inc., the property's former owner, challenged Crystallex's claim to the site, it fell to Fung to convince the Marxist-leaning government of President Hugo Chavez, the state bureaucracy and various legal authorities all the way up to the Supreme Court that Crystallex was able to get the mine into production. Last fall, Crystallex won the rights to develop the property in partnership with a state-owned company. Fung, matter-of-fact about most of his business accomplishments, bubbles when he talks of Crystallex's growth, noting its market-cap jump to $240 million from $17 million when he got involved. "It's a story I'm very proud of," he says. The venture has certainly proven lucrative for him. In fiscal 2001, his Crystallex compensation was about $700,000 -- exceptional from a junior gold company -- and he held $2.2 million worth of unexercised options.

In 2001, Fung got drawn into another messy situation at Yorkton Securities. His job as deputy-chairman: to rein in loose-lipped CEO Scott Paterson and use his stellar reputation to help quell the concerns of the OSC, which was investigating the firm for conflict of interest. During the tech-crazy '90s, Yorkton emerged as Canada's favourite technology underwriter and Paterson's standing had soared. "We thought of Scott as the next Jimmy Connacher when he first got there," says Tony Pullen. Paterson proved a little too much like Connacher in some respects. Shortly after Fung joined Yorkton, the OSC fined the firm $1.5 million and suspended Paterson from the industry for two years. Fung doesn't exactly leap to Paterson's defence but, true to his reputation for loyalty, chooses his words carefully. "Scott Paterson is a great leader," he says. "But he's not a great administrator."

Pullen sums up Paterson's fate more pithily, in words that may prove prophetic for Fung: "In this business, there are only two things that can blow you up: success and failure."

For almost a century, Toronto's waterfront has been plagued by repeated failure. Like ports the world over, it has also seen its share of corruption and shady transactions. The Toronto Harbour Commission, replaced in 1999, ended its days ignominiously in scandal when it was revealed that the commission's staff and directors enjoyed luxurious offices and perks that included everything from foreign junkets to a motor yacht.

David Crombie, a former mayor of Toronto who is now CEO of the Canadian Urban Institute, blames the port's general incoherence on the continuing fiction that Toronto could develop into a thriving port, something that hasn't been feasible since the city's economy turned from heavy industry to goods and services in the '60s. Shipping and traffic have dwindled to the point, critics are fond of pointing out, that some Canadian Tire stores' revenue exceeded the Toronto Port Authority's $11.2 million in 2001. But the TPA, which replaced the harbour commission and recorded losses of $1.4 millon in 2000 and $5.8 million on port operations in 2001, "has a vested interest in making people think that it's a real live port," says Crombie. "But it's a toy port."

Fung's plan recognizes the economic shift. It ignores shipping and industrial ambitions and turns the area over to residential, recreational and office uses. But incorporating the haphazard patchwork of publicly and privately controlled waterfront land into a cohesive package requires cooperation from sundry agencies, special interest groups and government stakeholders, a cat's cradle of overlapping interests that must make him nostalgic for Venezuelan red tape. Holding up a hand to tick off the players, he quickly runs out of fingers: The city administers its properties through the Toronto Economic Development Corp. and the board of Exhibition Place, the province operates Ontario Realty Corp., while Ottawa's interests are looked after by Canada Lands Co. and the TPA.

Fung has already seen the absurd lengths the various agencies will go to protect their turf. In 2001, the TPA sued the city for $1 billion claiming it had unlawfully seized a large chunk of the portlands. The city countered that the land transfer was in lieu of debts owed by TPA's predecessor, and refused to approve the TPA's proposal to build a bridge to the island airport. The stalemate was broken in November, the night before the city council approved the airport bridge when the city agreed to compensate the TPA.

Fung, though claiming neutrality on the bridge issue, got dragged into it anyway. In October, two weeks prior to the vote on the airport, he sent a letter to city council reiterating that the TWRC plan could live with or without the airport. But whether through ineptitude or deviousness, pro-airport councillors kept it from the public until the night before the vote on the issue. Further, they portrayed it as a TWRC endorsement for the airport.

Naturally enough, anti-airport forces who'd liked Fung's plan but not the illogic of an airport in the middle of it, felt betrayed. And although Fung scrambled the next day to set the record straight, the general perception was that a vote for an airport expansion (from 30 flights a day to as many as 180 a day, or one every six minutes) had more or less done in Fung's revitalization plans. "It's insane to have an airport in the harbour," says internationally acclaimed writer on urban planning Jane Jacobs, who lobbied against the decision.

Fung denies that his project is derailed and continues to claim the TWRC is neutral. But its future, he concedes, ultimately hinges on the answer to the question: "Do the governments have the fortitude to give the TWRC the power it needs to be the overarching authority?" Legislation to grant the power is now in committee in the provincial legislature, but Fung gauges his chances of getting it at about 50-50. Transport Minister David Collenette is sympathetic to his predicament -- though not very helpful, given his power. "It can get pretty depressing dealing with all the intertwining issues and egos and various levels of governments and players," says the man who could have quashed the TPA lawsuit with a phone call and whose ministry has final say over the airport expansion.

Fung admits that the importance of how events are perceived is proving a major frustration. "In the private sector you make a decision and then go and do it," he says. "In the public sector, you make a decision, then everything you do has to deal with the perception -- not the reality -- of what it means."

However impressive Fung's credentials, his lack of experience in the political trenches is taking its toll. The Teflonish man is looking a little more Velcroish. Used to negotiations based on facts and figures, he expects even heated debates to conclude amicably with a handshake and a no-hard-feelings drink. The emotion-charged convictions of people fighting for their vision of what their community should be is beyond his experience.

He's also discovering what spin is all about. Back at the November town-hall meeting, once the angry speeches ended, Fung tried to leaven matters by telling Allan Sparrow, leader of the anti-airport group Community AIR, that Sparrow had added a couple of hours to his day a few weeks earlier. He'd been loaned a plane that could have picked him up at the island airport and flown him to Houston for a business meeting, but because Community AIR had put the island airport at the centre of a controversy he wanted to avoid, he drove out to Toronto International instead. Fung meant the comment in a joking way. But Sparrow saw it as an admission of where Fung's real sympathies lie -- with moneyed business interests favouring airport expansion.

As complications multiply and new battles emerge, will Fung stick around? He claims to be as enthusiastic as ever. "How many people get the opportunity to physically change a city and at the same time have a huge impact on where the country is going?" he asks. "If you don't find that exhilarating, I don't think you have blood in your veins." He says his biggest frustration is the fact that he's not 35. "If I were, I'd see the waterfront revitalization finished," he says.

At the current rate of progress -- and if history is any guide -- that statement sounds wildly optimistic.

THE GOLD-PLATED ROLODEX  | Robert Fung's friends and associates in high places

POLITICAL
Jean Chrétien, prime minister: Fung gave him a job at Gordon Capital in 1984

Paul Martin, prime minister in waiting: Fung's university roommate, long-time friend

David Collenette, transport minister, Liberal political minister for Toronto: oversees the Toronto Port Authority

Michael Wilson, former Tory finance minister, now at UBS Global Asset Management: worked with Fung at Dominion Securities

Mike Harris, former Ontario premier: one of three responsible for Fung's appointment as waterfront czar

Ernie Eves, Ontario premier: carrying on provincial financial support for waterfront infrastructure

Mel Lastman, mayor of Toronto: initial and continuing supporter of Fung

Peter Lougheed, former Alberta premier: met while Fung did oil-patch deals and when provincially owned Pacific Western Airlines was merging with Canadian Airlines

BUSINESS 
John Bitove, chairman of priszm brandz inc., Canada's largest restaurant operator; former head of Toronto's Olympic bid: Liberal fundraiser who recruited Fung into the waterfront project

Steve Hudson, former head of Newcourt Credit Group Inc., Conservative fundraiser in Ontario: was on Olympic bid group with Fung

Li Ka-Shing, Hong Kong tycoon, one of the world's richest men: Fung mentored his son, Richard Li, at Gordon Capital

Paul Reichmann, former head of Olympia and York: Fung suggested he purchase Gulf Canada Resources in '80s and then brokered the deal

Robert Nihon, head of Montreal-based developer Alexis Nihon Inc.; also owns and runs a Bahamian bank and is Canadian consul to Bahamas. Got Fung into gold mining company Crystallex

Rhys Eyton, former head of Pacific Western Airlines and Canadian Airlines, now on Vancouver Airport Authority: worked with Fung on airline consolidation in the early '90s

Terence Hui, CEO of Vancouver developer Concord Pacific, partly owned by Li Ka-Shing: Fung's son worked on company's False Creek project; Concord is currently developing a giant property near the Toronto waterfront

Paul Cantor, former head of CIBC investment banking, now a headhunter seeking a CEO to work under Fung at TWRC

Scott Paterson, former CEO of Yorkton Securities Inc.: hired Fung, some believe, with hopes of quelling Ontario Securities Commission's concerns

Bill Farlinger, chairman of Ontario Power Generation, Liberal fundraiser: works with Fung on the TWRC as a director

Tony Dionisio, Liberal fundraiser, TWRC director and business manager of Toronto local of Universal Workers Union: his local, North America's biggest, hopes to cash in on waterfront and island airport construction

Jim Ginou, chairman of waterfront entertainment complex Ontario Place Corp., Liberal fundraiser: works with Fung on the TWRC as a director.   - Wayne Lilley, National Post Business Magazine   1 Jan 2003

Yorkton and  vice-chairman part company   

'I'm phasing out,' says Fung

Robert Fung is leaving his job as as vice-chairman of Yorkton Securities Inc., one of the country's largest independent brokerage firms, although he and the company have different versions of the circumstances surrounding his departure from the board.

Mr. Fung, 63, a longtime Bay Street player known for his close ties to the federal Liberal party, says he was asked to stay but decided to leave; Yorkton says it asked him to step down.

Mr. Fung took the key position at Yorkton 18 months ago, just after the company revealed that it was being investigated by the Ontario Securities Commission over its multiple roles in companies for which it arranged financing -- acting as underwriters, investors, advisors, and even directors.

Mr. Fung was seen as bringing some stability and corporate heft to a company being run by Scott Paterson, a high-flying New Economy stock maven.

"They were beginning to have problems with the OSC," Mr. Fung said. "I tried to help and guide them through a difficult period in '01. I was helping them with their grey-hair period."

Last December, Yorkton agreed to pay the Ontario Securities Commission $1.5-million in fines and penalties to settle allegations it engaged in conduct contrary to the public interest; Scott Paterson, the former chairman, settled with the OSC for $1-million and was fired by the board.

Mr. Fung said that Rod Sim, who is now chief executive at Yorkton, asked him to stay on, but he declined. He said his departure from the board at Yorkton will be official as of the company's annual meeting, on June 20th.

"I'm phasing out," Mr. Fung said. "I don't think I want to be an officer of any corporation in which I don't have a big say. I will not take on a liability responsibility in any company unless I have a serious say."

Yorkton is telling a different version of Mr. Fung's departure.

Alan Schwartz, the president of Yorkton Proprietary Asset Management, said that Mr. Fung's departure comes as Yorkton, which is privately owned by its members, completely restructures its board of directors.

Mr. Schwartz said Mr. Fung is one of 16 board members whom Mr. Sim asked to step down.

"We had a board made up of 25 employees," Mr. Schwartz said. "We have shrunk the board to nine employee-shareholders." The new board will also have room for "wholly independent" directors and for directors from an outside investor. Mr. Schwartz said Yorkton has selected an outside investor, but declined to say who it is.

"[Mr. Fung's] role at Yorkton remains the same," he said. "Bob is a person doing many things, including the waterfront. Bob is a valuable member of Yorkton, but he's not here five days a week, 50 hours a week. We're still thrilled to have him here. I consider Bob my friend."

He said he does not know Mr. Fung's title, but added: "Bob Fung does have an office here in the corporate finance group. His assistant is sitting right here. He is still an employee of Yorkton. He works as an advisor and as a mentor, which he has done since he got here."

Mr. Schwartz also played down Mr. Fung's role in advising Yorkton during its OSC troubles.

"Bob gave us grey-haired advice, as did many other people," Mr. Schwartz said.

Mr. Fung said he has his hands full these days, with his roles as chairman of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corp. and of of Crystallex International Corp., a mining company. He is also chairman of the audit committee of Export Development Canada and the Asia-Pacific Foundation of Canada, and sits on the board of Toronto's Mount Sinai Hospital.

"I lead a pretty active life," Mr. Fung said.   - Peter Kuitenbrouwer Financial Post  June 7, 2002

FUNG APPOINTED DEPUTY CHAIRMAN: Yorkton Securities yesterday appointed Robert Fung deputy chairman, while also laying off 30 of its 650 employees across the country.    - Financial Post

Opening our front door

Robert Fung is the quiet man behind waterfront revival

On that sunny day in October, 2000, when Jean Chrétien, the Prime Minister, Mike Harris, then still Premier, and Mel Lastman, the Mayor -- the Three Amigos -- announced with great fanfare a joint pledge of $1.5-billion to kick start the renewal of Toronto's seedy waterfront, it was typical that the man who made it all possible was standing quietly in the crowd.

Robert Fung, consummate deal-maker, had managed to get three rival layers of government to agree to his bold vision for Toronto's waterfront.

With the commitment of public money, he finally had the leverage to push the mammoth $12-billion project forward.

Over the next few years, Mr. Fung, as chairman of the Toronto Waterfront Revitalization Corporation, will stickhandle his way through a minefield of opposing interests to create "a new front door to Canada."

Mr. Fung talks of the economic clusters our city boasts, of the innovation quotient, of building a "convergence district" on the waterfront that will bring together media, entertainment, film production, software and multimedia to help turn Toronto into a "knowledge portal." He talks privately of an architectural focal point, probably a unique edifice somewhere east of Front Street, to counter-balance the CN Tower in the west, a landmark that might be to Toronto what the Opera House is to Sydney.

He equates the waterfront initiative with the lofty goal of John F. Kennedy, in 1961, to put a man on the moon, and all the astounding spinoff economic benefits that resulted. He talks about the urgency of seizing the opportunity now because no other city in this hemisphere has a huge area of prime underdeveloped land so close to the downtown core.

He hardly ever talks about himself. An intensely private man, he prefers to keep the spotlight on projects, not personalities.

Mr. Fung is something of an enigma even to his son, Mark, who says, "If you find out what makes him tick, would you give me a call?"

So who exactly is Bob Fung, a man who, given his penchant for working the back rooms, predictably declined to be interviewed for this profile?

Above all else, Mr. Fung, whose day job is deputy chairman of Yorkton Securities, is well connected. Indeed, he is probably the only Canadian who can claim with a straight face to be a friend of both Chrétien and Paul Martin, the Finance Minister chasing the PM's job with what Chrétien loyalists deem to be perverse haste.

As vice chairman of take-no-prisoners Gordon Capital Corp., Mr. Fung recruited Mr. Chrétien to its executive suite when the PM-to-be was in self-declared exile during the unhappy tenure of John Turner as leader of the divided Liberals.

Mr. Fung has been close to Mr. Martin since they were room-mates at the University of Toronto. Mr. Martin is godfather to Robert Fung Jr., and attended the wedding of Mark Fung. Mr. Martin and Mr. Chrétien sat at the same table at the reception.

Mr. Fung is equally well-connected with provincial Tories. On Monday, when he threw a party to inaugurate the waterfront corporation's offices above Queen's Quay, no guest was more warmly welcomed than former premier Harris.

What drives Bob Fung?

"The deal," says Harry Near, a partner in Earnscliffe Strategy Group of Ottawa, and a backroom Tory. "What Bob does well is he figures out what the end result will be and what different individuals will need to get out of the final deal to be happy. His focus is on the deal, not to raise his own profile."

Mr. Fung has been a major player in dozens of billion-dollar negotiations, including the privatization of Air Canada and Petro Canada, the merger of Imperial Oil and Texaco, and the restructuring of the Husky Upgrader, a special refinery in the West. Thus, for him, the $12-billion renewal of the waterfront is a variation on a familiar theme.

Rod Phillips, former chief of staff to Mayor Lastman, credits Mr. Fung's success to "keeping a firm objective in mind even though he knows there will be important decisions and hurdles along the way.

"He's an interesting combination: He thinks deeply, but once he is focussed, he moves quickly," says Mr. Phillips. "He's not afraid to make a decision. But it's not action for the sake of action. It is action at the right time."

"I don't know anyone else who can do this job," says Allan Leibel, a partner in Goodmans. "I honestly don't know what's in it for him. I sure hope he doesn't get fed up and throw up his hands because he is up against layers of bureaucracy that have paralyzed this development for a century."

His friends portray Mr. Fung as a citizen of the world who understands the urgency of Toronto reclaiming a world-class reputation in the global marketplace. By appealing to this sense of mission, he is able to bring together different factions and vested interests.

"We all tend to get mired in technical details but he seems to seduce people into seeing it from a higher perspective," says Mr. Leibel.

It is the measure of the man that he has turned around the glacial pace of development, got all three levels of government to turn on the money tap, and overseen the startup this spring of four waterfront projects worth a total of $300-million.

Now he is hiring a CEO who shares his vision and tenacity. An international executive search by headhunter Russell Reynolds included advertisements in The Economist for someone who can revitalize the waterfront "to create one of the greatest cities in the world."

Mark Fung says his father relishes the role of the underdog who always succeeds, even against insurmountable odds.

"It comes from being a visible minority from the Caribbean islands who fought his way into business on Bay Street and did very well for himself," Mark Fung, 34, said of his Trinidad-born father.

"He's been a dealmaker his entire life. He feeds off it, and enjoys the challenge. I believe he is one of the very few who can get the waterfront done because he has the economic and political relationships to get it done."

When Mr. Fung is not out selling his mega-project, he likes to pilot his own plane and spend time at his horse farm in Caledon. He has a vacation home on a small island in the Bahamas where he sometimes indulges his love of deep-sea fishing.

While Mr. Fung is tight-lipped about the finer details of his waterfront vision, we can expect the projects he proposes to follow a theme of multiculturalism, because he is a passionate advocate of the view that Toronto's greatest strength is its diversity. He is also determined to consult grass-roots Torontonians before projects are launched.

Like any other strong-willed executive, Mr. Fung does not suffer people he regards as fools gladly. He is also a fierce critic of fellow Liberals -- members of both the Chrétien and Martin camps -- who hang out their dirty linen in public, preferring to hold to the dictum that Liberals, at all costs, should not speak ill of each other.

One of his business associates sums up by saying Bob Fung is on a reverse ego trip. The more others seek the limelight, the more he seems to shun it, except when it will further his passion to turn Toronto's waterfront into Canada's crown jewel.    - Gillian Cosgrove    National Post  May 18, 2002

Investment banker joins Stockhouse

StockHouse Media Corporation, a provider of online financial content and community development products, announced that Robert Fung has joined its board of directors, effective November 27, 2000.

Mr. Fung is a senior partner at Capital West Group, with more than 30 years experience in the investment banking industry, said a Stockhouse press release.

Jeff Berwick, StockHouse president and CEO, said Fung¹s diverse experience and network of associates will be an asset to StockHouse Media Corporation.

From 1980 to 1997, Fung was both vice-chairman and director at Gordon Capital Corporation and played a key role in building the company into an innovative independent investment dealer.

Mr. Fung sits on the board of directors of a number of private and charitable organizations.

StockHouse Media Corporation is a provider of online financial content and community development products. The company has suffered layoffs recently  - Business in Vancouver

 

 


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