CKGB firstname.lastname@example.org_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2003-05-20 published
He helped build a media giant
Newly graduated accountant brought order to Thomson Corp. in early days
By Allison LAWLOR Tuesday, May 20, 2003 - Page R7
The astute accountant who provided the financial wizardry to pull the fledgling Thomson Corp. through its shaky early days and see it become one of the world's greatest media enterprises, has died. Sydney CHAPMAN was 93.
With Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON and Jack Kent COOKE, Mr. CHAPMAN helped transform a Depression-era Northern Ontario radio station and The Timmins Press into Canada's largest newspaper group.
By the 1970s, with the aid of Mr. CHAPMAN's guiding hand, Thomson Corp. owned 180 newspapers, including The Times of London, 160 magazines, 27 television and radio stations and interests in North Sea oil.
"He certainly did great things for my father in the early days when my father desperately needed a right-hand man of his calibre and his integrity," said Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON's son, Kenneth THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON.
"Of all the things he did, the thing I will be most grateful to Sid for is the fact that he was there when my dad needed him and he never, ever let him down."
Mr. CHAPMAN was a newly graduated accountant working at Silverwood Dairies in London, Ontario, when he answered a help-wanted ad Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON had placed for a financial man. Soon after being hired, Mr. CHAPMAN moved to the northern Ontario town of Timmins to sort out the finances of the growing media company.
"I didn't have any equity in Silverwood's; I was just an employee and my superiors were not old," he is quoted as saying in Susan GOLDENBERG's book The Thomson Empire. "I wanted to join something that was going somewhere and have equity in it."
At the time, Mr. THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON, Mr. COOKE and a secretary shared one room in a Toronto building. Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON began buying radio stations and newspapers in Northern Ontario in the 1930s and bought his first newspaper in Canada, The Timmins Press, in 1934.
"Roy was so busy on the telephone, he could hardly talk to me. I had been making $40 a week at Silverwood's and Roy agreed to pay me $45," Mr. CHAPMAN said of the initial meeting.
Mr. CHAPMAN also insisted on buying $10,000 worth of stock in the company. Mr. THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON, not keen on the idea of anyone but himself owning stock in his company, said he would discuss this proposal with Mr. CHAPMAN at the end of his first month.
"At that time, he asked if I had the cash and said, 'That settles it,' when I said I didn't. But I was determined to have that stock," Mr. CHAPMAN said.
The young accountant went to the Bank of Nova Scotia manager in Timmins, where he was working at the time, and asked for a $10,000 loan. For collateral, he offered his group insurance. It took more than two decades for Mr. CHAPMAN's investment to become worthwhile. "I didn't get any dividends for 22 years but when the company went public, there was a 30 to one split," Mr. CHAPMAN said.
Sydney (Sid) CHAPMAN was born on January 22, 1910, in Bromley, England, on the border of London. One of five children born to Robert CHAPMAN, a house painter who had been wounded in the First World War, and his wife Sarah, the family scraped by with little money. When Mr. CHAPMAN was still a young boy, the family packed up and emigrated to Canada, making their way to Toronto.
Not long after arriving in the new country, Robert CHAPMAN decided he didn't like the place and wanted to return home to England. His wife decided not to join him. Left to raise the children alone, Mrs. CHAPMAN took a job cooking and cleaning for a wealthy family. Sid got a job as an office boy at what is now Deloitte & Touche. While working there, he completed his high-school equivalency through Queen's University and went on to earn his chartered accountant certificate.
After spending five years at Silverwood Dairies, Mr. CHAPMAN began his long relationship with the THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON family. Arriving in Timmins, Mr. CHAPMAN found the business affairs of the newspaper and radio station in less than immaculate order.
Mr. CHAPMAN complained to Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON about the cramped office space and CKGB's accounts and files being stacked in the bathroom and having to keep all his own books in a suitcase.
"Yes, well, that's why we got you up here -- to straighten things out," Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON replied.
Mr. CHAPMAN did just that. He was so reliable that Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON put him in charge of his northern business at the end of 1940, less than a year after he was hired. In the early days, the job was a balancing act. "I used to say about Roy's motto of 'Never a backward step, ' that he had better not step backwards or he would fall in a hole," Mr. CHAPMAN said in The Thomson Empire.
Mr. CHAPMAN got involved in the northern community through the Kinsmen service club, eventually becoming its president. It was in Timmins where he met his future wife Ruby, who was born and raised in Northern Ontario. The couple married in 1948 and had two sons. The couple later moved to Toronto with the growing Thomson company.
Mr. CHAPMAN told his young bride that he intended to work long hours. Even his honeymoon was a business trip to look into the purchase of a newspaper in Jamaica, said his son, Neil.
"He loved to work," said Neil CHAPMAN. " There was always a love of what he was doing. There was no way he was going back to being poor."
His most gratifying business moment was travelling back to England in the 1960s to be part of the acquisition of The Times of London, said Neil CHAPMAN. He was so proud to be with Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON and to be staying at the grand Savoy Hotel after his poor beginnings in life, Neil CHAPMAN said.
Mr. CHAPMAN's financial skill extended beyond the balance sheets. He played a large role in the addition of trucking and insurance to the Thomson empire. The origin of Dominion-Consolidated Truck Lines is said to have been linked to Mr. CHAPMAN's habit of eating breakfast at Kresge's, a five-and-ten-cent chain, in Timmins in the 1940s.
"I used to sit at the counter beside a trucker named Barney QUINN who wanted my advice on buying the trucking business of Ford cars from a Windsor widow.
"Although the trucks were rusty, with bald tires, and business was slow because of the war, I expected a revival in business and decided to go in on the venture," Mr. CHAPMAN said in The Thomson Empire.
Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON tried to dissuade him, saying he didn't know that business or have the money. After some persuasion, Mr. CHAPMAN convinced him to invest. They went on to buy smaller firms and consolidated them under Dominion-Consolidated.
Mr. CHAPMAN was also a force behind the acquiring of Scottish and York Insurance, growing out of his belief in consolidation and lowering expenses.
"He was a good and tough negotiator," said Toronto lawyer John TORY, who began working for Roy THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON in the 1950s. "He negotiated a lot of deals for the Thomson group.... He liked to win."
Kenneth THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON said that what he learned most from his early days working with Mr. CHAPMAN was his positive attitude toward life and people. "He was an extremely positive person. He loved people."
Described as a cheerful and decent man, Mr. CHAPMAN retired from the position of senior financial vice-president at Thomson Newspapers in 1975, but remained as senior vice-president of the Woodbridge Co. and as a director of Thomson Newspapers until 1982.
After retiring from Thomson, Mr. CHAPMAN had no intention of slowing down. He commuted daily into his 80s to a private Bay Street investment office he ran with his two sons. While he was extremely hard-working, serious and focused, he did allow himself to have some fun. He enjoyed golfing and ballroom dancing.
"He loved to dance with his wife Ruby," Mr. TORY said. "They danced well together."
Mr. CHAPMAN, who died on May 9, leaves Ruby, his wife of 55 years, and sons Neil and Glen.
"Dad was a good judge of character and he certainly judged Sid well indeed," Kenneth THOMPSON/THOMSON/TOMPSON/TOMSON said. "He was so dedicated and so extraordinarily loyal."
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