Canadian Business Icon Martha Billes Has Resigned As Chancellor of the University of Guelph

By: Kw Now Local News
| Published 05/07/2020


University Of Guelph Chancellor Martha Billes Resigns

Incompatibility Over University's Decision To Divest From Fossil Fuel Companies

Martha Billes has resigned as chancellor of the University of Guelph. The announcement was made today by U of G president Franco Vaccarino.

“It is with a heavy heart that I inform our U of G community that Martha Billes has decided to step down as chancellor,” Vaccarino said.

“Martha has been a devoted ambassador for the University, enthusiastically supporting students and working hard to represent the University to government and to the public. We appreciate her many contributions, both as chancellor and as a proud U of G alumna.”

Billes Is A Canadian Business Icon And Philanthropist

Billes, a Canadian business icon and the controlling shareholder of Canadian Tire Corp., was named U of G’s ninth chancellor in 2017. Her departure was prompted by the April 22 decision by the University’s Board of Governors to divest from fossil fuels, Vaccarino said. Billes, who is an ex-officio voting member of the Board, opposed the motion.

“Martha Billes fought long and hard to establish herself as one of the most successful business leaders in Canada, shattering stereotypes along the way,” said Vaccarino.

“She is also known for her generosity and deep commitment to helping Canadians in need through her charities and volunteer efforts, and for being a longtime and enthusiastic supporter of the University. Her passion, determination and stewardship made her an excellent choice for chancellor,” said Vaccarino.

Staying True To Her Business Interests

“For over 40 years, I have been an investor in business ventures including the oil businesses in my home city of Calgary and my family business, Canadian Tire Corp.,” Billes said.

“My decision to resign as chancellor was prompted by the incompatibility of my business interests with the board of governors’ decision to divest from fossil fuel companies in its endowment portfolio,” she explained.

Vaccarino said, “Martha’s relationship with U of G is longstanding, and her connection and affection for the University remains strong. We appreciate the many positive things she accomplished during her tenure and wish her all the best.”

Information about plans to begin the search for a new chancellor is forthcoming; the process will be overseen by U of G’s Senate.

About Martha Billes

Martha Billes, a Canadian business icon, philanthropist and University of Guelph alumna, has resigned as the University’s chancellor.

Martha Billes has been a director of Canadian Tire Corporation since 1980 and the controlling shareholder since 1997. She is the only daughter of A.J. Billes, the company’s co-founder. She was born in Toronto and graduated in 1963 with an honours bachelor of science degree (summa cum laude). She began her career in consumer product research and development with Lever Brothers and later worked with the Ontario Research Foundation. After acquiring her teaching credentials, she taught in Toronto and Ottawa. Business being her primary interest, she left teaching and turned her energies to business, moving to Calgary in 1978.

She joined the board of Canadian Tire in 1980, taking up the seat previously occupied by her father. In 1983, she and her two brothers acquired control of the company through the purchase of shares held by the estate of her uncle, J.W. Billes. In 1997, she acquired her brothers’ shares to become the sole controlling shareholder of Canadian Tire.

Since then, Martha Billes has used her influence within Canadian Tire with discretion and consistency, leading to the development and practice of a very high standard of board independence and performance, and a governance structure that elicits admiration.

A Canadian icon employing nearly 68,000 people, CTC ranks as having one of “Canada’s Most Respected Cultures,” with its brand and reputation among its most respected assets.

Founder of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities

Martha Billes is also the founder of Canadian Tire Jumpstart Charities, a nationwide foundation dedicated to providing access to sport and activities to disadvantaged young people across Canada. Known for its high degree of leadership in community-based philanthropy, Jumpstart distributes $22 million annually; in 2016, it helped more than 220,000 Canadian children. Martha Billes continues to serve as a board member and takes an active and engaged role in the charity as chairman emeritus, participating regularly in affairs and events.