Kenneth Colin Irving, (March 14, 1899 – December 13, 1992) also known as K. C. Irving was one of Canada’s foremost entrepreneurs of the 20th century and ranked as one of the world’s leading industrialists. K. C. Irving’s business began with a family sawmill in Bouctouche, N.B., in 1881. Ownership and operation of the Irving group of companies ultimately divided among his three sons and their respective children, James, the oldest brother’s two sons, Jim Irving and Robert Irving, took more control of forest products, Arthur the middle brother assumed more autonomy in Irving Oil, which owns Saint John, New Brunswick Irving Oil Refinery, Canada’s largest refinery, and Jack. In 1989, he was made an Officer of the Order of Canada.
Born in Bouctouche, New Brunswick, as a youngster Irving was viewed as a tough kid from a rough sawmill town on the Northumberland Strait. There are many accounts of his rough and tumble attitude in schoolyard fights. He began his entrepreneurial streak early, but this was tempered by the dawn of World War I. Irving, along with several friends attempted to enlist but his father put an end to it by enrolling him at Acadia University. Irving left Acadia before graduation and took a cross-country adventure to British Columbia before returning to Bouctouche. His father did not oppose his second attempt to enlist and Irving entered the Royal Flying Corps as a fighter pilot, although he never saw action as the war ended shortly thereafter. Following the war, he returned home to Bouctouche.
J.D. Irving Limited
It was the growth of Irving Oil which largely financed K.C. Irving’s other endeavours. Several years after starting Irving Oil, Irving took over his father’s sawmill company in Bouctouche, J.D. Irving Limited, which was subsequently expanded many times. Today JDI is the largest single landowner in New Brunswick, Nova Scotia and Maine (JDI has also been identified as being one of the four largest private land-owners in the United States). These forest lands feed several pulp and paper plants and sawmills which in turn feed the company’s paper, tissue, and diaper factories throughout New Brunswick, Nova Scotia, Maine, New York, Quebec and Ontario.
Diversification and vertical integration
As the Irving industrial empire expanded during World War II and the post-war era, K.C. Irving purchased shipyards and started various food processing, media, hardware, building supplies, transportation, engineering and construction companies – all of which are vertically integrated, meaning that each Irving company purchases the services of other Irving companies, keeping profits wholly within the conglomerate.
Irving companies are completely privately owned, and therefore all major business decisions are made by the family-members/owners. This has traditionally been a weakness among many family-owned empires. However, the Irvings have proven their ability to react to market situations much more quickly than their publicly traded competitors, a primary reason for their maintaining market share in so many industries throughout northeastern North America. An example can be seen in the fact that Irving Oil undertook significant upgrades and expansions to its refinery in the mid-1990s to produce low-sulphur gasoline, fully a decade ahead of the rest of the North American oil industry. As a result, Irving has been able to capitalize on the growing need for low-emission fuel in California and other U.S. markets (delivered by its own ships).
The conglomerate operates with considerable latitude which the Irving family’s wealth permits—operating somewhat as a maverick to the consternation of many of Central and Western Canada’s business leaders. Irving Oil, J.D. Irving and all subsidiary companies are actively supporting Canada’s ratification and implementation of the Kyoto Protocol, since the family has invested considerable funds into environmental controls and alternative energy for its operations and wishes to capitalize on these investments at the expense of its slow-to-respond publicly traded competitors. J.D. Irving’s food processing plants in Prince Edward Island are looking to build one of the largest wind farms in Canada in that province to completely power their operations, and many Irving-owned sawmills and factories in the rest of northeastern North America are rapidly adopting co-generation and solar/wind power to complement current energy usage. The Irving family is also hoping to take advantage of deregulation of utility markets in the region by building natural gas-fired electrical generating stations and is currently building a liquified natural gas terminal near its Saint John refinery.
New Brunswick Media Concentration
The Irvings have an almost complete monopoly in print media in New Brunswick, owning all English and French daily newspapers but one (L’Acadie Nouvelle) and most English weekly and community papers. In the 1970s, when this concentration was limited to only 4 English daily newspapers, a federal commission of inquiry into media concentration took aim at the Irving family’s control. Today print media across Canada has experienced a much higher degree of concentration than existed with Irving in New Brunswick during the 1970s, and the case with Irving was one of the first in the nation. The Irving family ostensibly allows their media holdings to operate relatively independently with the only oversight supposedly being in their finances.
The son of Jim Irving, Jamie Irving became publisher of the Irving-owned New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal then vice-president of the newspaper holding company.
Irving did have a near monopoly in media in New Brunswick well into the 1980s when they owned several English radio stations and CHSJ-TV, the only CBC affiliate in the province. Irving also started MITV (Maritime Independent Television) as a competitor across the Maritimes with the ATV network. The CBC affiliate was sold to the public broadcaster in 1994 at the same time as MITV was sold to Global Television.
Many of the forest management practices at J.D. Irving have come under fire from environmentalists. While JDI has received praise from its lumber retailers and from government regulators, environmentalists point out that the company’s tree farming practices have led to an unprecedented industrialization of the forests of northeastern North America, and in turn have led to a decline in tree species variety. Logging roads and erosion problems are also frequently criticized.
Later life and death
K.C. Irving died at home in Saint John and was buried alongside his first wife in Bermuda. Later, his body was exhumed, along with his wife’s. He was re-buried outside of the Scottish-style church on the Irving Manor. Himself, and his wife’s grave only marked as “Grammy and Grampy.
Irving family wealth
According to the 2011 list of Canadians by net worth the combined net worth of the Irving family ranked third in Canada calculated with the net worth of Arthur Irving, James Irving and John Irving through Irving Oil Ltd. and J.D. Irving Ltd at $8.07 billion with no change from 2010. In 2008 the Canadian Business magazine’s annual report on the wealthiest Canadians calculated that the Irving family combined wealth rose 34 percent from 2007 to $US 7.11 billion. Only the Thompson family, with a net worth is $US 18.45 billion, were wealthier However, since the conglomerate is privately held and the family is private with respect to financial matters, no information on net worth is available. Observers have only the tangible values of real property and industrial assets upon which to base their estimates without any ability to assess the value of cash reserves or outstanding debt and obligations.
K.C. Irving fought many battles with the federal government over income tax, business tax and inheritance tax policies. In 1972, following a particularly tough series of battles, K.C. left Canada suddenly with his sons in control of the daily operations of the conglomerate, although he remained as majority shareholder. In 1959, Taylor created the world’s first exclusive gated tax haven, Lyford Cay, Bahamas where Arthur Hailey, Sean Connery, Henry Ford II, Aga Khan IV, Prince Rainier, Stavros Niarchos and Sir John Templeton also resided. Diane Francis described her first job in Canada working for the tax lawyer of Canada’s richest individual and industrialist, E. P. Taylor. Francis created thousands of new corporations divided Taylor’s huge income, to pay minimal small business income tax. </ref>From 1972 until his death, K.C. would visit New Brunswick for “6 months, less a day” each year. In 2010 Forbes magazine estimated that the Irving’s net worth was $US4 billion.
The family has long maintained their secrecy while actively supporting many community initiatives. Their philanthropy has long been rumoured in many projects, but the first time it was publicly acknowledged was during the early years of the Université de Moncton, an institution that K.C. came to support in recognition of the support that members of the Acadian community had given to his companies.