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Billes family’s Canadian retailing icon is recognised with award

Toronto-based family business Canadian Tire has been honoured with a lifetime achievement award for retailing success, with second-gen Martha Billes due to accept the award on behalf of her family.

The automotive and hardware retailer was co-founded by AJ and JW Billes in 1922. Starting as a small tyre shop, it has since grown to almost 500 stores.

In a statement, Retail Council of Canada (RCC) explained it was honouring Canadian Tire company for its ability to innovate over its lifetime. “From the mom and pop shops of the 1920s, to the big box retailers of the 1980s, and now the major digital transformation of the company to stay relevant to its customers online and in-store,” the organisation said in a press release.

“Their vision has not only led to the development of a Canadian retail icon, but it has contributed to our country's culture and identity,” RCC’s president and CEO Diane J Brisebois said.

Originally sidelined from succession plans due to her gender, Martha Billes fought her two brothers for a decade before taking majority control of the company.

Today she is the largest shareholder, with a 40% stake, while her son, Owen Billes, owns a 20% stake and has been a director since 2004.

RCC described Billes as demanding, disciplined and committed to corporate governance.

Previous award winners of the RCC lifetime achievement have included the founders of Roots Canada, Michael Budman and Don Green, and the former president and CEO of Sobeys Inc, Bill McEwan. 

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