Galen & George Weston
Spanning two continents, the Weston family of Great Britain and Canada have donated more than $1 billion to worthy causes through its two charitable foundations. To date the Garfield Weston Foundation in the UK has given away more than £785 million to charities, while the W. Garfield Weston Foundation in Canada has donated in excess of $100 million to conservation causes alone.
With Galen Weston and his nephew George G. Weston at the head of the family empire, the generations-old Weston charitable trusts have touched the lives of millions of people in every walk of life.
From a single bakery started by Galen’s grandfather, also George, in Toronto, Canada in the late 19th century, few commercial enterprises today provide more income and revenue to employees and suppliers than the 132-year-old Weston group of companies.
The baker’s son, Garfield, moved to the UK and expanded the business by building the multinational corporation Associated British Foods. In the 1970’s it was time for Garfield’s sons Garry and Galen to take over. The latter went back to Canada to take over the floundering business there, while Garry stayed in Britain. After Garry died in 2002 his son, George G., stepped in.
By 2015 Galen Weston and family’s net worth was estimated at $9.6 billion by Forbes Magazine. It made them the second richest family in Canada and the 131st richest in the world.
Garfield Weston, who during his lifetime contributed to numerous humanitarian causes, established the Garfield Weston Foundation in 1958. Today it is one of the largest charitable foundations in the world.
Already back in April 2008 the Garfield Weston Foundation’s assets were estimated at £3,720 million ($5,580 million), of which £3,620 million ($5,430 million) was attributed to the foundation’s majority holding in Wittington Investments Limited, the main holding company of the British branch of the family. Wittington Investments owns a majority stake in Associated British Foods, which itself owns the discount clothing chain Primark, among others.
The Canadian branch of the Weston family owns or control over 200 companies, including the supermarket chain Loblaws, through George Weston Limited and various holding companies. They also own or control retailers such as Brown Thomas in Ireland and Selfridges in the UK.
Galen and George G. Weston rarely give media interviews or speak about their charitable work, but both Weston family foundations regularly update their contributions to charitable causes on their respective foundation websites.
The Garfield Weston Foundation on average award grants to 1,500 charities annually across the UK. Its beneficiaries vary from small community and volunteer projects to large national organizations. For example, it gave Oxford University £25 million for the refurbishment of the New Library, and in January 2015 it announced that the Piece Hall in Halifax would receive £250,000 ($380,000) to help with refurbishment costs. It has also given grants to a number of schools for new classrooms and outdoor play areas.
To emphasize the family’s commitment to philanthropy, the current trustees of the Garfield Weston Foundation are all linear descendents of the founder.
According to its website the trustees “remain committed to continuing the family’s philanthropic ethos that has made the foundation one of the largest and most respected charitable institutions in the country.”
They are also “actively involved and highly engaged in the work of the foundation, and give a significant amount of their time to review applications, visit charities and to meet people across the third sector. They also have additional philanthropic interests and non-executive roles independent of their work through the foundation”.
Galen Weston personally heads up the W. Garfield Weston Foundation as chairman and president. This Canadian foundation was first established in the 1950s by Garfield Weston and his wife Reta, with a donation of shares from George Weston Limited. It has made significant charitable contributions in the areas of neuroscience, education, land conservation, and in the natural sciences in Canada’s North. Many of the grants were given anonymously.
According to the foundation’s website, Garfield and Reta’s children started to assume more responsibility within the foundation in the 1970s and 1980s.
“Through this work, both the daughters and sons were given the opportunity to contribute to a better society and develop personal judgment and potential,” the website states.
Since the 1980s more than 100,000 acres of significant habitats have been protected thanks to donations in excess of $100 million to conservation agencies across Canada. The W. Garfield Weston foundation also funds scientific research, notably into Canada’s ecologically fragile Arctic.
One of the Weston family’s longest charitable relationships has been with the Royal Ontario Museum (ROM). The museum received a donation of $20 million, consisting of $10 million from the foundation and $10 million from Galen and his wife Hilary personally. In fact, Hilary Weston served as the 26th Lieutenant Governor of Ontario from 1997 to 2002, during which time she spearheaded the most successful fundraising campaign in Canadian cultural history by raising more than $300 million for the ROM.
In recognition of his charitable work, Galen Weston was made an Officer in the Order of Canada in 1990. He is also a recipient of the Woodrow Wilson Award for Corporate Citizenship.
The Toronto Star maybe best summed up the Weston family’s contribution to charitable causes. “Their activities speak to the symbiotic relationship between business and the larger society, one that too few business leaders – who see themselves and their enterprises operating in isolation from society – have yet to grasp,” is how the newspaper rightly put it.