Forty-six years ago, Jordan Bitove was delivering the Toronto Star to hundreds of doorsteps, with no idea that one day he would own the newspaper.
Bitove’s brother John says his sibling has since come “full circle,” with an agreement to take control of a business that, at first glance, might not seem like a moneymaker.
But current and former colleagues of Bitove and his business partner, Paul Rivett, say the pair are the perfect people for the job.
After all, it’s not Bitove’s first “crazy” deal, Jordan said — his family is responsible for the Raptors franchise, a historic move in a hockey-centric city. And anyone who’s worked with Rivett will tell you that he isn’t in this to make a quick buck — he’s a strategic investor known for his long-term thinking.
Bitove’s business experience may have started with that simple paper route, but it certainly didn’t end there.
Along with his father and brothers, he would go on to be part of the ownership consortium that built SkyDome (now known as the Rogers Centre), launch Toronto’s Olympics bid and the Toronto Raptors basketball team.
“That really was the catalyst for a lot of great things,” Jordan said.
Bitove then started an experiential marketing company in 1998 with “a phone and a desk,” which went on to be responsible for Canada’s Walk of Fame and more. He is currently running a private equity and real estate group in Toronto, and has been on the board of directors of the SickKids Foundation since 2012.
Ted Garrard, CEO of the SickKids Foundation, said he has known Bitove for over 24 years, and when he joined the organization he recruited him for the board. Since then, he launched a signature event that has raised millions for SickKids, said Garrard.
While the Torstar news initially took him by surprise, Garrard said it makes sense for the community-minded Bitove, and he believes it’s not just a business decision, but a values-based one as well.
If there’s one thing that ties Bitove and Rivett together, it’s that their business acumen is closely influenced by the values instilled in them by their respective families. They met through their sons, who played hockey together.
Bitove’s parents, who immigrated to Canada, were hard-working, and he calls his father, who is of Macedonian heritage, “the ultimate optimist.” His father and mother started a restaurant in 1949 that became the foundation for all that came afterward, he said.
John Bitove described his brother as being much like their parents — creative and optimistic, and “likes to roll up his sleeves.”
He said throughout their years working together, Bitove has always liked to be at the forefront of things, talking to people and sealing deals. Meanwhile, he said Rivett is detail-oriented and likes to iron out things in the background.
“They make a great team,” he said.
Rivett grew up in the east end of Toronto with equally hard-working parents who had also immigrated to Canada. His mother was a schoolteacher and his father an “unrelenting” businessman.
After studying at the University of Toronto and then getting a law degree from Queen’s University, Rivett worked at Bay St. law firm Blake, Cassels & Graydon, where he was drawn into the world of mergers and acquisitions. He then moved to multinational firm Shearman & Sterling, before taking a big risk, leaving law to work with financial holdings company Fairfax Financial.
It was there that Rivett worked with Canadian businessman Prem Watsa, Fairfax’s founder, who he describes as a key mentor.
“It was just so well driven into me by Prem that … you don’t have to be two different people. You don’t have to be one type of person at the office and in business and another person when you go home,” he said. “You can be fair and friendly throughout.”
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In 2013, Rivett became president of Fairfax.
Sean Regan, president of Cara Holdings Limited, said Fairfax has invested in his company since 2013. He said Rivett takes a long-term view when he invests, acting more like an owner than an “in-and-out investor.”
“Paul was Fairfax, as far as I’m concerned,” said Regan. “Fairfax has professionalized our group. And they have helped us take a long-term view.”
David Aisenstat, CEO of Keg Restaurants Ltd., agreed (Fairfax bought half of the Keg around seven years ago). While many investors think quarter-to-quarter, he said Rivett is different.
“Paul thinks outside of that time frame.”
Rivett retired from the company in early 2020 to focus on his family.
After 17 years with the company, chairman and chief executive Prem Watsa said in a press release that Rivett was “instrumental” in the company’s success. Rivett said the company became a global franchise while he was there, and he considered himself a “great right hand” for Watsa.
Not long after, Rivett and Bitove, who have known each other almost 10 years, decided to go forward with the offer for Torstar.
NordStar Capital, an entity created for the purchase and controlled by Bitove and Rivett, announced Tuesday it entered into an agreement to acquire all of Torstar in a deal worth about $ 52 million.
Bitove said they are both long-term thinkers, and that the COVID-19 pandemic has only strengthened their determination to see the deal through.
Jordan’s brother John said he thinks buying Torstar is a welcome and exciting challenge for the pair.
“To both Jordan and Paul, making sure the Toronto Star exists for the next generation is just as important as making money.”