Today we’re buzzing with Ted Burnett, the head honcho (aka. President) of the Burnac Corporation.
A family business in the purest sense, Ted runs Burnac with his brother Joseph. Many more Burnetts are involved in all facets of the Burnac business and that includes residential and commercial real estate, jewellery, and wholesale produce. What makes their success especially fascinating is it all evolved from their father’s one-man trucking company that he started more than 60 years ago.
We buzz with Ted about how great running a family business is, why midtown Toronto is the place to be, and why lugging potatoes isn’t the ideal summer job.
BuzzBuzzHome: Where did you go to school for your undergrad degree and where did you go to law school?
Ted Burnett: I went to the University of Toronto and got a bachelor’s degree in economics and I went to the University of Toronto law school and got a doctorate of law.
BBH: During your undergraduate degree did you have any favourite classes?
BBH: Why geography?
TB: I found it interesting. I used to drive trucks up north in our poorer days. Our father couldn’t afford to hire drivers, so his sons did the driving. I always used to like to take my knowledge of geographical formations and look around and say ‘oh there’s a peak mountain’ or ‘there’s a matterhorn peak’. It was interesting.
BBH: Do you think this interest in geography helped you in the development industry?
TB: For sure. Knowing how things are formed and what is useful land and isn’t useful land is all an extension of that. Urban planning is an extension of geography.
BBH: How does your law degree help you in your day to day business at Burnac.
TB: People ask me that and my children me that and I always tell them that if you’re interested in law — I’m not actually a proponent of practicing law — but it’s a wonderful background for any business. It gives you the limits of what you can do. It helps you negotiate contracts and our day-to-day relationships are contracts. It also allows you to plan things in the most tax efficient way. My general knowledge of law is used every hour of every day.
BBH: How long has it been since you practiced law?
TB: I still practice law actually. I’m the president of the Burnac Corporation and its various affiliates under the Burnac umbrella of companies. Within Burnac we have a law firm called Burnett and Associates and I have some lawyers who work for me. I still practice law for the company. We do in-house legal work. I really wear two hats. I’m the general counsel for the company and the business president of the company.
BBH: Burnac is very much a family business. What’s so great about being involved in a family business?
TB: The good part of being involved in a family business is decision making. There’s a lot less formality than if you have a board of directors that were all alien to each other. I find it more efficient.
Each of us understands how the others think. We don’t have any ulterior motives or other agendas. We’re all looking to be successful and nobody is trying to outdo someone else. Family businesses often don’t work when brothers start getting into monetary fights. It usually happens in the next generation, but it certainly hasn’t happened in our case. We all get along very well.
BBH: You mentioned Burnac is involved in a lot of different markets. Commercial and residential real estate and also retail and wholesale produce. How do you keep everything straight in your head?
TB: We divide the duties. My brother Joe basically runs the wholesale produce company which is the largest independently owned wholesale distribution company in Canada right now. He grew up with the company, as we all did, but he’s resurrected it in the past number of years and he loves it. He’s also in charge of our money market investments. That’s basically investing your cash. I run all the real estate. My niece Gale runs the jewellery business. We divide the tasks.
BBH: You’re currently working on 277 Davenport. What other residential projects is Burnac working on at the moment?
TB: Madison Lofts and a new one that we’re doing called South Hill which is near Casa Loma. We’ve got three on the go right now and are always looking out for more.
BBH: Is Madison Lofts near Casa Loma as well?
TB: It’s right at the base of Casa Loma, across from the Toronto archives building.
BBH: So they’re all in the same general neighbourhood.
TB: I’ve always had this general feeling that if the “bubble bursts” then I go back to the old real estate rule of location, location, location. To me if there’s ever a problem in the real estate business and condominium industry, I think the peripheral areas like the lakefront and North York, the more suburban areas, will go first. The whole thrust is to move south into the core. As you can see, the official plan is calling for higher pin buildings.
I feel safer by being in midtown. I think it will always be a location that people desire and will be the last to get damaged by any downturn in the real estate economy.
BBH: Who is your favourite architecture firm to work with?
TB: We work with several architecture firms and I always say it’s like my children. I don’t have a favourite. I tell all my children I love them equally.
BBH: Will there be any residential developments coming up in the near future for Burnac?
TB: We are dealing with a few sites right now. All midtown. It’s hard for me to identify them because there could be competition there. They are midtown and they are either mid-size high rise or my newest love, boutique condominiums. I think you can be more unique with boutique condominiums. They’re more individualized. You’re usually dealing with a client who want bigger sizes like empty nesters. Boutique condominiums usually are larger units but smaller buildings. 277 Davenport is a good example. You can basically split the building in two and have a front and a back unit. You can’t make four units because of the configuration of the lot.
BBH: Did you ever have a particularly terrible summer job when you were growing up?
TB: I’ve had a few of them! As I mentioned, my parents were in the fruit business long before it was the size it is now. All the children were involved and we used to be pulled out of school to drive trucks when a driver was drunk. Somebody had to get the produce to market because it was perishable! One of my summer jobs was driving an 18 wheeler to Ridgetown, Ontario everyday except the weekends. Ridgetown is known for potatoes and in those days, potatoes came in 50 pound burlap bags.
As you know burlap bags have space between the fibres and these potatoes had just been picked out of loam soil. These were summer days and it was 90 or 100 degrees outside and I would load this truck full for 40 feet of trailer with these 50 pound burlap bags. You can imagine the sweat pouring off of me, no shirt on, and the potato dust was coming out of the bags and mixing with the sweat. I was just two eyes and muck. I remember that one as being not too pleasurable. *laughs*
BBH: Blackberry messenger, texting, emails. How does the Burnett family keep in touch?
TB: I’m a Blackberry addict. I always get in trouble at home, ‘put that thing away, it’s dinner time’. We all converse with each other through Blackberry. It’s our prime mode of communication now.
BBH: No temptation to move over to the iPhone?
TB: My eldest son Josh is an Apple disciple. Anything that’s not Apple is no good. He has convinced me to trade in my regular computer for an Apple computer. At home we have only Apple computers now. He has an iPhone. My daughter has converted to the iPhone. Me, I’m a bit older so I’m still on Blackberry. Maybe I’ll go over to the iPhone someday.
Thanks for buzzing with us Ted!