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Greg Sorbara in the middle of ugly feud that threatens family’s billion-dollar company

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Sam Sorbara was 14 when his family fled the poverty of an Italian village in 1925 and settled in southern Ontario. His alcoholic father all but abandoned the family and his mother died within a few years of arrival.

After the Great Depression hit, Sam’s family worked the streets to survive. They bootlegged booze and stole coal to stay warm. Sam was caught using counterfeit bills in Toronto and sentenced to three years in jail.

Brothers Edward Sorbara, left, former Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara, centre, and Joseph Sorbara are entangled in a bitter family feud over Sorbara Group.
Brothers Edward Sorbara, left, former Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara, centre, and Joseph Sorbara are entangled in a bitter family feud over Sorbara Group.  (Nick Kozak and Aaron Harris photos)

Later, he sold mineral feed to farmers in the Toronto region and started buying land from those anxious to sell. His efforts eventually made him a leader in Toronto’s Italian-Canadian community and a wealthy man. When he died in 2002, at the age of 91, he left behind the family-run Sorbara Group, a multi-faceted real estate company with current assets estimated by one of its owners at $1.4 billion.

His legacy is now under threat. The company he founded has torn his family apart. His four children — including former Ontario finance minister Greg Sorbara — are locked in a bitter succession battle that has placed the company’s future in doubt.

“It’s cause for real sadness,” says Greg Sorbara, “another situation where money poisons enduring family relationships. »

Each sibling owns 25 per cent of the Vaughan-based private company. It develops and builds commercial buildings and low- and highrise housing, along with providing financial services. It owns, operates and manages more than eight million square feet of industrial, commercial, office and residential properties.

The legal part of the family feud began in October 2016, when Joseph Sorbara, the oldest of Sam’s children, filed an application in Superior Court against his siblings — his brothers Greg and Edward, and his sister, Marcella Tanzola.

Joseph, who is 76 and co-ran the company for three decades, has asked the court to declare that his siblings “have engaged in conduct that is oppressive and unfairly prejudicial” to his interests in the company. He also requests that it order his brothers and sister to do one of two things: buy Joseph out or liquidate the company and divvy up the proceeds.

“Joseph has lost all confidence in his siblings, and in particular Edward and Gregory and their ability to look after the best interests of the Sorbara Group,” says Joseph’s application to the court.

“Joseph and Edward have irreconcilable differences with respect to the day to day running of the Sorbara Group and its future plans and on this basis it is no longer possible for them to carry on in business together,” his application adds.

The application makes clear that at the heart of the dispute is Joseph’s attempt to have his eldest son, Paul, “ultimately take over his role as the co-chief executive officer of the Sorbara Group.”

But in August 2014, “Gregory, with Edward’s support, deliberately fired Paul without cause.” Joseph’s application claims the firing occurred after Paul “discovered that the presentation of the Sorbara Group’s financial materials appeared to conceal poor performance and a substantial underperformance of the Sorbara Group’s sales targets.”

The application’s claims haven’t been tested in court.

In a written statement to the Star, Greg Sorbara says Joseph’s allegations of “oppression” began about two months after Paul was “terminated.” He denies the financial allegations and adds that the company has performed “stronger than ever” in the past five years, and earned “unqualified audit opinions” from auditors, which means financial statements fairly represented the company’s financial position and results.

“Disputes often occur in family-run enterprises, especially when it comes to issues of intergenerational involvement and succession,” adds Sorbara, who at 72 is the youngest of the siblings.

“Obviously we are disappointed and saddened that this dispute has not been resolved amicably, and while we hold out hope that an amicable resolution will eventually be reached, for now we are addressing Joseph’s concerns in the court proceedings.”

Former Ontario Liberal heavyweight Greg Sorbara, at 72 the youngest of the siblings, told the Star that from 1989 until 2015, Joseph and Edward served as co-CEOs of the company, and had to agree on all major decisions. The company didn't have a formal governance structure.
Former Ontario Liberal heavyweight Greg Sorbara, at 72 the youngest of the siblings, told the Star that from 1989 until 2015, Joseph and Edward served as co-CEOs of the company, and had to agree on all major decisions. The company didn’t have a formal governance structure.  (Aaron Harris)

Greg Sorbara adds that the company employs more than 200 people and has “60+ stakeholders consisting of our extended family.”

“This creates an enormous responsibility for our management team, which is why we have always insisted that senior executive positions be assigned based strictly on merit,” writes Sorbara, who has six children and 15 grandchildren. “We believe that is in the best interests of the business and our many stakeholders, including Joseph and his family.”

He said affidavits that respond to Joseph’s claims have not been filed with the court and can’t for now be shared with the Star. He adds that his side can’t comment on the merits of the case because it is before the courts.

Requests to interview Joseph and Edward, made through their lawyers, went unanswered. Paul Sorbara also did not respond to interview requests.

“You should wait for the (court) hearing if you want the whole story,” said Joseph’s lawyer, Alan D’Silva, of Stikeman Elliott LLP, adding it would likely happen next April or May.

By 2016, the dispute allegedly resulted in personal insults.

Joseph’s application states that while he was hospitalized for an intracerebral hemorrhage in June that year, Edward emailed “many” Sorbara family members claiming Joseph “had not done any meaningful work throughout his 30 plus years at the Sorbara Group.”

The email, the application adds, also accused Joseph of “taking advantage of their sick father to impose himself in the business” and “personally insulted (Joseph) and members of his family in the most destructive of ways.”

The dispute is shaking the foundation of the house that Sam built. It dates back to 1942, when the patriarch started Adriatic Insurance Brokerage, a company that expanded into the real estate business and spawned the Sorbara Group.

Edward joined his father’s company in 1968, after earning an MBA. Joseph went into law. With his sister’s husband, he established the Tanzola & Sorbara law firm in 1971, which handled the legal needs of the Sorbara Group.

Greg Sorbara served as an Ontario Liberal MPP from 1985-95 and 2001-12. He held several cabinet posts, was president of the Liberal party, and wasn’t involved in the family business during his time in politics, according to Joseph’s court application. Sam’s daughter, Marcella, never worked in the company.

Joseph joined the company in 1985, when his father’s health was deteriorating. He and Edward were “partners of equal weight” and co-CEOs.

“Not only did they have the final say on every significant decision that affected the Sorbara Group, but their historical practice has been to make all such decisions together,” Joseph’s court application says. The two brothers, it adds, “signed all cheques together.”

In his statement to the Star, Greg Sorbara agrees: “From 1989 until 2015 Joseph and Edward served as co-CEOs. No substantive decisions were made nor initiatives undertaken in the absence of agreement between the two of them.”

The company had no formal corporate governing structure. There was no protocol for calling or conducting meetings and no shareholder agreement that defined the business relationship between the siblings, Joseph maintains.

“Instead, governance depended on the ability of Joseph and Edward to do business together,” his application states. “Disagreements had to be resolved and compromises reached, otherwise, as equal partners, the Sorbara Group could not function.”

In the mid-1990s Joseph and Edward consulted PricewaterhouseCoopers about succession planning. The brothers “wanted to ensure that a process was in place for the business to be transferred to the next generation of the Sorbara family,” Joseph’s court document says.

Joseph, who once chaired the York University Development Corp., was close to retirement. He says he wanted someone from his immediate family to take over his role in the company, thereby ensuring that his children and grandchildren “would be looked after.”

In February 2003, Joseph’s son, Paul, a lawyer with an executive MBA from U of T’s Rotman School of Management, joined the company. Joseph wanted Paul to succeed him as co-CEO, but Edward allegedly had other designs.

“Edward has unilaterally promoted certain third generation family members without Joseph’s consent and appears intent to continue to do so in complete disregard to Joseph’s opposition to these practices,” Joseph’s court application says.

Joseph does not want his interests in the company overseen by people “that have been appointed without his consent,” it adds.

Brothers Edward Sorbara, left, and Joseph Sorbara. Joseph, the oldest of Sam Sorbara's children, has filed an application in Superior Court against his brothers Greg and Edward, and his sister, Marcella Tanzola.
Brothers Edward Sorbara, left, and Joseph Sorbara. Joseph, the oldest of Sam Sorbara’s children, has filed an application in Superior Court against his brothers Greg and Edward, and his sister, Marcella Tanzola.  (Nick Kozak)

With the extended family growing, Greg Sorbara proposed an advisory board to deal with governance and succession. It was made up of the four siblings and a member from each of their families. Greg became the board’s chair and Joseph appointed Paul as his family representative.

In the meantime, Joseph and Edward clashed over the company’s direction. Joseph opposed “Edward’s insistence on investing nearly all income and capital generated by rental properties in development projects that were not generating adequate financial returns” and were poorly managed, his application claims.

The brothers couldn’t agree on whether the company should focus on pursuing income from rental properties and diversifying investment or doubling down on investing in land for housing and condos, it adds.

Joseph claims Edward increasingly left him out of project decisions while refusing to provide adequate information on the company’s financial performance.

In his statement to the Star, Greg Sorbara said the company’s chief financial officers always reported directly to Joseph and Edward. And the company’s auditors “have never identified inaccurate or inadequate financial reporting.”

Joseph’s application to the court describes the company’s finances as “opaque and in some circumstances inaccurate.” It states that between 2010 and 2014, the company spent about $233 million on “development activities but had no clear assessment of what profits had been made or how the projects were performing from a cost, timing and value perspective.”

“Even based on the financial data available, it is apparent that the Sorbara Group is not being run in a prudent and businesslike manner,” Joseph’s court application claims.

It cites the example of the company’s planning, marketing and sales division, which Joseph claims “created a $14 million operating deficit.” Rather than address “this failed business model,” Joseph adds, the Sorbara Group has been using loans from its banking entity, Antica, to fund the deficit.

“It appears that, through Edward’s now-unilateral directions, monies are being taken out of the Sorbara Group’s profitable business ventures and used to fund an ever-increasing deficit,” Joseph’s court request alleges.

Joseph also accuses Greg Sorbara of attempting to “entrench himself as chairman” of the advisory board while blocking any succession planning and the setting up of a governance structure.

His application to the court calls the firing of his son “capricious” and says it fuelled Joseph’s “marginalization” in the company. It insists there’s no way for Joseph to ensure that his 25-per-cent interest in the company is being properly managed.

A formal mediation process, started in March 2016, failed to bring peace. Joseph then had a severe stroke, followed by what his application describes as Edward’s poisoned email to the extended family.

“Notwithstanding the litigation we wish only the very best for Joseph and his family,” Greg Sorbara says in his statement. “He and his family continue to share the full benefit of their stake in our business.”

There is no evidence that Joseph is having a change of heart. He accuses Edward of running the Sorbara Group “as if it was his own private group of companies” and of “depleting” its value. He estimates the company’s assets at $1.4 billion, wants his siblings to buy him out, and asks the court to appoint an inspector to determine the fair value of his share.

Barring that, Joseph wants the court to order that the company his father built to be dissolved.

Sandro Contenta is a reporter and feature writer based in Toronto. Follow him on Twitter: @scontenta

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Nostalgia and much more with Starburst XXXtreme

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Get a taste of adventure with Starburst XXXtreme based on the legendary NetEnt Game. The nostalgic themes are sure to capture fans of the classic version as they get treated to higher intensity, better visuals, and features. The most significant element of the game is its volatility. Patience will not be an essential virtue considering the insane gameplay, and there is a lot of win potential involved. It retains the original makeup of the previous game while adding a healthy dose of adrenaline. 

Starburst Visuals and Symbols

The game is definitely more conspicuous than before. The setting happens over a 5-reel, 3-row game grid with nine fixed win lines, which function if a succession from the left to the right reel is present. Only those players that that attain the highest win per bet line are paid. From a visual standpoint, the Starburst XXXtreme slots illustrates lightning effects behind the reels, which is not surprising as it is inherited from the original version. Available themes include Classic, Jewels, and Space. The game is also available in both desktop and mobile versions, which is advantageous for players considering the global pandemic. According to Techguide, American gamers are increasingly having more engaging gaming experiences to socialize to fill the gap of in-person interaction. Starburst XXXtreme allows them to fill the social void at a time when there is so much time to be had indoors. 

Starburst XXXTreme Features

Players get to alternate on three features which are Starburst Wilds, XXXtreme Spins, and Random Wilds. The first appears on reels 2,3, or 4. When these land, they expand to cover all positions while also calculating the wins. They are also locked for a respin. If a new one hits, it also becomes locked while awarding another respin. Starburst XXXtreme offers a choice between two scenarios for a higher stake. In one scenario with a ten times stake, the Starburst Wild is set on random on reels 2,3, or 4, and a multiplier starts the respin. The second scenario, which has a 95 times stake, starts with two guaranteed starburst wilds on reels 2,3, or 4. it also plays out using respin game sequence and features. The game also increases the potential with the Random Wilds feature to add Starburst Wilds to a vacant reel at the end of a spin. Every Starburst Wild gives a random multiplier with potential wins of x2, x3, x5, x10, x25, x50, x100, or even x150.

The new feature is sure to be a big hit with the gaming market as online gambling has shown significant growth during the lockdown. AdAge indicates the current casino customer base is an estimated one in five Americans, so Starburst XXXtreme’s additional features will achieve considerable popularity. 

What We Think About The Game

The gambling market has continued to diversify post-pandemic, so it is one of the most opportune times to release an online casino-based game. Thankfully Starburst XXXtreme features eye-catching visuals, including the jewels and space themes. These attract audience participation and make the gameplay inviting. The game also has a nostalgic edge. The previous NetEnt iteration featured similar visuals and gameplay, so the audience has some familiarity with it. The producers have revamped this version by tweaking the features to improve the volatility and engagement. 

That is characterized by the potential win cap of 200,000 times the bet. Starburst XXXtreme does not just give betting alternatives for players that want to go big. The increase of multipliers also provides a great experience. If the respins in the previous version were great, knowing that multipliers can go hundreds of times overtakes the game to a new level. 

Players should get excited about this offering. All of the features can be triggered within a single spin. Whether one plays the standard game or takes the XXXtreme spin route, it is possible to activate all of the features. Of course, the potential 200,000 times potential is a huge carrot. However, the bet size is probably going to be restricted and vary depending on the casino. It is also worth pointing out that a malfunction during the gameplay will void all of the payouts and progress. Overall, the game itself has been designed to provide a capped win of 200,000 times the original bet. 

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Anglais

‘We’re back’: Montreal festival promoters happy to return but looking to next year

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In downtown Montreal, it’s festival season.

In the city’s entertainment district, a musical act was conducting a sound check on stage Friday evening — the second day of the French-language version of the renowned Just For Laughs comedy festival. Tickets for many of the festival’s free outdoor shows — limited by COVID-19 regulations — were sold out.

Two blocks away, more than 100 people were watching an acoustic performance by the Isaac Neto Trio — part of the last weekend of the Festival International Nuits d’Afrique, a celebration of music from the African continent and the African diaspora.

With COVID-19 restrictions continuing to limit capacity, festival organizers say they’re glad to be back but looking forward to next year when they hope border restrictions and capacity limits won’t affect their plans.

Charles Décarie, Just For Laughs’ CEO and president, said this is a “transition year.”

“Even though we have major constraints from the public health group in Montreal, we’ve managed to design a festival that can navigate through those constraints,” Décarie said.

The French-language Juste pour rire festival began on July 15 and is followed by the English-language festival until July 31.

When planning began in February and March, Décarie said, organizers came up with a variety of scenarios for different crowd sizes, ranging from no spectators to 50 per cent of usual capacity.

“You’ve got to build scenarios,” he said. “You do have to plan a little bit more than usual because you have to have alternatives.”

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MELS new major movie studio to be built in Montreal

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MONTREAL — MELS Studios will build a new film studio in Montreal, filling some of the gap in supply to meet the demand of Hollywood productions.

MELS president Martin Carrier said on Friday that MELS 4 studio construction will begin « as soon as possible », either in the fall or winter of next year. The studio could host productions as early as spring 2023.

The total investment for the project is $76 million, with the Quebec government contributing a $25 million loan. The project will create 110 jobs, according to the company.

The TVA Group subsidiary’s project will enable it to stand out « even more » internationally, according to Quebecor president and CEO Pierre Karl Péladeau. In the past, MELS Studios has hosted several major productions, including chapters of the X-Men franchise. The next Transformers movie is shooting this summer in Montreal.

Péladeau insisted that local cultural productions would also benefit from the new facility, adding that the studio ensures foreign revenues and to showcase talent and maintain an industry of Quebec producers.

STUDIO SHORTAGE

The film industry is cramped in Montreal.

According to a report published last May by the Bureau du cinéma et de la télévision du Québec (BCTQ), there is a shortage of nearly 400,000 square feet of studio space.

With the addition of MELS 4, which will be 160,000 square feet, the company is filling part of the gap.

Carrier admitted that he has had to turn down contracts because of the lack of space, representing missed opportunities of « tens of millions of dollars, not only for MELS, but also for the Quebec economy. »

« Montreal’s expertise is in high demand, » said Montreal Mayor Valérie Plante, who was present at the announcement.

She said she received great testimonials from « Netflix, Disney, HBO and company » during an economic mission to Los Angeles in 2019.

« What stands out is that they love Montreal because of its expertise, knowledge and beauty. We need more space, like MELS 4, » she said.

There is still not enough capacity in Quebec, acknowledged Minister of Finance, the Economy and Innovation Eric Girard.

« It is certain that the government is concerned about fairness and balance, so if other requests come in, we will study them with the same seriousness as we have studied this one, » he said.

Grandé Studios is the second-largest player in the industry. Last May, the company said it had expansion plans that should begin in 2022. Investissement Québec and Bell are minority shareholders in the company.

For its part, MELS will have 400,000 square feet of production space once MELS 4 is completed. The company employs 450 people in Quebec and offers a range of services including studio and equipment rentals, image and sound postproduction, visual effects and a virtual production platform.

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