With roots in middle-class Winnipeg, Wayne McLeod, the late president and CEO of CCL Industries, grew a Toronto-based business into an international multi-billion-dollar corporation that today has tens of thousands of employees in nearly 200 factories around the globe.
Although admired in the corporate world — Wayne spent time with prominent business and political leaders, including former U.S. President Richard Nixon, and once danced with actress Betty White — his greatest legacy was his love of all people, says daughter Pamela McLeod.
“He treated everyone the exact same way as the homeless people he would stop and talk to or the custodial workers at his offices,” she says. “He was interested in everyone’s story and made everyone feel important and interesting.”
“We never got out of a cab or away from a restaurant table,” daughter Heather McLeod-Kilmurray says, “without learning all about the driver or waiter and their lives.”
Born in Winnipeg to Malcolm McLeod, who worked for CN Rail, and his wife Lily (nee Cameron), a stay-at-home mother and Sunday school teacher, Wayne Malcolm Ernest McLeod and his older sister Marilyn had happy childhoods. “His father was away three out of seven days a week,” says widow Beverley McLeod, “so his mother was the consistent parent who supported her children’s various activities.”
A popular student, Wayne played hockey, baseball and soccer and was a gifted singer who was a chorister at St. Matthew’s Anglican Church and had lead roles in high school operettas.
Wayne graduated from Gordon Bell High School in Winnipeg in 1956 and, five years later, graduated from the University of Manitoba, where he won a gold medal in his fourth year of accountancy and a silver medal in his final year. He soon received his Chartered Accountant designation.
After Wayne and Beverly married — they had met in Sunday school at age five — they moved to Cambridge, Mass., where he earned his MBA from Harvard Business School in 1965. While he had offers of employment in the US, keeping in mind something his father said — “that you should never want to work in a place you are not a citizen of,” says Heather — Wayne returned to Winnipeg. He took a job at the William Gray accounting firm where he had worked part-time while studying at university. By that time, William Gray had merged with Scott, McLaughlan and MacPherson, and later would merge with Price Waterhouse, where Wayne became a junior partner. He also taught accounting at the University of Manitoba, the first in a series of roles as a mentor.
When the firm Thorne Riddell (later KPMG) offered Wayne a partnership in January 1968, Wayne, Beverley and their infant daughter Heather moved to Toronto. At that time, Thorne Riddell was small, with only 12 partners, says Beverley. One of Wayne’s accounts was CCL Industries, which hired him in 1980 as chief financial officer with plans to groom him to become president and CEO. “He loved the opportunity to run and grow a business,” says Beverley.
At the time, CCL was a Canadian company with three divisions: manufacturing, packaging and labelling. “I believe it grossed $2 million when he joined them,” says Beverley. “At that stage, they did not have any plants outside of Canada.”
As head of CCL, Wayne built the company into an multi-billion-dollar global corporation. “He was a very smart businessman who always had his eye on the future,” says Beverley. “He knew that the company needed to grow and diversify to keep it at the top of the field.”
Under Wayne’s leadership, CCL acquired soft drink and beer packagers Continental Can Canada and cosmetics firm Kolmar, among others, which put CCL on the international business map. “He knew an opportunity when he saw it,” says Beverley. “He was also outrageously outgoing and personable, which made dealing with him very enjoyable. The companies CCL bought loved working with him, as did his customers.”
In the 1980s and ’90s, Wayne successfully guided the company when it found itself in the hot seat over various issues, including free trade and the use of chlorofluorocarbons, says Heather. He served on numerous boards and committees in the private sector (including the Institute of Corporate Directors, Morguard Corporation and Atlantic Packaging) and not-for-profit sector (including the Rotary Club for three decades; Seeing Eye; the North York General Hospital, where he was chairman in the ’90s; and St. John’s Anglican Church, where he served in advisory roles over 40 years). An avid golfer and athlete, he was president of Mark- land Wood Golf Club in the ’70s and the Granite Club in the ’90s.
He and Beverley were also philanthropists, and quietly made major gifts. “He was very generous with most charities,” Heather says, “and rarely said no to them.”
Despite a busy schedule that included constant travel across North America, Europe and Asia, Wayne “made a point of going to every Christmas party each year, from the corporate parties to every plant party,” says Pamela. “He always made every employee feel seen and valued.” His family — his wife of 62 years, and their daughters Heather (born in 1967) and Pamela (1972) — always made a point of eating meals together. “He never missed any performance, event, graduation, sporting events of any of his kids or (five) grandkids, no matter where in the world they were,” Beverley says. The couple did something special together every weekend, whether it was to attend the Royal Alexandra Theatre, the Mirvish Theatre, Canadian Opera Company or the Hot Docs film festival.
Following his retirement from CCL in 2001, Wayne stayed active, spending many happy weekends at the family cottage in Beaverton.
“He read the most intellectual books in the world, yet would cry tears of laughter at slapstick movies,” says Heather. “He was not so much a man of contrasts as a person who loved it all — all parts of life and of people — the good, the bad, the sublime and the ridiculous.
“(He was) always joking, making people laugh and seeing the bright side of everything,” she adds. “He took the time to make all the workers feel essential to the business.
“His assistants would tell us that they had never worked for a leader who got his or her own coffee, answered his or her own phone and made everyone call him by his first name,” Pamela says. “There was no pretension. He never forgot where he came from.”