Cohen, Albert D. (Albert Diamond)

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Cohen, Albert D. (Albert Diamond)

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Born on January 20, 1914 to Alexander (Alec) Cohen and Bereka (Rose) née Diamond in Winnipeg, Manitoba, Albert was the third of six sons. As a boy, Cohen sold newspapers and worked as a delivery boy. At the age of fifteen he became a shoe salesman, quitting school after completing grade nine in order to contribute to the family finances during the Great Depression. Cohen then went into business with his father forming A. Cohen and Son and in 1931 sold candy, chocolate bars and later small household items throughout Manitoba, Saskatchewan, and Alberta. In 1934 the Cohen family moved to Calgary where, led by Cohen, they established Confection Distributors and Agencies later renamed General Distributors Ltd. (GDL) when they began importing a wider variety of household products and watches.

During the Second World War Cohen joined the Royal Canadian Navy and was stationed aboard the HMCS Tecumseh and later the HMCS Strathcona. Due to a surplus in war goods Cohen and his brothers established SAAN (Surplus Army Air Force Navy) Stores Ltd. in 1947 and the chain later grew to include 300 stores across Canada. In 1952 the company signed an agreement with The Frawley Corporation by which sole distribution rights of Paper Mate in Canada was agreed. A few years later Cohen saw potential for distribution of transistor radios from a small Japanese company known as Tokyo Tsushin Kogyo Ltd. later named the Sony Corporation. He negotiated a partnership with the company that would last till 1995 when his company, Gendis Inc. (name changed in 1983), sold its distributions rights back to Sony.

Cohen and his brothers further launched GDL into the retail sector in the 1960s with the acquisition of Metropolitan Stores of Canada Ltd. (later renamed The Met) in 1961 and Greenberg's stores in 1967. By 1968 the family agreed that the company should go public and GDL began listing on the Toronto Stock Exchange in 1968. From the late 1960s till present day Gendis Inc. has acquired real estate in major Canadian cities and participated in joint ventures in oil and gas exploration, development and distribution. The calculated remaking and diversification of the company over decades led by Cohen who was President and CEO till 1999 and then took the title of Co-Chief Executive Officer of Gendis Inc. until his retirement demonstrates his entrepreneurial style that was documented in the numerous speeches he gave at conferences and in the books he published.

From the 1980s till 2010 Cohen researched, developed manuscripts and published five books. They include The Entrepreneurs: The Story of Gendis Inc., The Triangle of Success: The Gendis/Saan Story, The Story of SAAN, I.D.E.A., and Reminiscences of an Entrepreneur - How Sony came to Canada and then to the World in 1955.

Albert D. Cohen was the first recipient of the Distinguished Entrepreneur Award, later renamed I.D.E.A. that was established in 1983 in conjunction with the University of Manitoba. Cohen was responsible for expanding the scope of the award into the international business realm as chair of the nominating committee from 1985-2000. Other notable awards he received over the years were the Man of the Year Award in 1974, an Honorary Doctor of Laws degree from the University of Manitoba in 1987 and was named a Member of the Order of Canada in 1983 and later accepted an investiture as an Officer of the Order of Canada in 1995.

His community involvement extended to the arts as President of the Manitoba Theatre Centre, in medicine as President of the Winnipeg Clinic Research Institute and President of the Dr. Paul H.T. Thorlakson Foundation along with numerous philanthropic endeavors in Winnipeg.

Albert Cohen married Irena Cohen (née Kankova) in 1953 with whom he had three children: Anthony, James, and Anna-Lisa. He died on November 21, 2011 at age 97.


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