Stronach, Belinda 1966–
Former chief executive officer and president, Magna International
Education: Attended York University, 1984–1985.
Family: Daughter of Frank Stronach (founder and chairman of Magna International) and Elfrieda (maiden name unknown); married Donald Walker (named CEO of Magna International in 1994), 1990 (divorced 1995); married Johann Olav Koss (Olympic-champion speed skater), 1999 (divorced 2002); children (first marriage): two.
Career: Magna International, 1985–1999, eventually vice president; 1999–2001, executive vice president of human resources; 2001–2002, CEO; 2002–2004, CEO and president.
Awards: 2nd Most Powerful Woman in International Business, Fortune, 2002, 2003; Beth Shalom Humanitarian Award, 2003; 100 Builders and Titans, Time, 2004.
■ Belinda Stronach left York University in 1985 to join the management of Magna International, a successful and expanding auto-supply conglomerate founded and guided by her father, Frank Stronach. Over the years she learned the technical workings of Magna and was given increasing responsibility. In 1990 she married the Magna executive Donald Walker and continued to develop leadership skills that led to further promotions. Walker became chief executive officer in 1994; the couple divorced amicably in 1995; Stronach replaced Walker as CEO when he became head of the interior-parts subsidiary Intier.
As CEO from February 2001 until January 2004 Stronach presided over a decentralized global structure made up of five main divisional subsidiaries. She worked primarily from the Aurora, Ontario, corporate headquarters, while her father, living in Switzerland, served as chairman of the board. Stronach was characterized by business analysts and observers as gregarious,
loyal to her father's aims and principles, and energetic in pursuing expanded market share and profits. Critics harshly dismissed her as a dilettante. Some executives left the company during her tenure because they felt constricted by the family culture. Stronach left Magna to run for political office in January 2004, coming in second in the race to become the leader of Canada's Conservative Party.
BORN INTO THE BUSINESS
Belinda Stronach was raised in Newmarket, Ontario, north of Toronto and close to Aurora, the location of the corporate headquarters of her father Frank's hugely successful auto-parts company Magna International. She attended public and Catholic schools and spent a year at York University studying business and economics. In 1985, still in her late teens, Stronach dropped out of York and was hired by her father to learn management skills.
Informally Stronach had always been part of her father's milieu; she told a reporter for Time International, "I joined Magna at birth" (July 2, 2001). During her first years with the company Stronach was eased into positions of responsibility; she headed philanthropy and outreach programs and honed her people skills, also sitting on the board of directors. In 1990 she married Donald Walker—with whom she had two children, Frank and Nikki—before he became CEO in 1994, at which time Stronach's father began to oversee the company as board chairman from a new principal residence in Switzerland. Stronach and Walker divorced in 1995; both remained with Magna.
CUSTODIAN OF THE CULTURE
In 1999, at age 33, Stronach began serving as executive vice president of Magna's human resources. On New Year's Eve of that year she married the Norwegian Olympics celebrity and activist Johann Olav Koss. She cultivated many celebrity friendships with figures such as Arnold Schwarzenegger and Bill Clinton, which proved useful in terms of public relations, ensuring an exciting media profile for both Magna and herself.
Stronach replaced Donald Walker as chief executive officer in February 2001. At that time the core company and its major subsidiaries were worth approximately $10.5 billion, employed some 62,000 people, and had offices and factories in 18 countries. Shortly after her appointment Stronach informed a reporter for Ward's Auto World that she considered her "role as being custodian of the culture. I think our track record proves it's a recipe for success" (April 2001). She maintained her father's basic management style, rewarding entrepreneurial innovations, seeking a greater share of the autoparts market and profits, and extending profit sharing to employees—who received 10 percent of Magna's pretax profits as stipulated in the corporate constitution, which originated in the 1970s; 20 percent of post tax profits, meanwhile, went to investors. The primary workforce remained nonunionized.
As head of the executive strategy committee, Stronach presided over the five principal worldwide subsidiaries, which were further overseen by the board of directors—of which her father was the chair. While revenue increased under Stronach's watch, upsetting shakeups in executive management also occurred. Two executive vice presidents and one divisional president were either fired or resigned in 2001. James Nicol, the president and chief operating officer, resigned early in 2002, at which time Stronach expanded her duties to include the presidency; the position of chief operating officer was eliminated altogether. Mark Heinzl of the Wall Street Journal wrote, "The Stronachs' tight grip on the company's direction has sometimes led to clashes over strategy, governance, and compensation between the chairman and Magna's executives or investors" (March 14, 2002). Frank Stronach, earning some $33 million in 2001, remained chairman of the company board, but the position of vice chairman was also created. Meanwhile Belinda Stronach divorced her second husband.
With the reorganized management chart in place, Stronach continued to promote entrepreneurship and new business contracts. Taking advantage of Magna's international scope, breadth, and relatively low wage costs, she approved contracts for the European subsidiary Magna Steyr to provide outsourced engineering and production for specific makes of Saab, BMW, and Mercedes-Benz automobiles. She had less success in negotiating contracts with U.S. car makers.
In January 2004 Stronach resigned from Magna International in order to run for the leadership of the Conservative Party of Canada. She had already received substantial publicity as one of the most powerful women in Canada as well as the rest of the world. She left Magna on a successful note, though she fell short of her goal of doubling the corporation's revenues in five years; only two years before she had told the Wall Street Journal that her "heart and soul are with this company" (March 14, 2002). As a neophyte politician she campaigned energetically and came in second place; she also ran for a seat on the Canadian Parliament. Stronach's father Frank predicted that her entry into politics was only temporary, and that she would be back at Magna International within five to 10 years.
sources for further information
Frank, Steve, "Belinda Stronach: Magna International," Time International, July 2, 2001, p. 39.
Handelman, Stephen, "Belinda Stronach: From Boardroom to Politics," Time, April 26, 2004, p. 80.
Heinzl, Mark, "Magna's Chairman Gives Auto-Parts Concern Some Spin—Stronach's Tenure Marked by Clashes over Strategy and Governance," Wall Street Journal, March 14, 2002.
Mayne, Eric, "Another Stronach Takes the Helm," Ward's Auto World, April 2001, p. 46.
Turrettini, John, "Made to Order," Forbes, September 1, 2003, p. 78.
—Erik Donald France