Tong Louie, H. Y. Louie Ltd (London Drugs)
Whenever a Chinese Canadian Entrepreneurs Hall of Fame is established, Tong Louie (1914 – 1998) deserves to be one of the first inductees. As the president of Vancouver-based H. Y. Louie Ltd., he took the tiny grocery and restaurant supply company started by his father Hok Yat Louie and built it into a retail giant that now includes London Drugs and supermarket outlets, making it the second largest BC-owned company after the Jim Pattison Group. Privately held, the firm’s annual sales are estimated to exceed $1 billion annually.
Along with his 10 siblings, Louie grew up with the business. At the age of eight, his father taught him how to fill out invoices. He had a knack for recognizing new opportunities and turning them in moneymakers. In the 1950s, when he realized that supermarkets could potentially wipe out mom & pop grocery stores – the mainstay of the business, he began supplying the fledgling IGA chain. He also foresaw the impact of home freezers and was one of the first to stock frozen foods for retailers. In 1968, against the advice of his banker and accountants, he bought the struggling nine-store Dominion supermarket chain in BC.
That acquisition forced him delegate authority to professional managers, transforming the company from a family-owned enterprise into a modern corporation. Thanks to his personal openness, directness and honesty, Louie was able to recruit and retain talented executives who then worked long and hard under his direction.
In 1976, he acquired the London Drugs chain. And in a stroke of genius, he suggested adding electronics to its merchandising mix. It currently has 62 outlets from BC to Manitoba and 7,000 employees.
In recognition of his extraordinary contributions to the community, he was awarded both the Order of British Columbia and the Order of Canada as well as the Knight of the Golden Pencil, the Astra Award, the Golden Heart Award and Honourary Doctorate L.L.D. from U.B.C.