The $500-Million Family Feud

Frank Stronach spent decades grooming his daughter, Belinda, to take over his billion-dollar business. Now he wants it back

On a cold grey morning last April, Ontario Superior Court judge Glenn A. Hainey held a routine scheduling hearing in his chambers on University Avenue. One by one, the country’s most high-powered corporate litigators filed into the room. There were friendly handshakes, there was collegial kibitzing, there was even some jovial laughter. It was the latest hearing in the Stronach family trust dispute—a case that’s tearing apart one of Canada’s wealthiest families and galvanizing the best legal minds on Bay Street.

One of the first to arrive was Kent Thomson, the ferociously adversarial corporate litigator from Davies representing Frank Stronach, the 86-year-old patriarch. Acting for Frank’s daughter, Belinda, was Michael Barrack, a veteran partner at Blakes whose LinkedIn profile describes his courtroom style as “street fighter meets master chess player.” Also present were counsel for various other Stronachs who’ve entered the fray, including Frank’s son, Andrew, and all three Stronach grandchildren, Frank Jr., Nicole and Selena. Among those lawyers were Alan Mark, a partner at Goodmans; Matthew Gottlieb, managing partner at Lax O’Sullivan; and Linda Plumpton, a senior commercial litigator from Torys. Mark Gelowitz, a respected litigator at Osler, was there on behalf of Frank’s one-time protégé, Alon Ossip. Tom Curry, the legendary litigator and a managing partner at Lenczner Slaght representing Frank’s wife, Elfriede, turned up late and had to hover by the door. One lawyer who was present later said it felt less like a scheduling hearing than a reception for the American College of Trial Lawyers. “We were all looking at the door, like, ‘Seriously? Anyone else?’ ” By the time the judge was ready to begin, it was standing room only, with 22 lawyers crammed in.

The family is battling for control of the Stronach Group, a complex collection of trusts, corporations and other entities Frank set up after he left Magna International, the multi-billion-dollar auto parts empire he founded in 1957. Last October, after a fruitless mediation, Frank filed an excoriating 73-page statement of claim against Belinda and Ossip, the Stronach Group’s CEO and formerly Frank’s close friend. Frank, who declined interview requests for this story through his lawyer, demanded more than $500 million, alleging his daughter and protégé defrauded him to gain control of the family fortune, which they deny. The document burns with explosive patriarchal rage, concluding with Frank’s demand that Belinda and Ossip be removed as trustees of the family trust.

The Stronach family compound in Aurora includes the company HQ, a massive golf course, an artificial lake and three mansions: one for Frank and his wife, Elfriede, one for Belinda and her kids, and one for Andrew and his family

Even Frank’s friends told me they were startled by the vitriol of the claim, which is an unmitigated attempt to destroy his daughter’s reputation. “I bet he thought he’d just fire off an angry shot, scare the hell out of everyone and then the whole thing would be over in a couple of weeks,” says a source close to the family.

Instead, Frank unleashed decades’ worth of repressed family acrimony: Belinda filed her own claim against her father, while her brother and niece sued her. The members of one of Canada’s wealthiest dynasties are now openly accusing each other of reckless spending, incompetent leadership and outright fraud. Their dysfunctional machinations have been laid bare in a web of litigation so complex it could keep them bound up in court for years to come. Frank and Belinda’s mutual intransigence isn’t surprising to anyone who knows them well. They’re people who cleave to the hard, glittering surface of life—street scrappers with the ability to bankroll armies. But unlike most wars, theirs isn’t just about power or money. It’s also about love.

Frank Stronach emigrated from Austria to Canada in 1954, when he was 21. Three years later, he set up a tool and die shop in a garage near Dupont and Dufferin. The business expanded rapidly, growing with Canada’s burgeoning manufacturing sector, and in 1969 the company merged with Magna Electronics, a publicly traded industrial parts manufacturer. Frank bought Beechwood Farm in Aurora and married a young Austrian woman named Elfriede. Their daughter, Belinda, was born in 1966. A son, Andrew, followed two years later.

In an interview, Belinda Stronach described her childhood as normal. “My parents were traditional and European in their approach to family,” she said. “My dad worked and my mom stayed at home.” Frank’s all-consuming toil paid off. By the mid-’70s, Magna International was a global leader in auto parts manufacturing. His leadership style could be draconian: he was autocratic and irascible, a man who operated on gut instinct and refused to apologize for it. His biographer, Wayne Lilley, described Stronach as “a genius and a buffoon wrapped together.” And yet his unorthodox style generated great personal wealth. As they say in business, you can’t argue with results.

Elfriede and Frank with the Queen at the Queen’s Plate in Toronto in 1997. Frank’s horse Awesome Again won the race. Photograph by Getty Images

Frank realized early on that Andrew, his only son, was never going to take up the mantle of power. Andrew inherited his father’s obsessive nature and meticulous attention to detail, but not his charisma or garrulousness. Frank did his best to ignore his son’s difference, allowing him to pursue his own interests. As a boy, Andrew discovered a passion for agriculture, which became the central focus of his life. In 1997, he married Kathleen Flannery, a waitress and graphic design student, and they had a daughter, Selena, in 2000. They later split—but never divorced—and Andrew moved to Prince Edward County, where he bought vast swaths of land to raise cattle. He’s now one of the county’s biggest private landowners.

Belinda took a different path. She grew into the quintessential golden girl: athletic, popular and vivacious, with a robust work ethic. She welcomed the spotlight that came with her family name, and from a young age regularly appeared at public events with her father. Frank adored his daughter. He praised her constantly, publicly extolling her beauty and brilliance, and on her 16th birthday, he gave her a silver Camaro Z-28, a special-edition Indy pace car. Despite the family’s wealth, Frank sent his children to Newmarket High, the local public secondary school, ostensibly to keep them grounded. Belinda went on to study business at York University but dropped out after a year to work for her father. Two years later, when she was just 22, Frank appointed her to the board of directors. While formal education wasn’t important to Frank—he left school at 14—hard work and obedience were everything. He didn’t just encourage the young Belinda to pursue her dreams. He told her what to dream, then made it come true.

Belinda entered the family business during a time of epic change. The company nearly went bankrupt after the stock market crash of 1987, and she watched as Frank ushered Magna through this rocky period. He implemented a “no debt” policy, which would later help the company emerge relatively unscathed from the 2008 financial crisis. Belinda rose through the ranks quickly—too quickly in the eyes of some associates—from vice-president to executive vice-president. In the late ’80s, she struck up a romance with Don Walker, then Magna’s VP of operations and later its president and CEO. The union delighted Frank and produced two children, Frank Jr. and Nicole, but it didn’t last. The couple separated in 1995.

In the 1990s, Magna became more profitable than ever. In 1992 it went public on the New York Stock Exchange, and by the turn of the millennium, Forbes had named it the world’s top auto parts company, with annual sales of $9.3 billion (U.S.). Publicly, Frank was the emblem of Canadian entrepreneurialism—a by-the-bootstraps immigrant with a penchant for big dreams and tough talk. Behind the scenes, he was a cantankerous, controlling patriarch. As one associate put it, “If you went out to dinner with Frank, he would tell you where to sit and what to eat. And he meant it.” He disliked criticism and was prone to flights of fancy. He would hire and fire on a whim, often turning on people he perceived to be insubordinate.

Frank and businessman Robert McNair after their horse Touch Gold won the 1997 Belmont Stakes. Photograph by Getty Images

Emboldened by his success, Frank embarked on a slew of outlandish passion projects, including a theme park outside Vienna called World of Wonder and a transatlantic luxury airline called Magna Air. Neither came to fruition. At the end of the century, Frank formed Magna Entertainment Corp. to buy and develop racetracks. The company became the largest owner and operator of thoroughbred tracks in North America. But some Magna shareholders disliked Frank’s tendency to commit company money to what they saw as hare-brained schemes. They were furious when Magna bought the Santa Anita racetrack in 1998 for $126 million (U.S.)—they had invested in a successful auto parts company, not a pony player. To quell their concerns, Frank signed an agreement the following year restricting Magna’s ability to branch out into non-automotive agreements until 2006.

The cornerstone of Frank’s empire was his sprawling Aurora compound, which he built in the ’90s as the company’s Canadian headquarters. Housed in a vast building with European-style pitched roofs, the Magna headquarters was designed to resemble an Austrian château. He also built Magna Golf Club, a 7,300-yard course, as well as a courtyard and an artificial lake. He designed three residences: one for himself and Elfriede, one for Andrew and Kathleen, and one for Belinda and her kids. The houses were opulent mansions in the faux-Regency style, complete with swimming pools and garage space for multiple luxury cars.

Frank started thinking seriously about succession in the early 2000s. By that point, he’d established the Stronach family trust, naming his family as beneficiaries and ensuring that his empire would remain within the family and out of creditors’ hands. He arranged matters so the trust owned his Magna voting shares, through which he controlled the company. He also appointed himself super-trustee, endowed with the power to appoint and remove all other trustees. And in 2001, he named Belinda CEO of Magna, cementing her as his heir apparent.

Belinda with Bill Clinton at a Magna Golf Club charity game in Aurora in 2001. Photograph by Peter Redman/National Post

Three years later, she stunned Bay Street by quitting Magna to pursue a political career. She won a seat as a Conservative MP—Stephen Harper spoke admiringly of the “glamour” she brought to the dull arena of Canadian politics—but in 2005, she famously crossed the floor into Paul Martin’s Liberal cabinet. After Harper beat the Liberals in 2006, she surprised no one by announcing she would leave politics to resume her role at Magna, which, unlike the Liberal party, was booming.

While his daughter was in office, Frank met a young tax lawyer named Alon Ossip. The two men could hardly have been more different. Where Frank was loud, controlling and impulsive, Ossip was a soft-spoken workaholic, obsessed with the intricacies of business and the law. He grew up in a wealthy north Toronto family, graduated from Osgoode then practised tax law at Goodman and Carr. There was something about Ossip that Frank instantly liked. After just a few meetings, he offered him the role of executive vice-president at Magna.

Belinda and Frank with singer Seal at the 2003 Breeders’ Cup at Santa Anita Park. Photograph by Getty Images

In legal and business circles, Ossip is a polarizing character. He has a reputation for arrogance and a tendency to think he’s the smartest guy in the room. Others praise his obsessive drive and credit him with generating much of the Stronach family fortune. If Shakespeare were writing the Stronach family saga, Ossip would be the outsider who stands in the shadows, whispering into the ears of the powerful lead players. In the coming years, he became bound as tightly to Frank and Belinda by money as they are by blood.

When Belinda returned to Magna, Frank embarked on another round of kooky, money-losing side ventures, including an electric bike company and an Austrian-themed energy drink that was shut down after the test-market phase. (Its ad campaign featured a lederhosen-clad model with the slogan “Keeps you yodelling all night long!”) There were charitable ventures, too: he built a housing project in Louisiana for 300 survivors of Hurricane Katrina, called Magnaville.

Frank spent millions trying to make Adena Farms, his Florida livestock operation, profitable. Belinda took over the farm last year. Photograph via Adena Farms/LinkedIn

He also focused more on his agricultural pursuits. Frank bought his first thoroughbred in 1962 and later purchased several major American racetracks and a world-class horse-breeding operation near Versailles, Kentucky. Beginning in 2010, Frank acquired 90,000 acres of land in Ocala, Florida—which bills itself as America’s horse capital—and founded Adena Farms, which he envisioned as an all-natural, grass-fed-cattle farm. Employing a small army of agricultural workers, he converted the land into pasture and built a small-scale meat-processing plant with the capacity to slaughter 600 cattle per week. Over the next six years, the Stronachs spent nearly $300 million to develop Frank’s livestock business.

As his fascination with animal husbandry expanded, so did the scope of his dreams. He built a private members’ golf and country club where he planned to develop 120 luxury residences. He opened two restaurants—Frankey’s and Adena Grill and Wine Bar—and planned a chain of retail shops that would carry Adena Farms beef. An hour and a half down the road, he discovered a grove of mature oak trees, which inspired him to start an organic hog operation to produce acorn-fed pork. Because the hog farm was so far from the cattle operation, it would require its own meat-processing facility, which would cost $60 million (U.S.) to build.

Frank at the Fête Impériale at the Hofburg palace in Vienna in 2011. Photograph by Getty Images

Adena lost money, and lots of it. While beloved by equestrians, Ocala isn’t a particularly good place for raising grass-fed cattle—it simply doesn’t have the necessary nutrient-rich grasses or soil. One former employee told me the hog operation was particularly foolhardy: there was plenty of land available near the cattle farm. “Frank had his ideas and he wasn’t listening to reason,” said the employee, who was eventually fired.

According to Belinda and Ossip, Frank enacted his ideas by decree—there were no business plans, and he ignored independent market research. “He had absolutely no compunction about spending loads of cash, even when the business was draining money,” said one person close to the farm. “And there was no follow-up and no one to manage him.” Some Adena executives began to call the farm Frank’s Field of Dreams.

Frank commissioned a bronze statue of Pegasus fighting a dragon in 2012. The project, originally budgeted at $6 million, eventually cost $55 million. Photograph by Ben Brant/Wikimedia Commons

The most outrageous example of Frank’s spending came in 2012, when he commissioned a gargantuan statue of Pegasus as a statement piece and tourist attraction for Magna’s newly completed Florida racetrack, Gulfstream Park. Frank did the initial sketches himself, of a giant winged horse locked in battle to the death with a fire-breathing dragon. In the end, two statues were built and cast in bronze. One sits in Gulfstream Park today and the other—a perfect replica—is held in storage in China. At 12 storeys high, the statue towers over the park. The project, originally budgeted at $6 million, eventually ran to $55 million. In planning the statue, Frank also drew up plans for a “Pegasus Park” on the Gulfstream site, which was to include a roller coaster, a carousel, a lavish pony barn, a horse museum and a 5-D theatre inside the statue. This never came to pass, because Belinda intervened. Many people questioned Frank’s taste and business sense, but if that bothered him, he didn’t show it. He’d made the family fortune. Why shouldn’t he spend it how he liked?

In May 2010, Frank made one of the most surprising moves in Canadian business history. He relinquished his majority shareholder voting rights at Magna, which he’d used to keep an iron grip on power for three decades, in a deal valued at $983 million. The following year, Ossip orchestrated a second deal worth an additional $700 million: the Stronachs agreed to give up the rest of their voting rights in exchange for Magna’s horse-racing and gaming assets. Once again, Frank made off with a fortune. When the deal was done, the Stronachs formed the Stronach Group to manage their accumulated wealth in trust, as well as four main business divisions: racetracks and gaming; real estate development; agriculture; and breeding, training and racing. The family rewarded Ossip generously, signing over a five per cent interest in key Stronach Group assets outside the family trust. And with her father’s support, Belinda offered him the job of CEO of the newly formed Stronach Group. She’d serve as chair.

Belinda with Pharrell Williams, Prince Royce, Lenny Kravitz and Post Malone at Gulfstream Park in 2018. Photograph by World Red Eye

With Frank gone and Ossip as CEO, Belinda became the new face of the Stronach family. Although she’d never been a horse lover, she used her public profile to rebrand the long-declining sport of thoroughbred racing. Since taking over, Belinda has persuaded a raft of celebrities to attend her races, including the chef Bobby Flay, New England Patriots coach Bill Belichick and musicians Ne-Yo and Post Malone. Earlier this year, after 23 mysterious horse deaths on the Santa Anita track in just a few months, Belinda garnered a wave of positive press for using the crisis as an opportunity to modernize the sport. She proposed a long list of safety and welfare changes to the California Horse Racing Board, almost all of which were accepted. These included prohibiting jockeys from using a whip except in safety-related situations, and adjusting horse medication rules. Under Belinda’s leadership, the racing and gaming group’s sales almost doubled in the past five years, with revenues of $1.1 billion (U.S.) in 2017.

Rather than delighting Frank, his daughter’s growing success seemed to spur resentment: Belinda was overshadowing him. He became more obsessed with Adena Farms. Increasingly exasperated with the growing expense of her father’s hobby farm, Belinda dispatched Ossip to try to convince Frank to curtail spending. Through those first post-Magna years, Ossip contends that his role was increasingly one of damage control for Frank’s lavish and unrealistic passion projects.

During this time of mounting tension, Ossip adds, his relationships with both Belinda and her father were warm and respectful. He was Frank’s best friend. At social gatherings, Frank would introduce him as his “partner.” The two men spent every New Year’s Eve together in Florida with Ossip’s family. But as Ossip’s allegiance slowly shifted from the elder Stronach to the younger, Frank’s carefully laid succession plan began to unravel.

Belinda and Frank at the Pegasus World Cup Invitational at Gulfstream Park in 2017. Photograph by Getty Images

In 2012, Frank founded an Austrian political party called Team Stronach. He was always a staunch conservative, but by the time Team Stronach was born, his political opinions had veered just slightly to the left of Attila the Hun. Stronach later outlined his personal world view in a 2017 self-published book, The Question of All Questions: Where Are We Going and Where Did We Come From?, which features the famed Pegasus-dragon statue on the cover. The book is a rambling polemic about the nature of good and evil and the travesty of over-regulation and taxation. He recommends, among other things, offering cash payments of up to $500 for voluntary sterilization to curb population growth, putting poor residents to work on government-run urban farms so they can reconnect with the natural world, and separating children from parents who suffer from addiction or mental illness so they can be brought up in “government-supported child-care homes.”

Frank financed Team Stronach with funds from the Stronach Group. In the end, the party won 11 seats, including Frank’s own, making it the fifth-largest party in the fragmented Austrian parliament. He relocated to Austria to take up his seat on the backbench, but it wasn’t long before the Austrian tax authorities showed up on his doorstep. As a member of the legislature, Frank had to disclose his financial information. In 2013, he resigned from all corporate positions at the Stronach Group, including his role as super-trustee of the family trust. He appointed Belinda in his stead, giving her ultimate power over all decisions regarding the family coffers. Ossip, who was paid an annual salary of $1 million in addition to his share of certain family assets, was added as a trustee as well, as were Belinda’s kids, Frank Jr. and Nicole. The balance of power had shifted heavily to Belinda’s side of the family.

The same day Belinda was appointed as super-trustee, something strange took place: the Stronach Group’s in-house counsel created a set of undated documents declaring Frank Jr. and Nicole’s resignation as trustees and Frank Sr.’s reappointment. These documents, known as the “reappointment instruments,” are the central issue of dispute in the Stronach family drama. Frank claims he requested them with a view to resuming his position as super-trustee if he ever wished to do so, and that all parties understood that the documents would become effective when he chose to reappoint himself.

Belinda and Ossip deny this was ever the case. According to Belinda, such an intention would mean Frank’s resignation was a sham designed to avoid Austrian public-disclosure requirements. She maintains that the documents were created at Ossip’s request because he was worried he’d be left with only Frank Jr. and Nicole as co-trustees in the event of Belinda’s death or incapacity (she has a history of breast cancer). Both Belinda and Ossip say that Frank had no involvement in the documents’ creation.

Belinda with her children, Nicole and Frank Walker, at Gulfstream Park in 2019. Photograph by Getty Images

Frank lasted just a few months on the backbenches of Austrian politics. “I rattled the cage. I said what had to be said. I’m so independent I don’t have to suck up to anyone,” he said at the time. He returned home in January 2014 and resumed work on Adena Farms, buying and selling Stronach Group assets, and expanding the business, which was sucking up vast amounts of money. He says he believed the reappointment documents had taken effect—and accuses Belinda and Ossip of knowingly deluding him into thinking he was still in power. Instead of telling him he no longer had legal signing authority, Frank contends, they signed off on contracts he executed after the fact to preserve his delusion. He argues that Belinda and Ossip created a Truman Show–like world in which he was the boss, when they knew he had no legal authority and could be banished on a whim. Belinda and Ossip categorically deny participating in any deception. They say Frank had largely stepped away from the family business years earlier, and that he created his “delusion” narrative in a flailing attempt to resume control.

In 2015, Frank opened Adena Golf and Country Club in Marion County, Florida. The same year, Belinda established a company of her own: Acasta Enterprises, launched with Tony Melman, formerly of Onex Corp., and Geoff Beattie, the former Thomson family advisor, and billed as Canada’s largest special-purpose acquisition company. It’s a fund that allows public investors to put their money in private equity transactions, particularly in leveraged buyouts of underperforming companies. Though increasingly at odds, father and daughter were finally in sync: Frank’s golf club and Belinda’s company would both go on to bleed money.

Over the next year, Belinda and Ossip regularly discussed Frank’s spending. They say he had become increasingly unwilling to admit his passion projects were not financially viable, even when presented with incontrovertible proof. Ossip says that Frank’s projects had reduced the family’s net worth by $800 million. He and Belinda agreed something radical had to be done.

In December 2016, Ossip informed Frank that the Stronach Group was facing significant liquidity issues and he would need to rein in spending on Adena. Frank claims this was the first he’d heard about it. When he protested, Ossip told him he’d have to take the argument up with his daughter—she was the boss. During this period, Frank says his daughter and Ossip were “confrontational, disrespectful and insubordinate,” though they dispute this. In the following weeks, Belinda pulled rank. She informed her father that his attempts to reappoint himself were ineffective. He had no legal right to act in the name of the business, and if he did, she would undermine him.

Belinda with rapper 50 Cent at the Pimlico Race Course in Baltimore in 2016. Photography by Getty Images

Frank responded by ordering Belinda to fire Ossip, whom he’d come to see as the villain who’d played father and daughter against each other for his own enrichment. Belinda was torn. On one side was her father, the man who had given her everything. On the other was her CEO, who had become as indispensable to her as he had once been to Frank. She attempted a compromise. She suspended Ossip, asking him to go on leave until the situation with Frank had cooled down. He agreed.

The family managed to put their differences on hold and spend Christmas together that year. In January, however, the feud resumed. Frank dated the reappointment documents and sent them to Belinda, informing her he had officially reappointed himself as a trustee. Belinda wrote back saying she would not allow him to take control of the family business. She and her father embarked on a mediation and later that year met to sign an agreement saying the Stronach Group would fund anticipated capital and operating expenditures for Adena Farms for the next three years up to a maximum of $40 million (U.S.). Frank was appointed chairman of Adena Farms and given signing authority over all farm expenditures under $1 million.

The truce didn’t last a month. According to Belinda, Frank breached the terms of the ceasefire almost immediately by making plans that exceeded the budget. Frank says he barely spent a cent. Belinda cancelled all the leases for Adena’s proposed retail operation and fired a number of employees without Frank’s knowledge. Then she took over Adena. She shuttered the failing golf club and put the land up for sale at a discount. She alleges that starting in the summer, her father repeatedly cornered her kids, pressuring them to sign documents reappointing him as trustee. She also claims he began doing everything he could to undermine the Stronach Group—that he meddled with company boards and went to the company’s bank, blocking her access to certain funds for which he still had signing power.

Belinda with her son, Frank Jr., and Susan Sarandon at the 2016 Breeders’ Cup World Championships at the Santa Anita racetrack. Photograph by World Red Eye

Elfriede, Andrew and Andrew’s daughter, Selena, sided with Frank, although their feelings toward Belinda are said to be more hurt than angry. Andrew’s team says she failed to pay attention to Stronach Group duties, prioritizing her own financial interests. Belinda maintains she’s always had the rest of the family’s interests at heart—that her fiduciary duty to protect the family fortune was what sparked the row in the first place.

Christmas 2017 came and went for the family, this time without Frank. Instead, Belinda spent it with her kids and her mother, who was devastated by the family fallout. In August, Belinda presented a proposal to all family members for the division of family assets. She suggested splitting assets based on the current proportional equity interests in the family trust and the businesses the family members were most involved in. Belinda and her kids would get the racing and gaming businesses, and Andrew, Selena and Elfriede would get the non-racing and non-gaming assets, including the agriculture group. In addition, there would be a large cash payout from Belinda to Andrew. The proposal went unanswered by all family members.

The Stronachs remained at a standoff, their guns pointed but no one willing to pull the trigger. And then Belinda sold the company jet—a luxury enjoyed by the entire family but primarily used by Frank. Several people suggested it was the jet sale, more than anything else, that prompted Frank to sue. “You have to understand the mentality,” one employee said. “Frank Stronach hadn’t flown commercial in well over 40 years.”

Alon Ossip, a tax lawyer, met Frank in 2006 and became his right-hand man. Now Frank is accusing him of conspiring with Belinda to seize control of the family empire. Photograph by Getty Images

As the sale was being finalized, Frank filed suit against Ossip, Belinda and her two children, seeking to regain control of the family empire. A few weeks later, Andrew sued his sister, seeking to oust her and her children as trustees and supporting Frank’s reinstatement. In the new year, Belinda filed a lengthy statement of defence and counterclaim. Kathleen Stronach filed for divorce from Andrew, in what friends say was an effort to formalize their long-term separation and secure financial support. And finally, in February, 18-year-old Selena filed suit against her aunt Belinda. There are now four outstanding claims, and none of the allegations have been proven in court. It’s a mess of epic proportions with no resolution in sight.

These days, the Stronachs’ Aurora family compound looks more like a luxury ghost town. Belinda lives and works in a Yorkville condo. She recently purchased an office building on Hazelton for more than $5 million and is renovating it to be the Stronach Group’s new downtown headquarters. Frank, who spent decades travelling back and forth from Austria, now spends much of his time in Florida. Andrew has been in Prince Edward County for decades and avoids Aurora as much as possible.

The only people remaining at the compound are Kathleen and Selena, who have strained relationships with the rest of the Stronachs. They live in Residence 3, a 15,000-square-foot home that Kathleen helped design and decorate 22 years ago. Selena owns a cattle farm called Daisy Springs. According to her lawyers, she was “raised in an environment in which no event, experience, consumer purchase or travel has been denied.” And yet several sources close to the case assured me that Selena and her mother are veritable outcasts, rarely invited to family events and uninvolved with the family business.

Belinda’s children live a much more conspicuous life. Frank Jr. and Nicole are still close to their grandparents, despite the fact that they are suing each other for millions. Nicole is a competitive equestrian, and Frank Jr. is an EDM producer and DJ. Both are listed as official trustees and vice-presidents of the Stronach Group and receive substantial annual salaries despite having little to do with the running of the business.

Frank Sr., for his part, appears to have a new succession plan in the works, should he win back control of the Stronach Group in the courts. In late April, he appeared on stage at the Embassy Suites Hotel in Arcadia, California, just down the road from the Stronach Group’s Santa Anita Park, and announced to a crowd of 200 that he would put the company’s racing properties in a trust and allow “horsemen” to operate the business. His daughter, not surprisingly, met his proposed act of beneficence with deep skepticism. “My father recently proposed that we give away our racing and gaming business. I am not sure what he will think of next,” she recently told Toronto Life. “The fact that he sued me and my children because he wants to raise beef cattle in Florida … is still unfathomable to me.” When asked if she believed her father’s mental state was deteriorating, she responded with dry diplomacy. “My father is in his late 80s and focused on his legacy, including building a $55-million statue of winged Pegasus and a fire-breathing dragon.”

Chris MacLeod, a lawyer at Cambridge LLP who has known Frank since the late 1980s, argues that Frank’s business judgment is sound. “Belinda and Alon supported Frank’s involvement in that business for years, and only began to criticize his involvement in the business well after it was established,” he says. “Their criticisms concerning Frank’s so-called ‘passion projects’ are neither fair nor accurate, and fail to recognize that Magna itself was one of Frank’s first passion projects. So was the racing and gaming business of the Stronach Group, which Belinda and Alon now characterize as its most valuable and successful asset.”

The cynical old chestnut about lawyers being the only winners has never applied so neatly as it does in the ongoing battle of the Stronachs. By the date of the hearing last April, millions had been spent. At last count, there were well over 50 corporate lawyers working on the case, including associates and underlings. Factor in the Stronach Group’s in-house counsel, private lawyers, PR representatives, reputation-management firms, mediators, consultants and other professionals, and you have the population of a small town. Helping the Stronachs diminish and destroy each other is big business these days on Bay Street.

It’s difficult to grasp why anyone would waste a fortune trying to ruin the person they love the most, yet that’s exactly what Frank and Belinda Stronach are doing. Their entire family is now locked in an act of mutually assured destruction. Then again, many family businesses have combusted at the point of friction where love and power intersect. The Bronfmans lost millions to a family succession battle. So did the Irvings and the Aspers, and the list goes on. The Stronachs’ flame-out is especially spectacular.

As the feud drags on, friends and associates of the Stronachs have been pleading for peace negotiations to resume between Frank and Belinda. According to a source close to the case, the idea of family therapy has been floated repeatedly to all parties involved. For the first time in years, father and daughter seem to be in agreement. It’s never going to happen.

This story originally appeared in the July 2019 issue of Toronto Life magazine. To subscribe, for just $29.95 a year, click here.


June 20, 2019

A previous version of this article misidentified the firm where Alon Ossip practised law. Toronto Life apologizes for the error.