Class of 1994
Albert Cohen is the Chairman, President, and CEO of General Distributors (Gendis Inc.). In addition to his business success, Cohen has contributed significantly to the Winnipeg community through his work with the Winnipeg Clinic Research Institute, the Thorlakson Research Foundation, the Metric Commission and the University of Manitoba.
A native of Winnipeg, Manitoba, Cohen was born in 1914. He began developing his knack for sales at a young age, selling newspapers as a boy and shoes at the age of 15. His family was hit hard by the Depression, and upon completing grade nine Albert went into business with his father in order to contribute to the family’s income. As travelling salesmen, father and son sold pens and chocolate throughout Manitoba and Northwestern Ontario. When the family moved to Calgary, Albert began to resell imported goods from the family garage. In 1939 he established his own import business, General Distributors Company. Importing small merchandise such as Swiss Army Watches, the company did quite well for itself.
Cohen served in the Royal Canadian Navy from 1942 to 1945. In 1947, he moved into direct sales with Surplus Army/Air Force/Navy outlets, founding SAAN Stores Ltd. An exclusive deal to market the Paper-Mate pen brought national success in 1952. With time, the chain grew to include over 200 stores across the country.
In 1955, Albert was in Tokyo when he saw a new radio – the transistor. “Opportunity was knocking,” he said later, recalling the moment. He formed a partnership with TTK Limited, the original Sony Corporation, to bring the radio and the Sony connection to Canada. Twenty years later he headed negotiations between General Distributors and Sony as they jointly formed Sony of Canada.
Cohen was recognized with the first Distinguished Entrepreneur Award, established in 1983 by the University of Manitoba, its Faculty of Management, and the Associates of the Faculty of Management. He later served as the chair of the nominating committee and was responsible for expanding the scope of the award. The International Distinguished Entrepreneur Award (IDEA) now recognizes entrepreneurs worldwide, and is presented once a year.
Albert Cohen’s many accomplishments were acknowledged with an appointment to the Order of Canada in 1983. He was elevated from a Member of the Order to an Officer of the Order in 1994. His commitment to arts, health and community continues to inspire the new generation.