Class of 1990
J. William Billes and Alfred J. Billes built the automotive supply company, Canadian Tire Corporation. The brothers introduced dealer-owned and operated stores, employees’ profit sharing and Canadian Tire money. Together, they revolutionized the car tire and auto parts business.
Born and raised in Toronto, Ontario, Alfred and William began their working partnership with the sharing of a paper route. William studied accounting before taking a job as sales manager at the Hamilton Street Tire and Garage Company in east-end Toronto.
After the death of their father, the boys experienced some very difficult times. Their luck changed in 1922, when the brothers pooled their resources to buy Hamilton Tire and Garage Ltd. Their merchandise included tires, auto parts and an assortment of hardware items. With relocation to new premises at Yonge and Davenport came the mail order business of direct sales to the customer.
In 1927 the company was incorporated as Canadian Tire Corporation Limited. Setting their sights high, the brothers published the first Canadian Tire catalogue the following year. Eighty years later, the Canadian Tire catalogue is published annually in both French and English, and is distributed to almost 9 million households.
Canadian Tire flourished during the Depression, since car owners were more likely to repair than replace their vehicles during this time. Distribution and merchandising became priorities when dealer-owned stores opened in 1934.
Sadly, William died unexpectedly in 1956, and his brother Alfred took over as President. The company only continued to grow over the next fifty years, and as of 2008 it is said that nine out of ten adult Canadians shop at Canadian Tire at least twice a year. In addition, a Canadian Tire store is within a 15-minute drive of 85% of the Canadian population. The company’s success remains a tribute to William and Alfred’s innovation and spirit.
When asked about their success, William’s brother Alfred remarked, “We started young and worked hard. You can accomplish a lot when you work hard.”