Today’s Canadian Tire is not the same place our parents took us to when we were children, getting ready for summer with baseballs and water wings, and paying for them with the store’s own currency. Today Canadian Tire money could mean much more than a few odd bills in the glove box. Aside from the reward dollars the iconic Canadian brand doles out with every cash purchase, Canadian Tire is a financial services provider and federally chartered bank.
Canadian Tire is one of the country’s most respected brands. Nine out of 10 Canadians shop at Canadian Tire at least twice a year and 40 per cent visit a retail location every week. Founded in 1922, it’s now a network of more than 1,100 general merchandise and apparel retail stores and gas stations, not to mention the bank. For Robyn Collver, senior vice president and general counsel of Canadian Tire Corp. Ltd., who was promoted to the position in January, the most challenging part of the job is it has almost as much variety as the stores themselves. “The challenges for in-house counsel in such a diverse and complex environment are having an ability to spot issues and to prioritize.
“All of the lawyers on my team have quite a broad scope in their jobs, so they’re not necessarily a deep specialist in a particular area, but have a great ability to understand the business imperative and determine the most important things to get done.”
Canadian Tire also owns Mark’s Work Wearhouse, a Canadian clothing retailer with 372 stores, and PartSource, an automotive parts specialty chain with 86 stores selling nationally branded auto parts. It also owns Canadian Tire Petroleum, the country’s largest independent gasoline retailer with 273 gas stations. And it operates Canadian Tire Financial Services, the second-largest MasterCard franchise in Canada, as well as a wholly owned bank, Canadian Tire Bank. “Being a public company, there’s a lot of work associated with the securities law aspect,” said Collver. This could include everything from public offerings, to private placements, to acquisitions, to continuous disclosure requirements.
There’s also the matter of protecting one of Canada’s most respected brands, so the way it conducts business across its global supply chain is critical to maintaining customer loyalty. And this is no easy feat, since it deals with 1,800 unique vendors around the world. “We’re shipping goods from various parts of the world to the stores in Canada,” Collver says. “This involves a lot of commercial contracts.”
As part of its ethical sourcing initiative, suppliers must meet the requirements outlined in Canadian Tire’s Supplier Code of Business Conduct, which includes meeting all legal requirements in the country of manufacture and strictly forbids the use of child labour, discrimination, and physical abuse. Maintaining this code involves auditing offshore factories manufacturing products for Canadian Tire and Mark’s Work Wearhouse through third-party audits, internal assessments, and factory self-assessments — particularly for those considered high-risk (based on country of manufacture and any record of human rights abuses). Any deficiencies require corrective action plans and follow-up audits. “It can be challenging dealing with our network of suppliers,” says Collver. “I do provide legal advice, but the majority of my time is spent advising the president, working with the board of directors, and overseeing the work of my team.”
Collver manages a team of nine in-house lawyers and oversees external counsel. Canadian Tire touches on several areas of law because of its reach into so many different businesses. Three in-house lawyers handle the financial services business, three handle the retail business, one handles the real estate business, and two handle information technology, treasury, finance, and human resources.
After graduating from the University of Toronto Faculty of Law, Collver was hired by Cassels Brock & Blackwell LLP, where she became an associate and eventually a partner. While there, she practised securities, and corporate and commercial law, and during several periods worked almost exclusively for Canadian Tire. In 2002, Canadian Tire decided to pursue a banking licence, and Collver had the opportunity to join the company at a senior level as general counsel of Canadian Tire Financial Services. This led to one of the greatest challenges of her career: helping to form Canadian Tire Bank. “Being involved in the formation of Canadian Tire Bank from its inception has been a learning opportunity and a challenge. I didn’t have a banking background before we started that project.”
In 2003, Canadian Tire Financial Services established the Canadian Tire Bank. Today, one in five Canadian households have a Canadian Tire credit card, and there are 5.3 million Canadian Tire MasterCard credit cards in circulation. A banking pilot is currently underway, offering high-interest savings accounts, variable and fixed-rate mortgages, and guaranteed investment certificates.
In her current role at Canadian Tire, Collver has a whole new set of challenges, but that’s what she loves most about her job: the corporate culture, the challenges of the work, and her ability to influence decision-making both on the strategy and administration of the company. “We spent a lot of time this spring working with the new executive compensation disclosure rules and determining how to write our public disclosure documents with those rules in mind to make sure we were providing appropriate disclosure to our shareholders,” she said.
The challenges will continue as Canadian Tire looks to expand and retrofit its retail network, grow its financial services business, and improve its PartSource automotive business through customer-facing technology and a more efficient supply chain. “It’s a great Canadian brand. Most people shop at Canadian Tire, and a lot of people grew up going to Canadian Tire with one of their parents on a Saturday morning,” says Collver. “It’s great if your work can be about more than just protecting the company, but to continue to participate in the growth and development of that company.”