David M. Culver R.I.P.

Written by  //  February 8, 2017  //  Absent Friends  //  1 Comment

Former Alcan CEO David Culver dies at age 92

David Culver, a Montreal business leader credited with spearheading the Maison Alcan project, died at his home in Westmount early Monday. He was 92.david-culver-by-john-mahoney

Update: A Memorial Service will be held at Christ Church Cathedral, in Montreal on Tuesday, April 18, 2017 at 3 p.m.

David Michael Culver was born Dec. 5, 1924, in Winnipeg. He moved to Montreal as a child and grew up in the affluent Golden Square Mile area of the city.

Culver joined the aluminum manufacturing company Alcan in 1949, and served as the firm’s CEO from 1979 to 1989.

In addition to his business accomplishments, Culver will be remembered for Maison Alcan on Sherbrooke St., an award-winning building that married the old and modern architectural styles of Montreal.  The building, designed by architect Raymond Affleck, served as Alcan’s international headquarters.

“Although he came from Winnipeg, you couldn’t dissociate him from Montreal, in particular Sherbrooke St., the central part of the city,” said Dinu Bumbaru of Heritage Montreal, who praised Culver’s commitment to preserving heritage buildings.

“In the midst of battles over massive demolitions in the 1970s, he imagined a new way of having a corporate business at street level,” Bumbaru said. “There should be a bronze, or maybe an aluminum, statue of him.”

When he inaugurated Maison Alcan in 1983, Culver called the project “the realization of an old dream — to maintain a small but valuable part of Montreal in the style and dignity that is worthy of its heyday.”

Alan Freeman helped Culver write his memoirs Expect Miracles: Recollections of a Lucky Life, published by McGill-Queen’s University Press in 2014. Freeman said Culver had an uncommon devotion to his company and its employees.

“He was really an extraordinary example of a business leader, of the kind we don’t really have that much of anymore,” Freeman said. “He really believed in personal loyalty to companies, and also that the company should be loyal to its employees. He was the quintessential community-minded business person.”

But Culver’s loyalty also extended beyond the corporate world.

“He was unbelievably loyal to Canada, Quebec and to Montreal,” Freeman said.

“You have to remember he was the leader of Alcan in the late 1970s through the 1980s during the period of the rise of the Parti Québécois and the big departure of corporate head offices from Montreal. He was loyal to the end to Montreal. And he insisted the company stay in Montreal despite a fair bit of pressure from his board, from investors, and probably from other management members of the company.”

Culver’s mother, Fern, was fascinated with French-Canadian history and culture, and Culver grew up with an affinity for Quebec’s francophone populace, something that was relatively rare among business leaders of his generation.

In his memoirs, Culver wrote about Alcan’s position as a steadfastly Quebec-based company.

“Over the years, I’ve often been asked why Alcan seemed to have such smooth relations with successive Quebec governments whatever their political stripe. While other large Canadian companies based in Montreal would occasionally incur the wrath of Quebec nationalists and be accused of lacking sensitivity to the French fact or of treating the province like a colony, Alcan seemed to escape that kind of opprobrium.

“As a company, we always worked hard to have the best community relations possible, whether we were operating in Jamaica or Guinea or Australia. In the case of Quebec I really think that our understanding and appreciation of the province and its people had been imbued in the Alcan culture from its early days and so became part of the company’s DNA.”

The British-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto acquired Alcan in 2007.

Aside from his business and civic accomplishments, Culver’s daughter Diane said her father was also a wonderful family man. And he remained an unwavering booster of Montreal.

“He loved Montreal, especially the multicultural aspect of it,” she said. “He believed that was what Canada should be.”

Culver graduated from McGill University in 1947 and obtained an MBA from Harvard University. He enjoyed golf and had a membership at Augusta National Golf Club in Georgia. He also kept a summer residence in La Malbaie (formerly Murray Bay).

Culver was predeceased by his wife, Mary (née Powell), in 2014. He is survived by his four children: Michael, Diane, Andrew and Mark.

Funeral arrangements have yet to be announced, but a memorial service is planned for April.

November 2015
Quebec takes step to protect Maison Alcan as heritage property

7 September 2015
‘Mixed emotions’ in Quebec as Rio Tinto rebranding drops Alcan moniker
(Globe & Mail) A move by Anglo-Australian mining giant Rio Tinto Group to drop the storied Alcan name has touched a nerve in Quebec and fostered a feeling in some quarters that the company is cold-heartedly discarding a priceless piece of Quebec’s heritage.
When Rio Tinto’s aluminum division headquarters moves next year from its current Sherbrooke St. location in the “Maison Alcan” to the spanking new Deloitte Tower next door to the Bell Centre, the major new tenant will be identified only as Rio Tinto.
The changes aren’t necessary and reflect a lack of sensitivity on the part of the London-based conglomerate, critics contend.
“Quebeckers respect Rio Tinto, but they miss Alcan,” former Alcan chief executive officer David Culver recalls telling Mr. Barrios after a presentation the latter gave earlier this year. “I was hoping he might recognize the name Alcan has certain meanings in Quebec which go way back. He said, ‘We’ll take that into consideration.’”

31 mai 2014
David Culver: «l’Alcan d’avant n’existe plus»
(La Presse) À 89 ans, David Culver se rend encore à son bureau tous les matins à 9h, pour y passer la journée. Mieux encore, l’ancien PDG de l’Alcan – qui a fondé la firme d’investissement CAI, lorsqu’il a pris sa retraite de la multinationale montréalaise en 1989 – vient de faire paraître un livre où il relate les grands évènements de sa vie peu banale.

12 May 2014
Culver reflects on his ‘lucky life’ at Alcan
Excerpted from ‘Expect Miracles: Recollections of a Lucky Life’ by David M. Culver, with Alan Freeman (McGill-Queen’s University Press, May 2014)

7 March 2013
Peggy Curran: Condos, parkland, Hogwarts castle? Recycling the Royal Victoria Hospital, one idea at a time
David Culver, who was chair of the MUHC board until 2007, tells me that as plans for the new hospital complex began to evolve a decade ago, he gave careful thought to what should or could become of the Royal Vic.
Culver suggests the original Royal Vic be turned over the McGill University as a medical research facility, a solution he thinks would address concerns of Elspeth Angus and other family members that future use be in keeping with the “spirit” of their ancestors’ gift.
“If McGill took it over, my suggestion to (McGill principal) Heather Munroe-Blum was that they gut the place, take down all the walls and just let it air for six months,” in an effort to rid it of any lingering germs!
Under Culver’s scheme, the Ross and Women’s pavilions would serve well as student classrooms and housing, while parking garages could be dismantled and returned for use by Mount Royal Park. He’d recommend preservation experts, led by Heritage Montreal, decide how best to protect the Allan mansion and adjoining buildings.

One Comment on "David M. Culver R.I.P."

  1. Diana Thebaud Nicholson February 8, 2017 at 2:27 pm · Reply

    A personal hero since childhood in an Alcan family. The most impressive Canadian of his generation. He ran Canada’s flagship international corporation with vision, intelligence, and consideration for the interests and welfare of every country around the world where Alcan had its far-flung operations. His Alcan did more for the Canadian global brand than anything. Its managerial and professional community was highly international but devoted to Alcan’s Canadian ethos. Culver’s conversion of the Berkeley hotel into an HQ of incomparable stature was a very fine thing, not ostentatious, but a great showcase for Canada’s best of brand. No limo for David: he walked every day to work in his beloved city. Sadly, his great company and ours was swallowed a decade ago by placeless and faceless Rio Tinto which never lived up to its undertakings, a deal done by predatory managers, said to be an obligation to shareholders but pursued in their own interests. Such a pity. We lost a lot that day. And now we have lost a giant, a very good Man. Jeremy Kinsman

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