Pavi Binning: From Punjab to Luton to president of Canada’s largest company

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Pavi Binning
Pavi Binning, president of Wittington Investments, at the Group's headquarters in downtown Toronto.

Gurmukh

TORONTO: As president of Canada’s largest company Wittington Investments, Pavi Binning sits at the top of the corporate ladder in this country.

Wittington Investments is the holding company of Weston Group which owns top Canadian brands such as Loblaws, Shoppers Drugmart, No Frills and Holt Renfrew and others.

“We are the largest company in Canada with an annual turnover of over $50 billion and more than 200,000 employees,’’ says Pavi Binning, whose full name is Paviter Singh Binning, sitting at the Group’s headquarters in downtown Toronto. 

But this top honcho had very humble beginnings.

Born at Pasla village near Jalandhar, Binning was just six months old when his family moved to Luton in Britain where his father worked in a foundry. “My father came to the UK for a better life for his family. His life was tough and 10-15 of them shared a room. Then he bought own house…there was little heating. I didn’t speak English till I went to school.’’

Then the young immigrant family suffered a major blow when Binning’s mother developed kidney problems.

“We had no support. Since dad worked to earn our livelihood, I, as a 10-year-old, would take a train on my own for London to see my ailing mother. That made me tough and independent.’’

His mother died when he was 12. “I wish she were alive today…’’

Passing out of school at 18, young Binning applied to various universities to get a business education. “I was accepted by the universities, but dad said he couldn’t afford. Dejected, I went to my school headmaster who told me there are companies who could sponsor my education if I joined them. I applied and five companies offered me the job and I joined Electrolux which paid for his accounting degree and promoted him to senior positions quickly. “I quickly developed the mindset of how to use numbers to increase performance and advance business.’’

As he switched jobs, Binning says his big break came when he was promoted to look after the entire food business of UK giant Grand Metropolitan. “But my career really took off when the company involved me in M&E (merger and acquisitions) and strategic decisions and later made me their CFO for Europe. Then in 1996 they made me CFO for the Americas and I moved to Connecticut.’’

When his company merged with Guinness to form Diageo — the world leader in drinks— in 1997, Binning took over as its CFO for Europe to integrate the two companies. “In 1998, Diageo made me deputy CFO for the whole group.’’

From Diageo, he went to GEC (Marconi) to save it after the dotcom bust. “But we finally sold it to Ericsson in 2006 and I joined the British construction giant Hanson.’’

With a smile, he says,“At Hanson we tried to become the number one construction and building materials company in the world by buying the larger German giant Heidelberg.  As we moved to acquire Heidelberg, they turned the tables on us and ended up buying us. Heidelberg offered me a senior Executive position in Germany but I decided to leave.’’

That’s when he landed in Toronto to take over as the CFO of the troubled telecom giant Nortel to lead the company though its restructuring. Binning ended up breaking up the company and selling its individual divisions to competitors.

“In 2009, while I was working at Nortel, the Weston family asked me to join as the CFO for the Weston Group.  Within a year of joining the company, I became the President and CEO for the Group.’’

And he is still going strong.

His success mantra? “I bring my Indian values to bear on my business practices and in our Group we do business in a collaborative way. I never have shied away from taking risks as I went to companies when they were in a terrible shape. Never been scared of losing my job.’’

READ ALSO: How Jalandhar-born Kuldeep Sharma created Crown Group of Hotels in Canada

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