Nexus  

On building designs, yellow trucks and pomegranates:
Q & A with Ted Burnett, JD 1971

Ted Burnett, JD 1971This Q & A is the complete version of the one that appears in the Spring 2010 issue of Nexus.

Alumnus Ted Burnett, JD 1971, is president of Burnac Corporation, a wholly-owned Canadian, family business based in Toronto with divisions in commercial and residential real estate, retail and wholesale produce. He has a keen interest in construction design. He shares his thoughts on the Faculty of Law's new building plans - and more.

NEXUS: What were your impressions when you saw the new law building design by Hariri Pontarini Architects - what's the first thing that came to your mind?
TB: Current. With-it. Today's architecture. I love the architects by the way; they're working for us on a project too.

NEXUS: What makes a good design in your opinion?
TB: Good design is a design that, number one, fits in with the landscape, which this one does obviously with its curved nature and airiness, and one that, of course, is functional, and pleasing to the eye. The aesthetics are very pleasing for this particular building, such as the juxtaposition of the old with the new, which gives it uniqueness.

NEXUS: So are you intimately involved with many of the designs of your corporation?
TB: I am. We build condominiums, usually. We have built shopping centres, but we're currently building condominiums, and the whole creative thing is part of what I like about construction.

NEXUS: Where do you look for inspiration?
TB: I do a lot of reading, and watch the better builders in the USA and get some ideas from them. I travel around and take a look at different cities and what they've done. I take notes and try to use some of those ideas here in Canada.

NEXUS: What do you think this expansion means for the law school, what does it say?
TB: I think it tells me that we're moving from an archaic structure to something that reflects the quality of the law school itself. The academic quality is far superior to the physical plant, and I think this brings the two into conjunction with each other.

NEXUS: What made you decide to become a lawyer?
TB:  Good question [laughs]. Originally, I was thinking of going into medicine. We had immigrant parents, and it was important for them to send their children to university to become quote "professionals." My choice was to be a doctor, but my eldest brother became a lawyer and sort of cut the pace. I liked what he was doing and took more interest in it; he'd bring home all his stories, and got me intrigued about getting into the legal profession.

NEXUS: So where were you before you joined the family business?
TD: Originally, when I first came out of law school, I worked at Rosenfeld, Schwartz, Malcolmson, Lampkin and Levine, which later joined with Goodman and Goodman. I was there for about 10 years; then went into practice on my own, with a couple of lawyers who worked at that firm. In 1987, the fellow who was operating our real estate business decided he wanted to retire, and we couldn't fill the blank with anyone, so I was nominated and liked the idea. I thought it was time to move on, and I did.

NEXUS:  What's it like working with your brother?
TD: We get along very well. We do two separate things; he runs the produce business, and I run the real estate, so we really don't step on each other's toes. And we've had a really good working relationship; I do what I like to do, which is building and real estate. He does what he likes to do, which is the old family produce company, which he's expanded into one of the largest in Canada. We have the same "pot" but we each have our separate roles to be creative.

NEXUS: Are you allowed to talk about business at the family dinner table?
TB: Of course! [laughs] We're old-fashioned that way.

NEXUS: How does your law degree help you run your business?
TB: I don't practice day-to-day anymore, but I would say that in fact, I use it every minute of every day: contracts; negotiations; knowing what your rights are; and knowing how far you can push the envelope. I believe I stood first in my contracts law class at school.

NEXUS: How is the produce division?
TB: It's one of, if not the largest, non-publicly owned produce companies in Canada. We built a huge state-of-the-art distribution centre at highways 427 and 407 in Woodbridge, Ontario  a few years back. Although it is very lucrative, we do have a sentimental background in the produce business. It's our roots; we were raised in it. We all drove trucks, while other kids were going to summer camp. So we came up through those ranks.

NEXUS: How do you feel when you see those trucks around the GTA?
TB:  I feel pretty proud of them. When we were growing up, and were in our teens, we had 1 or 2 trucks. Basically my father loaded the trucks in Toronto, and we'd send them up to Sudbury and peddle fruit out the back of the truck. When he died, we only had 2 or 3 trucks. There are 50 of those on the highways now-I just wish he could see it.

NEXUS: What's your favourite fruit?
TB:  Pomegranate. I like to take them all apart and throw them into yoghurt.

NEXUS:  What's next for Burnac Corporation?
TB: Burnac is involved and will continue to be involved in building boutique condominiums. They're more interesting buildings rather than cookie-cutters that you sell to the masses.

NEXUS:  A little-known fact of Ted Burnett that you could share with us?
TB:  I've cut out sugar in the last two months and lost 14 pounds. I haven't changed my diet at all, just sugar. I cut out regular Cokes, sugar in my coffee, and cake at night.

NEXUS: Beer or Barolo?
TB: No beer, no Barolo. Just cognac once a week.

Interview by Lucianna Ciccocioppo. Photo by Nigel Dickson.