Establishing the Family Business
Louie’s grandfather, Hok Yat Louie, immigrated to Vancouver from a village near Guangzhou, China, in 1896 after paying the $50 head tax required from immigrant Chinese. At the time, British Columbia was not a hospitable place for Chinese entrepreneurs to settle. He worked a number of manual labour jobs running the gamut of farming to sawmilling. In 1903, Hok Yat opened a general store in Vancouver’s Chinatown. Despite having to deal with racism from both competitors and customers, that humble grocery store was the beginning of the Louie family empire.
The modest store grew under Hok Yat’s four sons including Tong, Brandt’s father. By the 1960s, Tong took control of the business. He then expanded the company by buying the Dominion grocery chain’s nine British Columbia stores in 1968. Eight years later, the family business purchased London Drugs Ltd.
In 1966, Brandt Louie earned a bachelor of commerce from the University of British Columbia and became a chartered accountant. He then worked for six years with a firm called Touche Ross. He joined the family business in 1972 via an apprenticeship that included everything from meat cutting to stocking shelves, eventually taking over the business in 1987. In 1998, Louie’s father passed away.
London Air Services
In 1999, Louie decided to diversify his business by moving into the aviation industry — mostly due to his personal experience with a five-hour flight delay between Chicago and Vancouver. As a first-class ticket holder, Louie grew increasingly frustrated over the excuses that the airline made about wasted time and lost luggage. So in 1999, he purchased his own business jet and launched a Vancouver-based charter service named London Air Services (LAS).
By October 2007, LAS was operating six business jets and one helicopter, booking flights for both the H.Y. Louie business as well as other corporations.
In February 2014, LAS spent $67 million to acquire five new Bombardier Learjet 75 aircrafts to add to its fleet and was reportedly earning multi-million dollars of annual revenue. The next year, the Louie family decided to change direction and move away from the executive travel business and put LAS up for sale.
Louie heads London Drugs' charity committee and oversees the company’s charitable contributions. The company’s beneficiaries include Simon Fraser University endowments and scholarships, the Vancouver Symphony Society, and the University Hospital Society. He is a national trustee of the Brain Canada Foundation and has co-chaired the Variety Club’s Cash for Kids program for more than 15 years.
In addition, Louie has served on the boards of a number of companies and non-profit organizations, including the Royal Bank of Canada, the Duke University Medical Center, the Brain Canada Foundation, the Vancouver Board of Trade, Simon Fraser University , Duke University and the John F. Kennedy School of Government at Harvard University.
Louie’s wife, Belinda, was born in Hong Kong and educated in the United States and speaks both Cantonese and Mandarin. Louie himself speaks just some Cantonese, while his two sons, Gregory and Stuart, are more fluent.
At some point, Louie expects his sons to take over the family business. While Gregory, a radiologist, currently looks after H.Y. Louie’s growing health clinic business; Stuart, a lawyer, provides legal counsel to the company’s divisional heads.