Michael Lee-Chin, born January 3, 1951, is a Jamaican-Canadian billionaire businessman, philanthropist, and the chairman and CEO of Portland Holdings Inc., a privately held investment company in Ontario, Canada. In 2017, Lee-Chin was appointed to the Order of Ontario. He was also appointed chairman of the government of Jamaica’s Economic Growth Council in 2016.
Lee-Chin was born in Portland Port Antonio, Jamaica, in 1951 to Aston Lee and Cyachinth Gloria Chen. Both of his parents were biracial, African, and Jamaican-Chinese. When Lee-Chin was seven years old, his mother married Vincent Chen, who had a son from a previous marriage. The couple had seven children together, six boys and one girl. Lee-Chin’s mother sold Avon products and worked as a bookkeeper at multiple local firms, while his stepfather ran a local grocery store. Lee-Chin attended the local high school, Titchfield High, between 1962 and 1969.
In 1965, Lee-Chin’s first job was working as a part of the landscaping team at the Frenchman’s Cove Hotel. The following year, he got a summer job working on the Jamaica Queen cruise chip, cleaning the engine room. In 1970, we went to Canada on a scholarship program sponsored by the Jamaican government to study Civil Engineering at McMaster University. He graduated in 1974. After graduating from McMaster University, Lee-Chin worked briefly as a road engineer for the Jamaican government but was unable to find work in his qualified field. He returned to Canada where began graduate studies in business. Initially, he found work as a bouncer but later found employment as a financial advisor for Investors Group.
Lee-Chin spent two years at Investors Group in the Hamilton, Ontario office, and in 1979, moved to Regal Capital Planners and became the regional manager. While at the company, in 1983, he secured a loan from the Continental Bank of Canada for $500,000 to buy a stake in Mackenzie Financial Group and formed Kicks Athletics with Andrew Gale. by 1987, the investment was worth $3.5 million CAD.
In 1987, Lee-Chin took his proceeds from the Mackenzie investment to buy a Kitchener-based company called the Advantage Investment Council for $200,000 CAD. At the time, the company had holdings of around $800,000 CAD. He renamed the company AIC and developed it into a fund that controlled around $6 billion CAD, with hundreds of thousands of investors. Following the acquisition of AIC Limited, Lee-Chin set up the Berkshire group of companies, comprising an investment planning arm, a securities dealership, and an insurance administration. In 2007, Manulife acquired Berkshire from Portland Holdings in exchange for shares, making Portland one of the largest shareholders of Manulife.
In the late 1980s, AIC suffered from a collapse in the real estate market, in which it had invested. It recovered throughout the early 1990s by maintaining investments in large groups, such as Merrill Lynch and TD Bank (formerly the Toronto Dominion). This caused investments to grow to nearly $8 billion USD by 1998.
Lee-Chin was reluctant to invest in the dotcom boom and saw AIC investments lose 8 per cent in value, even as S&P gained 56 per cent. Investors moved $224 million US out of AIC’s flagship “Advantage Mutual Fund.” The Globe and Mail ran an article predicting that even more investors would leave the fund, meaning it would run out of cash ad be forced to sell its core holdings. Lee-Chin’s response was to sell stock in Coca-Cola, and invest $65 million USD into Mackenzie Holdings. Letters were sent to all 350,000 investors to explain the strategy. The investors were calmed by the purchase, and the stock was later sold to Investor Group at more than twice the price AIC had paid for it. In 2000 and 2001, following the dotcom crash, AIC outperformed the market with 26 per cent growth and a 4 per cent decline, respectively.
In November 2003, AIC was a part of a regulatory investigation involving 105 Canadian mutual funds companies. In its review of AIC, investigators found no evidence of late trading and market timing activity by AIC staff. However, the Ontario Securities Commission (OSC) did find that over 1999-2003 period, AIC did permit specific third-party investors to engage in market timing trades in AIC funds that generated over a hundred million in profits. In the Settlement Agreement between AIC and OSC, the OSC stated: “Accordingly, the conduct of AIC in failing to protect fully the best interests of the Relevant Funds in respect of the frequent trading market timing was contrary to the public interest.”
As a result, in December of 2004, AIC Limited was forced to return $58.8 million CAD to affected investors, which was the largest penalty imposed on any of the fund companies in the OSC investigation. In October 2006, Lee-Chin announced his resignation as CEO of AIC and was replaced by Jonathan Wellum, AIC’s chief investment officer.
In 2005, two investment product managers offering structured products joined the Portland Holdings portfolio, Copernicann Capital Corporation offered retail investment products. Primarily sold by brokers, and raised more than $800 million CAD, in 10 closed-end funds since its launch. Markland Street Asset Management, which launched the Oil Sands Sector Fund, raised $430 million CAD in one of Canada’s largest closed-end IPOs.
In 1974, he married Vera Lee-Chin, a Ukrainian Canadian he met at university. They parted ways in 1991 and officially separated in 1997. Ms. Lee-Chin has since contested the terms of the separation agreement, claiming that Lee-Chin did not disclose his actual wealth at the time of the separation. The couple had three children, Michael Jr., Paul, and Adrian. Lee-Chin now lives with Sonya Hamilton, with him he has fraternal-twin daughters, Elizabeth and Maria, in Burlington, Ontario.
Lee-Chin made several large pledges and/or donations in Canada to the Royal Ontario Museum in 2003, the Rotman School of Management at the University of Toronto, McMaster University, and the Joseph Brant Hospital foundation.
Lee-Chin Served as the chancellor of Wilfrid Laurier University.