When Parker Met Frank

Who is Parker Rudderham, and why did he buy Frank?

By Hillary Windsor

Who is Parker Rudderham, and why did he buy Frank?

By Hillary Windsor

Douglas Parker Rudderham sits in the new Frank office, which overlooks the Halifax waterfront on Lower Water Street. He bought and refurbished the new office space after buying the magazine. (Photo: Hillary Windsor)

 

Last year, a successful Cape Breton-born, Montreal-based businessman made a curious purchase.

Parker Rudderham, President and CEO of Pharmacy Wholesale Services Incorporated and owner of Farnon Herriot & Beckett real estate (both located in Montreal), and majority shareholder in an array of other companies, bought a Halifax-based magazine that specializes in writing critical, often satirical stories about people just like him.

Rudderham Coat of Arms outside Rudderham’s Cape Breton home. (Photo: Hillary Windsor)

Rudderham bought Frank magazine.

“My lawyer, Alan Parish, just happened to mention to me that [Frank] was being sold, and I asked him to look into it and see what he could do, because I guess what intrigued me about Frank, was the name… People know the name,” says Rudderham.

When he was considering the purchase, Rudderham hired a polling company in Montreal to conduct a telephone survey of some 1,200 households across Nova Scotia. On brand recognition, Rudderham says, Frank tested as high as internationally-known companies such as General Motors. “Whether you liked it or didn’t like it,” he says, “everybody knew Frank.”

After hearing the results of the survey, Rudderham got serious about becoming the new owner of the magazine. His interest had spun into certainty, but there was one hindering factor. The magazine’s then-owner, John Williams, was in the process of selling it to Andrew Douglas, Frank’s managing editor.

Douglas says, “John came to me and said, ‘Look, this guy wants to buy Frank… what do you think?’ And I said, ‘I have no money.’ It was going to be borrowed money. I was nervous as hell that I would even be able to make it survive past a year of paying the bills.”

So Rudderham and Douglas met face to face and, amazingly, got along. Each was exactly what the other was looking for. For Rudderham, Douglas was the experienced reporter who could run the editorial side of the magazine; for Douglas, Rudderham was the financial security he could have not provided for Frank.

Frank had a new owner. And Parker Rudderham had a new toy.

Blue collar to bankroller

Parker Rudderham laughs when he’s nervous, stutters when put on the spot, doesn’t boast about his lifestyle (without prodding) and wears hiking boots and plaid shirts on days he’s not out to impress.

He grew up in Sydney, Cape Breton, the only child of two doting parents. “I think basically I had a Rockwellian type childhood… like out of a Norman Rockwell [painting].”

His father had a successful plumbing and mechanical contracting business. Instead of graduating with the rest of his high school class at Sydney Academy, young Parker went to work for his father. Several years later, he packed his bags and headed west.

After a respectable (and quite Maritimer-stereotypical) working-man career—complete with oil drilling out west and fishing in the east —he traded in his blue collar for a fresh white one.

In 1980, four years after leaving Nova Scotia, Rudderham came back to continue working for his family’s business.

A Montreal magnate is born

Fast-forward 16 years to 1996. Rudderham “went to Montreal and worked in various businesses”—most of which were in the pharmaceutical industry.

In 2003, he says he opened his first business, Pharmacy Wholesale Services Inc.. He describes it as one of North America’s largest privately-owned pharmacy wholesale distributors. Soon, he explains, he added a Montreal-based real estate company, Farnon Herriot and Beckett, to his business roster, and later invested in two Montreal car dealerships. By his own count, he is now the majority owner of nine Quebec-based companies, the minority shareholder in another 12.

“[I’m invested] in just about everything… from transportation, to mining companies, manufacturing, to real estate companies,” he says.

And now Frank. Why?

Intriguingly, Rudderham himself was “Franked” on several occasions.

On August 4, 1992 Frank reported Rudderham had bought large lots of land near the Bras d’Or Lakes in Cape Breton “just months after his family’s Sydney plumbing and heating firm went into receivership throwing 120 employees out of work and leaving almost $1 million in unpaid bills.”

In the next issue, Rudderham is mentioned again. He’d just been married in the Sydney courthouse, and Frank speculated that the Nova Scotia premier of the day had asked him to represent the Conservatives in the upcoming election.

On April 27, 1993 Frank reported that Rudderham had been charged with “driving disqualified” but the case had been withdrawn. In the next issue, Frank claimed Rudderham had been “upset and angered” by Frank’s reporting, and that his new lawyer would be asking how Frank got their information.

When asked about the stories today, Rudderham is unapologetic. “Unlike most people, many of my transgressions have been public, and, unlike most people, I never got away with a hell of a lot,” he says. “I have nothing to hide.”

Ghosts of Rudderham’s past

That said, he has a history of legal entanglements.

In 2007, Rudderham sued an ex-wife’s family member for defamation after she allegedly circulated a critical email about him to members of the board of the Sydney YMCA, to which he was making a major donation.

Alan Parish, Rudderham’s lawyer, told KJR the case “was resolved on the basis of payment of money by the defendants to Mr. Rudderham and the provision to Mr. Rudderham by the defendants of a written apology and a written undertaking not to repeat such false statements in the future on pain of paying certain damages.”

“There’s obviously people—I don’t know why—who just don’t wish this enterprise [for me],” Rudderham says, “and it always astounds me, ‘cause I could care less about any of these people. I mean, what they do, I’m not the least bit interested or concerned, but what I do, they’re very interested and concerned, and, I mean, it always surprises me.”

In 2003, just before he began his own pharmaceutical firm, Rudderham was involved in another court case. His former employer, a Montreal-based pharmaceutical company, accused him of violating his employment contract when he went out on his own. Rudderham says he ended up winning the case.

He insists that’s just how the business world works.

“That happens all the time in business, and we won. They basically tried to stop me from going into [my own] business because I worked there. I went to start my own business, and they tried to stop me, so we had a fight and I won.

“This is not news. It happens all the time,” he says. “I mean, you look up Johnson & Johnson and you’ll see they have a hundred of these things.”

If you do look up Johnson & Johnson, the giant American-based pharmaceutical company, you’ll find Rudderham and his company both listed as defendants in another case, this one from 2008. Johnson & Johnson claimed Rudderham’s company was one of dozens involved in a scheme to peddle potentially dangerous Chinese-made knockoffs of the company’s OneTouch diabetes diagnostic tests in North America.

According to details of the complaint filed in the Eastern District Court in New York on May 12, 2009, “Pharmacy Wholesale Services bought counterfeit boxes of OneTouch test strips from [other defendants] Sterling Distributors and MC Distributors, and sold them to pharmacies throughout the United States.”

Rudderham’s Halifax-based lawyer Alan Parish says the suit “was settled as far as Mr. Rudderham was concerned,” adding, “there is a confidentiality clause on the settlement, so I can’t go any further.”

More recently, Rudderham filed a notice of intent to sue the Halifax Chronicle-Herald for a story it published about recent firings at Frank.

“Just so you know,” Rudderham says, “I win all these fights … I’m sort of getting tired of every time I turn around, having to sue somebody.”

He said this before he’d even met KJR for a first face-to-face interview—but after he’d explained on the telephone he knew we’d been seeking court documents about his previous cases. He made it clear he was not happy about this.

Which brings us back to the question: Why Frank?

In the October 11 issue of the magazine, Rudderham himself contributed an opinion column about the personal and political troubles of former MLA Dave Wilson, who had been charged with fraud in connection with the provincial MLA expense account scandals.

The article expresses empathy and sympathy towards Wilson—something very un-Franklike—and scolds the media (including Frank itself) for leaving him “figuratively disemboweled,” as Rudderham put it.

“We’ve written stories about a lot of people who are close to me… We’ve never shied away. I don’t know Dave Wilson, I’ve never met him in my life… But it was just this piling-on thing… I just found there to be this pack tearing this guy apart. I’m a weak guy… and I found it annoying.

Rudderham could have been writing about himself.

“I’m a big believer in redemption. That’s what our society is based on, is redemption.”

Though Rudderham did buy one of the most infamously merciless publications in Atlantic Canada—or all of Canada—he did so with plans for change. “People have preconceived ideas of Frank, I mean, we have a restaurant review in there now,” he says.

Despite his somewhat-cantankerous history, Rudderham says he enjoys where he’s at right now in his life, and is happy to kick his feet up on a water mattress that circles his in-ground, indoor saltwater pool after a day’s work.

Rudderham, who has a home in Coxheath, near Sydney, also appears to have a fascination with freemasonry, a semi-secret and sometimes controversial, centuries-old fraternal order. At the mouth of his driveway there’s a large rock featuring the organization’s eye-in-triangle symbol—and the Latin phrase “Annuit Coeptis”, meaning “He has favoured our undertakings”—that’s often associated with freemasonry.

Rudderham also wears a Masonic ring featuring the same symbol. When asked to talk about the ring, his involvement in freemasonry, or even what the organization stands for, he demurs. “Google it,” he says.

Rudderham would rather talk of other things. “I fish, I play tennis, I smoke cigars,” he says. “I have the life. I live the life, you know? To quote Hemingway… ‘All saints have a past, and all sinners have a future.’ We’re all sinners.’ I don’t think you could live a life and not have scars.

“Maybe some are deeper than others, but I don’t dwell. Really. Honest to God… I don’t dwell on the past, I dwell on the future. I can’t do anything about the past, other than say, you know, ‘all saints have a past, all sinners have a future.’… You know?”