Winnipeg Free Press - PRINT EDITION

New owner of Asper place is a lot like Izzy

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EVER since Leonard Asper sold his Wellington Crescent mansion -- assuring us that his "temporary" move to Toronto didn't mean CanWest Global was moving its headquarters out of Winnipeg -- people have been asking me the same question.

Who was the young couple who paid a Winnipeg record of more than $2 million for the 6,500 square-foot, six-bedroom house?

Frankly, I didn't care.

Until I heard who they were.

And learned that their success story has been featured in Forbes Magazine and the New York Times.

Meet Andrew Strempler and his wife Catherine, the Winnipeg-raised multi-millionaire partners in life.

And business.

But not just any business.

At age 25, Andrew -- who will be 32 next month -- created Canada's first and largest Internet-based mail-order pharmacy.

Not bad for a kid who struggled in school because of dyslexia.

His RxNorth.com became a template for what would explode into a multi-billion-dollar industry that has been supplying cheaper Canadian prescription drugs to, mostly, American senior citizens who were either uninsured or under insured.

The upstart Canadian industry quickly became a burr under George W. Bush's health-care saddle.

But what makes the Strempler's story resonate even more -- at least locally -- is the type of person Andrew is and the way his accomplishments echo, so ironically, the history of the Aspers and their CanWest Global media empire.

As it happens, Andrew Strempler and the late Izzy Asper traveled the same road -- literally -- on their way to becoming multi-millionaires.

Although young Andrew -- who's been known to have two Dodge Vipers, a Jaguar and a prized yellow Lamborghini at his driving disposal -- arrived even faster than Izzy.

"I went from milk right to scotch and cognac, and I had to grow up real quick," he told the New York Times last year as he puffed on a Cohiba Esplendido and sipped a snifter of Remy Martin XO.

The Stremplers launched their empire by opening a pharmacy in Minnedosa, the picturesque Western Manitoba community of about 2,500 that captivated them during Andrews early travels as a pharmacy grad.

Minnedosa became the head office of RxNorth. com, which, interestingly, has since added "Global Health" to its name, and its vision.

Minnedosa, of course, is the town where Izzy Asper was born.

The Victorian house that the Stremplers bought and renovated to their tastes, and still consider their principal residence, is just down the road from Minnedosa.

It's in Neepawa.

Neepawa is the even prettier town where Izzy's parents bought their second movie theater and where the future owner of Global Television and the National Post went to junior high.

And then, to complete the road trip, Andrew and Catherine bought an Asper house in Winnipeg that they take possession of July 1.

There area also some off-road similarities about Andrew and Izzy.

Andrew, like Izzy, has drive, a strong work ethic and even a philanthropic streak.

Andrew helped finance a second nine holes at the Minnedosa golf course, and provides scholarships for graduating high school students there.

And jobs, of course.

Andrew seemed oblivious to all the Asper connections when we spoke yesterday.

All but one.

He was clearly apprehensive about how a story about his purchase of Leonard's grand house on the Crescent might come across.

Andrew grew up in a Mennonite home -- his father, Gerry, was a teacher, while his mother, Irene, stayed home with the couple's four boys.

"They're happy for me," he said of his parents. "They know I've worked hard for it."

Still, being so young and buying a six-bedroom mansion might come across as being a tad ostentatious. Especially when Andrew and Catherine only have one child, a soon-to-be-four-year-old son named James.

But I think what he's really uncomfortable about is they way that his success -- and the way he celebrates it -- might be judged.

Instead of celebrated.

He says he feels grateful and fortunate, but . . .

"I won't apologize for my success," he said yesterday.

Andrew is a focused, flamboyant young guy whose style, and maybe even his drive, is more suited to the ride-em cowboy, wide-open entrepreneurship of Alberta.

"I don't hide what I enjoy," he told a New York Times reporter who traveled all the way to Minnedosa to profile him. "I wouldn't be able to go through life pretending to be what I'm not."

There's nothing wrong with that, or with who Andrew Strempler is, of course.

But there is something wrong about who we are as a city, when a young, super successful Manitoban feels uneasy about discussing the purchase of a dream home because of how his hometown might perceive him.

Especially when he's still here creating jobs and expressing such affection for Winnipeg.

"I have a loyalty to this city, because I grew up here," he said, sounding like you know who again. "I have a lot of friends here, going way back. My family is all here. I love this city."

But he also has a loyalty to Minnedosa.

"I'm dedicated to my employees," he said.

He feels Minnedosa and the people there helped him get his start.

So, he wants them to understand something about his buying Leonard Asper's house. Just because he's bought a house in Winnipeg doesn't mean he's moving the head office out of Minnedosa.

Does anyone else hear an eerie echo?

I mean other than me and Leonard Asper.

gordon.sinclair@freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition April 22, 2006 $sourceSection$sourcePage

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