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Aboriginal investment entity keeps on shrinking

It looks like it's death by a thousand cuts at Tribal Councils Investment Group.

Earlier this year, after months of bitter disputes and a handful of court actions, a new board of directors was installed representing the seven Manitoba tribal councils that own TCIG.

They quickly showed controversial CEO Allan McLeod and other members of the senior management the door.

The change in the boardroom and management offices was supposed to bring accountability, transparency and stability to the investment firm that had accumulated a stable of companies generating more than $100 million in revenue and substantial profits.

But two key members of the new board of directors resigned for unrelated reasons shortly after the new board was established and TCIG has been fraught with uncertainty ever since.

The restructuring probably started a little too late to allow a smooth transition. TCIG's lenders were already getting anxious before the transition to the new board occurred, as the financial performance of various units was slumping after years of staff turnover and high expenses.

Sources say TCIG's senior lender, RBC, made it clear it wanted out, and before new senior management could be recruited, new financing had to be secured. Six months later, that still has not happened.

Meanwhile, Lazer Grant, the accounting firm put in place to provide financial and corporate management support, has had to cast off underperforming units.

First to go was Korean Fast Food restaurants, called Wok Box, for which TCIG had a master franchise agreement and had opened at least two units.

At the end of last month, northern wholesaler Precambrian Wholesale was shut down, laying off its 20 employees.

This week, TCIG closed its northern trucking firm, First Canadian Transportation (FCT), at one time a promising, growing business servicing ever greater demand for groceries and consumer products in Northern Canada. The trucking firm had close to 40 employees, about half of whom were drivers.

FCT's sole customer used to be Arctic Beverages, TCIG's original operating entity. The northern Canadian distributor of Pepsi products has been the source of much of TCIG's profits over the years.

In addition to Arctic Beverages, TCIG continues to operate a Winnipeg franchise of Famous Dave's Restaurants and a northern gas retail business and some health-care back-office operations.

"It is unfortunate (that FCT had to be closed)," said Joel Lazer, managing partner at Lazer Grant. "Just as with Precambrian, we did try to sell FCT. But its closure aligns with the objective of the restructuring process. It was necessary to go forward and will assist in the stability of the rest of the group."

This week, TCIG's head office moved from its sprawling suite in the 360 Main office tower to more modest accommodations on Century Street.

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