Canadian tycoon Paul Desmarai of Power Corporation of Canada died on October 8, 2013
Paul Desmarai (January 4, 1927 – October 8, 2013) was a high profile tycoon and empire-builder in Canada for many decades. According to Forbes, he was the 4th wealthiest person in Canada and the 235th wealthiest in the world with an estimated net worth of $4.4 billion. Demarai was born into a family with business interests in the Sudbury, Quebec region. This was a tough blue-collar nickle mining area similar to the Apalachian coal mining region in the USA back in the 1950s.
After completing his law degree, Desmarai worked briefly for an accounting firm before moving on to work for small ailing railroad and bus business, the Sudbury Copper Cliff Suburban Electric Railway Company, that ferried miners to and from work. The business had originally been started by his grandfather. Finally, as it teetered on the brink of collapse it was sold to Paul for a dollar who then quickly turned it around. This was the start of an impressive career of growth via acquisitions.
His next step was to use debt, leveraged buyouts, and reverse takeovers to build out Provincial Transport the largest inter-city bus company in Quebec and Ontario. Afterwards a bus drivers strike was the catalyst for Desmarai diversifying into the insurance business by acquiring Imperial Life Insurance one of Canada’s biggest insurance companies. He eventually acquired Power Corporation of Canada, a small Montreal electric company, which then became the flagship of his fleet. Think of Power Corporation as Desmarai’s equivalent of Warren Buffett’s Berkshire Hathaway.
Through the 1960s and ’70s Power Corporation went on a voracious acquisitions binge gobbling up companies in insurance, newspapers, pulp and paper manufacturers, mutual funds, steamships, and more.
The conglomerate generally left its acquisitions’ management and corporate identity intact. “He believed that we were owners, not managers,” Mr. Rae said. Indeed, Power Corporation maintains so low a profile that there is no sign identifying the company outside its headquarters in downtown Montreal. (source)
If you want to learn more about Paul Desmarai a good place to start is Peter C. Newman’s The Canadian Establishment which is all about Canadian tycoons. It’s an inspirational read.