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Honorary degree citation - André Desmarais

By: Michel Magnan, June 2007

Mr. Chancellor, it is an honour for me to present to you Mr. André Desmarais - a Concordia alumnus, businessman, philanthropist and community leader.

An officer of the Order of Canada, André Desmarais is a distinguished Canadian and Montrealer who has done his alma mater proud.

The foundations for André Desmarais' business career were built during his years at Concordia University, where, in 1978, he obtained a Bachelor of Commerce. For André Desmarais, and for many members of his generation at the time, studying at Concordia offered an opportunity to broaden cultural and social horizons in a way that was unique. Following graduation, André Desmarais broadened his professional experience through "stages" with Campeau Corporation, with the federal public service as Special Assistant to the Minister of justice, and as institutional investment counsellor at Richardson Greenshields Securities Ltd.

Since 1983, he has occupied several senior positions at Power Corporation and was a key participant in the transformation of that corporation from a diversified Canadian industrial-financial conglomerate into a more international financial services institution. And in 1996, he became President and Co-Chief Executive Officer of Power Corporation of Canada.

The impressive financial performance of Power Corporation was achieved through timely acquisitions or divestitures in targeted sectors, a continuing focus on cost efficiencies, strategic alliances and an early recognition of the economic potential of some countries, most notably China. As a result, Power Corporation of Canada is now a more global corporation with interests across North America, Europe and Asia with a market capitalization of about $18 billion.

Among subsidiaries and companies affiliated to Power Corporation where André Desmarais is a director and/or board member, let us mention:

  • Great-West Lifeco Inc.
  • Financial Group (Investors Group)
  • London Insurance Group Inc.
  • Canada Life Financial Corporation
  • Pargesa Holdings SA

Another Power Corporation subsidiary, Gesca Ltd., publishes seven Quebec daily newspapers including the second largest French language newspaper, La Presse and Quebec City's Le Soleil. I want to take this opportunity to congratulate Mr. Desmarais as Chairman of Gesca, and his management team, for their vision and success in the revamping of La Presse to the point of successfully reversing historical downtrends in circulation, a major business achievement.

André Desmarais also lends his business acumen to external organizations. He is a member of the board of directors of:

  • Asian conglomerate CITIC Pacific Ltd
  • Canadian biopharmaceutical leader Neurochem Inc.

André Desmarais is tireless in promoting Canada. He is an active member of several business organizations including the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. He was among the first Canadian business people to recognize early the economic potential of China and the need for Canada to establish a closer relationship with this country. He is Honorary Chairman of the Canada China Business Council. He is a member of the Trilateral Commission, a non-governmental body that fosters closer collaboration between North America, Europe and Japan. He is also a Member of the Chairman's Council of the Americas Society that also promotes closer collaboration between the two hemispheres. In the United States, he is a member of the International Council of U.S.-based JP Morgan Chase Bank.

Closer to home, André Desmarais was an honorary patron of Concordia's Campaign for a New Millennium and is a member of the University's Millennium Circle. He has generously and tirelessly given back to his alma mater and to the students who will become leaders of tomorrow; the France and André Desmarais fellowships are open to graduate students across Concordia's four faculties.

André Desmarais has led fund-raising campaigns for the Montreal General Hospital, the Maisonneuve-Rosemont Hospital, the Montreal Heart Institute as well as other institutions notably the Montreal Museum of Fine Arts.

André Desmarais is married to France Chrétien-Desmarais. The couple are the proud parents of four children who are all attending university.

Mr. Chancellor, on behalf of Senate and the Board of Governors, it my privilege and honour to present to you André Desmarais so that you may confer upon him the degree of Doctor of Laws, honoris causa.

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