Paul Desmarais, the patriarch of Canadian family empire Power Corp and one of the country’s wealthiest individuals, has died, aged 86.
A self-made billionaire, Desmarais, took control of the Montreal-based hydroelectric company in 1968, serving as chairman and chief executive for almost three decades, before his two sons took over.
He transformed the struggling company into a conglomerate with interests in transportation, communications and financial services, and remained a controlling shareholder and chairman of the executive board until his death. Forbes has compared his empire to Warren Buffet’s Berkshire Hathaway.
Together with Belgian family empire, Groupe Bruxelles Lambert, Power Corp has significant investments in some of Europe’s largest companies, including cement giant Lafarge and wine and spirits maker Pernod Ricard.
The Desmarais family is also reported to have close connections with other family business stalwarts, including the Rothschilds and Peugeots.
After stepping down from the helm of his company in 1996, Desmarais’s sons Paul Jr and Andre became co-chief executives and split the titles of chairman and deputy chairman. They remain at the helm today.
In a statement on its website, Power Corp said Desmarais was known for his leadership and entrepreneurship.
It also said he had a “profound attachment to his country”, referring to his staunch opposition to Quebec sovereignty movement, which seeks independence of the French-speaking province from Canada.
Desmarais – worth $4.5 billion (€3.3 billion) according to Forbes – was known for his political contacts in Canada and abroad, including former French president Nicolas Sarkozy. When Sarkozy lost the 2012 presidential election to Francois Hollande, Desmarais reportedly housed him in his Canadian home for a short period.