Born in 1927 in Sudbury, Ontario, Paul Desmarais is one of eight children born to Jean-Noel Desmarais, Q.C., and Lébéa (Laforest) Desmarais. Growing up in a small mining town in northwestern Ontario and being involved in the family business, Mr. Desmarais experienced the love of a warm and compassionate family life, learned the value of perseverance and trusting relationships, and experienced the highs and lows of business success and failure. As a Commerce graduate from the University of Ottawa, he watched as his parents' investment in a local Sudbury tramway went sour placing them on the verge of bankruptcy, and it is perhaps here that he adopted the diversification philosophy that still guides Power Corporation today. Power Corporation is a major international management and holding company in financial services, the communications industry, energy, manufacturing, utilities and real estate. The company has a major presence in Europe and Asia.
Although his business ventures dominate his life, he is noted for his specific interests in art and architecture - and all things of beauty. His appreciation for art was nurtured by his mother, who herself was an artist and a musician. His personal art collection is one of the finest in Canada and Power Corporation's head office in Montréal exhibits examples from Canada's premier painters, sculptors and artisans.
Mr. Desmarais' success in acquiring and growing businesses is particularly important to Manitobans. Two of Power Financial Corporation's holdings, Great-West Life and Investors Group, are major employers in the community and are substantial contributors to the overall quality of life in Manitoba. Both firms are leaders in their industry and have prospered under the umbrella management structure of Power Corporation.
Mr. Desmarais has, been honored nationally and internationally for his contributions to business, the arts, and public life. He is Honorary Chairman of the Canada-China Business Council, a member of the Queen's Privy Council for Canada, Companion of the Order of Canada, Officer in the National Order of Québec, Commander of the National Legion of Honor of France, and Commander of the Order of Leopold II of Belgium. In 1985 he was awarded the Intemational Distinguished Entrepreneur Award by the Faculty of Management and the University of Manitoba. Attesting to the respect for Mr. Desmarais held by Canadians, and the recognition for his many and varied contributions to the quality of our society today, the University of Manitoba is the thirteenth Canadian university to bestow an honorary degree upon him.
Mr. Desmarais has shown outstanding leadership in promoting Canadian industry, trade and commerce in a global economy. He has proved that Canadian industry can expand abroad, capturing markets in such competitive environments as the United States, China, and Europe. He has also shown exemplary commitment to cultural and social development in Canada through his financial support of universities, museums, research centers, hospitals, and a wide variety of cultural projects.
Mr. Desmarais and Jackie, his wife of 49 years, have four children Paul, André, Louise, and Sophie, and reside in Montréal.