Peladeau guided Quebecor into media, cable, cellphone powerhouse

MONTREAL – Pierre Karl Peladeau is making the leap into politics more than 16 years after he inherited a printing and media conglomerate from his father and transformed Quebecor into a cable and cellphone powerhouse.

Despite some setbacks, including the bankruptcy of Quebecor World’s printing operations, the 52-year-old is arguably the most successful business leader to enter politics since Paul Martin moved to Ottawa in 1988.

The former head of Canada Steamship Lines went on to become prime minister.

Some observers have speculated that Peladeau, who on the weekend backed Quebec independence when he announced he will run for the Parti Quebecois in the April 7 election, ultimately wants to chart a similar course and become premier.

As the company’s largest shareholder, the Peladeau family controlled 35 million A shares as of March 2013, worth $886 million at Monday’s trading price. Pierre Karl also has nearly 690,000 Quebecor (TSX:QBR.B) shares worth $17.6 million, plus about $250,000 in deferred stock units.

Before he resigned as Quebecor CEO, Peladeau earned $8.3 million in 2012, including $1.3 million in salary.

Michel Nadeau, executive manager of the Institute for Governance of Private and Public Organizations, says Peladeau earned a lot of respect in Quebec after changing the company in the years after his father’s death in December 1997.

“He’s one of the top 10 business persons in Quebec,” said Nadeau, who as a top executive at pension fund manager La Caisse de depot, worked with Peladeau on the big strategic move in 2000 to purchase Videotron, which is now the largest cable services provider in Quebec and third-largest in Canada.

Quebecor later went into the cellphone business and now earns more than 85 per cent of its cash flow from the communications sector and less than 20 per cent from its media business.

“He made the switch that the Toronto Star did not make and today, when you look at Torstar, you see they are in trouble,” Nadeau added in an interview.

Inside Quebec, the Peladeau name is well-known after Pierre Karl’s father, Pierre, founded what is now the biggest-selling paper in the province as well as a TV network, a magazine and book publisher, and a music store chain.

In addition to publications like Le Journal de Montreal, Quebecor sells several popular celebrity-focused magazines like 7 Jours and Derniere Heure and operates 74 weekly publications in Quebec it is currently trying to sell to rival Transcontinental (TSX:TCL.A).

Other assets include Distribution Select, Canada’s largest independent distributor of CDs and videos; Le SuperClub Videotron. the largest chain of video stores in Quebec; Nurun Inc., a leading international interactive consulting agency; and BlooBuzz Studio Holding, a video game development studio.

The family name may be less known in the rest of Canada, but Quebecor’s influence is deep.

Its Sun Media group bills itself as Canada’s largest newspaper publisher with tabloids in Toronto, Ottawa, Edmonton, Winnipeg and Calgary, the broadsheet London Free Press, along with smaller Ontario dailies in cities like Brantford, Sault Ste. Marie and Kingston. It has weeklies it picked up in the 2007 acquisition of Osprey Media’s 20 daily and 34 weekly newspapers. It also publishes the free 24 Hours transit publications.

Its Sun News television network offers right-wing news and opinion coverage.

In addition to the QMI Agency news service, Canoe is one of the largest Internet portal networks operating in English and French in Canada.

Pierre Peladeau entered the publishing world with the purchase of the weekly Le Journal de Rosemont in 1950. The Quebecor media empire was founded in 1965, a year after he launched the tabloid Le Journal de Montreal.

After a string of acquisitions in the late 1980s, including paper company Donohue, it became the largest commercial printer in Canada and second-largest in the United States. It became one of the largest in the world as Quebecor Printing merged with World Color Press in 1999. However, Quebecor World declared bankruptcy in 2008 and was purchased in 2010 by Wisconsin-based Quad/Graphics.