Live & Learn: Laurent Beaudoin

The Bombardier CEO says Quebec will never leave Canada.

Armand Bombardier was reserved and tense, always looking for new projects and thinking about business. When we met, he wasn't impressed. I was a student, not radical, but not a serious type, either. After seven years in a Nova Scotia boarding school, I didn't spend my freedom studying day and night. I was, let's say, social.

Boarding school taught me independence. I was on my own from age 10. I learned I was alone the first time I got the strap.

I met my wife in a university class with two girls. I sat next to her, and by the end of the school year we were more than friends.

I thought about engineering, but lacked the background. My second choice was commerce, because I watched my father build a grocery wholesaler from scratch. He was very stressed. This led me to become a CA. I opened an office in Quebec City at age 21. I wanted to help businesses develop, not just crunch numbers.

A lot of family companies are sold for profit. That's not my motivation. I want to be remembered for creating an industrial base out of a small organization that will survive the Bombardier family.

Before I worked with my father-in-law, he gave me a snowmobile. A friend and I modified it to go faster by adding a carburetor. When I tested it, I was quite proud of the fact that it went faster than one driven by its inventor. Then I got stuck in deep snow. My father-in-law circled me, going putt, putt, putt on his slower snowmobile. “Next time,” he said, “try three carbs.”

I can't tell you what the worst day in my life taught me. I don't live in the past or even live with it. I look forward. If I look too far back, who knows what I'll see.

My worst business mistake was supporting Bombardier Capital's move into house manufacturing financing.

A good CEO develops a good team, motivates it, listens to it and makes it make things happen.

I've made quite a few hard decisions. The hardest for me is to let people go. I've done it many times. It's not something you enjoy. But if you have to do it, you have to do it.

I took pilot lessons in my 20s and was allowed to solo after five hours. Being confident, I was relaxed — too relaxed. After takeoff, I decided to move farther away from the yoke. I pulled the seat lever and shot myself too far back. The plane stalled and started going beep, beep, beep. I found out long arms are lucky. “No flying,” I said after landing, “otherwise, I'm dead.”

A perfect Saturday night involves staying home and a book. That, of course, wasn't always my perfect Saturday night.

I like golf, but not to relax.

Our cottage can look like a parking lot. In winter, there are quite a few snowmobiles. In summer, there are sport boats, personal watercraft, ATVs and a few sports cars.

I ride horses to relax. It isn't snowmobiling. A horse reacts to feeling, and you have to concentrate on an understanding.

Bombardier probably wouldn't be a Canadian company today without dual shares. It seems Canada couldn't care less, but you need to keep head offices if you really want to develop industries, employ decision-makers and reap the related benefits. Think about fundraising. Don't imagine that sub offices give like head offices give when it comes to local charities.

Canada's problem is that it can't take sides. It wants to treat all businesses the same. It never picks one sector to support the growth of excellence and development of an industrial base.

I hate waking up in the dark. I think about problems facing me as a CEO. And I never see the light at two o'clock in the morning.

Laurent Beaudoin
Born May 13, 1938, in Laurier Station, Que.
CEO of Bombardier and an avid snowmobiler

Graduates Sherbrooke University with a Master of Commerce degree; opens a CA office in Quebec City a year later.

Joins Bombardier, and becomes president in 1966 at age 25, two years after his father-in-law, Armand Bombardier, dies.

Starts diversifying the company by building trains for the Montreal subway; becomes CEO and chairman in 1979.

Hands executive control to Paul Tellier, who sells the recreational division to the Bombardier family and others.

Resumes control of Bombardier after Tellier leaves his three-year contract a year early in December.