Fountain in the courtyard of Power Corporation's head office in Montréal

Fountain in the courtyard of Power Corporation's head office in Montréal

Expanding in the Face of Challenges
2001-Present

The next fifteen years marked a period of continued strong earnings. It also saw one of the most tumultuous economic times in many decades, including the sudden financial crisis that rocked the global economy in 2008, a crisis the Corporation and its group companies weathered better than most of their peers.

The financial crisis did not deter Power from its long-standing strategy: invest in a limited number of companies with the potential, over time, to develop dominant positions within their industry; work with strong management teams toward sustainable earnings, profitable growth, and shareholder value; and ensure that Power Corporation and its group companies maintain healthy balance sheets with which to ride out slower economic periods or seize new opportunities.

Sadly, this period also saw the passing of Paul Desmarais, whose passion and energy had served the company for some 45 years.
 

By the turn of the millennium, Power’s clearly defined strategy for its financial services business in Canada was to build a diversified financial services organization that would span a variety of life, health and retirement insurance plans under the Great-West Lifeco banner and that could also offer investment planning services and a host of investment products through Investors Group. Power quickly came to appreciate that distribution networks that complemented one another provided for greatly expanded reach with virtually no incremental costs. That was a key imperative as both Investors Group and Great-West Life grew through acquisitions.


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Head office of Mackenzie Financial

Acquiring Mackenzie Financial

In 2001, Investors Group Inc. (subsequently renamed IGM Financial Inc.) acquired Mackenzie Financial Corporation, which was a highly regarded mutual fund company with an outstanding record of growth and performance. The $4.2 billion deal made IGM Financial Canada’s largest mutual fund organization, with more than two million clients, managed assets in excess of $74 billion, and a suite of exceptional product offerings and distribution channels. Three years later, IGM Financial grew yet again by purchasing a 75 per cent interest (later increased to 97.5 per cent) in Investment Planning Counsel, Canada’s fifth largest financial planning firm. In both instances, synergies created through the transactions spurred revenue growth but also allowed for significant cost savings.

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IGM Financial head office in Winnipeg

While these acquisitions increased IGM Financial’s product portfolio it also expanded the channels through which these products could be sold. Investors Group had its own internal sales force which sold directly to individuals. (By the end of 2015, the sales force had grown to over 5,300 consultants.) Mackenzie Financial sold its products through a 30,000-strong network of brokers and independent financial planners authorized by the company. Investment Planning Counsel also dealt directly with financial planners, though on a smaller scale than Mackenzie. When it came to combining Investors Group, Mackenzie and Investment Planning Counsel, it was their mix of different distribution networks that made for such a solid strategic fit. As a result of these acquisitions, the distribution networks managed by Mackenzie and Investment Planning Counsel increased Investor Group’s market reach exponentially.


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The landmark beacon atop the Canada Life Building in Toronto

Adding a Third Powerhouse Brand

Subsequent to its 1997 acquisition of London Life, Great-West Lifeco further secured its position as Canada’s leading life and health insurance operation in 2003 by acquiring Canada Life Financial for $7.3 billion. 

Similar to the situation with IGM Financial, Great-West Life’s expansion gave it a multifaceted product portfolio and also added diversity to its distribution capabilities. Great-West Life was strong in group benefits, disability insurance and individual life insurance. London Life, through its Freedom 55 Financial™ division, offered its own brand of wealth management solutions and life insurance for individuals.

Canada Life, at the time of its acquisition, also offered insurance and wealth management products and services in Canada, the United Kingdom, Isle of Man and Ireland. Great-West Life had Gold Key, its own general agency sales force. London Life had its own sales force, and Canada Life had relied on independent brokers, who had no affiliation with any one insurance company, to sell its products. That created three different but complementary distribution channels for Great-West Lifeco.


This resulted in three powerhouse brands – Great-West Life, London Life and Canada Life – operating under Great-West Lifeco. With these new capabilities, Great-West Lifeco served more than 11 million Canadians.

Complementary Distribution Channels

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The head office of Putnam in the United States

Great-West Lifeco Buys Putnam Investments

Also operating under Great-West Lifeco was Great-West Life & Annuity Insurance Company (subsequently rebranded Great-West Financial), which provided health insurance and retirement products in the United States. While Great-West Financial was growing organically, the decision was made to secure an acquisition in the U.S. market in line with Great-West Lifeco’s strategy of broadening its financial services business in the United States. This strategy was consistent with Power’s plans to gain a larger presence in that country. 

In 2007, Great-West Lifeco acquired Putnam Investments, a world-class mutual fund brand based in Boston, for $4.6 billion. At the time of the acquisition, Putnam, which was established in 1937, was one of the oldest investment managers in the United States, with more than $225 billion in assets under management, approximately 3,000 employees, and overseas offices in London and Tokyo. 

The Putnam brand was one of the strongest financial brands in the country and the acquisition represented a unique opportunity for Great-West Lifeco to assume a strategic position in the U.S. market for mutual funds and institutional assets. At the time of the acquisition, Putnam was experiencing challenging headwinds, later exacerbated by the financial conditions of 2008-2009. Through strong management and leadership, Putnam’s performance eventually strengthened and today is on a solid foundation to resume its former financial and growth performance.

A year later, Great-West Lifeco sold off its healthcare unit in the United States for an after-tax gain of $649 million, because of the consolidation taking place in the sector and concerns that the unit could not provide the scale required for long-term success.

In both Canada and the U.S., growth through acquisition gave Power a formidable mix of complementary capabilities such as both group and personal life insurance, mutual fund offerings and personalized financial advice, along with a sales and advisor network among the largest in North America.

Refocusing on Global Reach

Pargesa’s primary holding, Groupe Bruxelles Lambert (GBL), continued to modify its portfolio with an eye to investments in companies that had global market reach and thus larger foundations on which to build and grow their businesses. 

Suez, formerly Suez Lyonnaise des Eaux, merged with Gaz de France in 2008 to create GDF Suez, one of the largest gas groups in the world, particularly in the liquefied natural gas sector, while putting its water and waste management operations into Suez Environnement. 

GBL’s shares in CLT-UFA (which as a result of a merger became RTL Group, Europe’s leading broadcast company) were exchanged in 2001 for 25 per cent of Bertelsmann AG, then one of the world’s foremost media companies. The transaction allowed the Pargesa group’s media interests to evolve into a diversified global media business. In 2007, GBL sold its stake to Bertelsmann’s controlling shareholder.

In 2006, GBL made a new investment in Lafarge, a world leader in the cement and building materials sector, and a year later it bought a stake in Pernod Ricard, a global leader in wines and spirits. 

Launching the Sagard Funds

Power Corporation also made private equity, hedge fund and venture capital investments which included the creation of Sagard SAS in Europe in 2002 and of Sagard Capital Partners (subsequently renamed Sagard Holdings) in the United States in 2004. Though income to the Corporation from these investments can fluctuate from year to year, they have produced attractive returns over the long term. Also in 2004, Power Corporation became one of the first Canadian companies to be granted a Qualified Foreign Institutional Investor (QFII) licence by the Chinese government, which allowed it to invest directly in Chinese public companies. 

Managing the 2008 Global Financial Crisis

In 2008, a global financial crisis arose the likes of which had not been seen since the Great Depression. Equity markets dropped pervasively, bond markets froze and blue chip financial firms such as Bear Sterns and Lehman Brothers disappeared virtually overnight. Governments launched stimulus packages and corporate bailouts. Central banks pushed interest rates to historic lows and kept them there. In Europe, the sovereign debt crisis threatened to decimate national financial infrastructures as the spectre of default loomed.

While Power did have investments in Europe through Pargesa, the foreign debt crisis did not have a meaningful impact on either Pargesa or Power. The strength of Pargesa’s balance sheet had largely protected it from sovereign debt issues.

While the global financial crisis had a negative impact on the Corporation’s net income and share price, companies in the Power group performed solidly during the severe economic downturn. 

As one example, Great-West Lifeco was one of only two publicly traded life insurance companies in North America not to be downgraded during the crisis, and maintained its dividend. 


Common strengths at IGM Financial and Great-West Lifeco have allowed both companies to weather the current period of low interest rates. In the case of Great-West Lifeco specifically, given the nature of its business, low interest rates can pose a particular challenge. However, the company has successfully managed its operations so as to meet its ongoing pay-out obligations through a consistent cash flow.
 

The performance of the Power companies was achieved not by actions they took when the crisis occurred. Rather, their performance endured because of the quality of their businesses and products coupled with Power’s long-standing business strategy: maintain strong financial positions, adopt prudent investment practices and a long-term perspective, and maintain active involvement and oversight through the boards of directors of its group companies. 


Most importantly, strong performance was also driven by highly talented management teams at each of the subsidiary companies who were supported by senior Power executives who sat on their boards of directors.

List of Officers and Directors

2008

Maintaining a Prudent Approach

Power and its companies maintained their philosophy of prudent management during the financial crisis. Once the crisis began to pass, new initiatives were launched to regain a trajectory of growth where opportunities existed. 

In late 2011, Power Corporation acquired a 10 per cent stake in China Asset Management Co., a leading company in the Chinese asset management sector. Also in 2011, Sagard China was created to manage Power Corporation’s investment portfolio in China, primarily in the country’s public equity market.

GBL continued to own its stake in global energy company Total and leading ceramics and building materials company Imerys. In 2013, GBL acquired a 15 per cent interest in SGS, the world’s leading testing, inspection and certification company.

In April of 2014, Lafarge announced plans to merge with Holcim Ltd to create a company with some US$44 billion in annual sales. The transaction was completed in July 2015, creating LafargeHolcim, a world leader in the building materials industry.


Launching a New Media

The North American newspaper industry has faced challenges from emerging technologies, particularly over the last ten years. The impact on readership habits, circulation and advertising has been profound and has resulted in restructuring, layoffs and consolidation throughout the industry.

In April 2013, La Presse launched La Presse+, a free, digital edition for tablets combining the best in print media, mobile applications, video and the web. 

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The La Presse+ application for tablets


By May of 2014, it had become the most downloaded free application in the Newsstand and News categories on the App Store in Canada. In 2016 alone, La Presse+ readership increased by 18.7 per cent, with La Presse+ being viewed on an average of more than 273,000 unique tablets every day. As a result, its circulation now exceeds the most recent highest average weekday circulation reached by the print edition of La Presse, which was about 208,000 copies in 2009.

On the strength of the success of its La Presse+ tablet platform amongst readers and advertisers, La Presse discontinued printing its Monday-to-Friday paper editions on January 1, 2016, becoming the first major daily in the world to completely transition to a weekday digital format. In June 2017, still in the wake of the success of La Presse+, La Presse announced that it would also cease the printing of its Saturday edition as of January 2018, thus becoming a 100% digital media. The last paper copy of La Presse’s Saturday edition was published on December 30, 2017. 

Square Victoria Digital Properties, a sister company of Gesca, is also active in the digital space. 

Achieving Market Leadership In Ireland

Consistent with Great-West Lifeco’s global business strategy of developing significant market positions in the sectors where it operates, in 2013 Great-West Lifeco further extended its presence in Europe when it reached an agreement with the government of Ireland to acquire all of the shares of Irish Life Group Limited for €1.3 billion.
 

Established in 1939, Irish Life is the largest life and pensions group and investments manager in Ireland. With a single transaction, Great-West Lifeco became Ireland’s leader in life insurance, pensions and investment management. 

Given Canada’s Life’s operations in Ireland, Great-West Lifeco knew the market very well and had local managers on the ground who could assist with the acquisition and the subsequent combination of Canada Life Ireland with Irish Life. The acquisition was immediately accretive to earnings.

Gaining Record-Keeping Assets

In 2014, Great-West Lifeco would go on to announce Great-West Financial’s acquisition of J.P. Morgan Retirement Plan Services. With this transaction, Great-West Financial became the second-largest retirement services provider in the U.S. market, with nearly 7 million defined contribution participants and more than US$400 billion in assets.
 

Subsequent to the closing of the acquisition, Great-West Financial announced that its retirement business would officially be named Empower Retirement™ and would include the retirement operations of Great-West Financial, J.P. Morgan Retirement Plan Services and Putnam Investments.

Finding Success as an Industry Consolidator

Attesting to the success of the actions taken to become a consolidator in the financial services industry in Canada, the United States and select countries abroad, Power Corporation now has more than 98 per cent of its assets in that industry. All transactions undertaken since the mid-1990s have resulted in considerable synergies in the companies involved. Power has taken its traditional long-term approach to managing these assets, investing in their people and operations to ensure competitive leadership. It has focused on the implementation and sharing of leading-edge technology – which is the life blood of the financial services industry – among all companies in the group.

A New CEO Takes the Helm at Power Financial

A number of significant management changes took place during this period as well. In 2005, the Board of Directors of Power Financial Corporation appointed R. Jeffrey Orr as President and CEO. Mr. Orr was formerly President and CEO at IGM Financial and had started his career in 1981 at BMO Nesbitt Burns where he worked on a number of transactions for Power, including the creation of Power Financial and numerous, subsequent financial transactions and therefore developed an intimate knowledge of the Power group of companies. In 1999, he was named Chairman and CEO of BMO Nesbitt Burns, a position he held until joining IGM Financial as President and CEO in 2001. Mr. Orr is credited with guiding Power’s portfolio companies through the most significant economic downturn since the Great Depression. He also led Power Financial through several major acquisitions, including Putnam Investments and Irish Life.

Also in 2005, Robert Gratton became Chairman of the Board of Power Financial Corporation, after having served as President and CEO since 1990. In 2008, he retired as Power Financial Chairman and, in 2014, did not stand for re-election as a Director for Power Financial and Power Corporation. In recognition of his outstanding contribution to the Power group of companies over many years, the Board of Directors of Power Corporation appointed him Deputy Chairman Emeritus in May 2014.

During Mr. Gratton’s 15-year tenure as President and CEO, Power Financial’s annual compound total return to shareholders was 23 per cent and market capitalization grew from $1.5 billion to $23.5 billion. Prior to joining Power, Mr. Gratton was appointed in 1982 as the Chairman, President and Chief Executive Officer of Montreal Trustco where he increased the firm’s value by a factor of 13.

List of Officers and Directors

2005
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R. Jeffrey Orr

Recognizing Key Players

Power Corporation has prospered over the years through the expertise and hard work of its many employees. Several senior executives stand out for having devoted much of their careers to the Corporation.


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Raymond L. McFeetors

John Rae

John A. Rae

J. Edward Johnson

J. Edward Johnson

Gérard Veilleux

Gérard Veilleux


Raymond L. McFeetors retired as President and CEO of Great-West Lifeco in 2008, following a distinguished 40-year career and numerous important contributions to the company’s growth and success, including 16 years as President and CEO of Great-West Life. He was appointed Chairman of Great-West Lifeco and was elected to the Board of Directors of Power Financial and named Vice-Chairman. He retired from Power Financial in 2013 but continued to serve as a director of Great-West Lifeco until 2014.

John A. Rae is one of Power’s longest-serving officers. He joined Power Corporation in 1971 as Executive Assistant to the Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Paul Desmarais. In 1978, Mr. Rae became a Vice-President and in 1991, he assumed the responsibilities of Executive Vice-President, a position he continues to hold. In 1988, he was elected to Power’s Board of Directors and served as a Director until 2012. In addition to his role in the growth of Power Corporation, Mr. Rae has made important contributions to his community and to his country.

J. Edward Johnson joined the Corporation in 1985 after a number of executive positions in both the private and public sectors. He was Senior Vice-President, General Counsel and Secretary until 2012. During his tenure, he played a key role in the development of Power, in addition to his role as the Corporation’s spokesperson. As Secretary of Power, he guided the Corporation’s governance structure and practices and ensured regulatory compliance during a time when this topic came under increasing public scrutiny. He continues to serve the Corporation as a special advisor. 

Gérard Veilleux served as President of Power Communications Inc., a Power Corporation subsidiary, from 1994 until 2015 and was Vice-President of Power Corporation from 1998 until 2009. He served as Chairman of the Executive Committee of the Board of Gesca and La Presse until 2015. It was under the leadership of Mr. Veilleux that La Presse established its digital strategy including the development and launch of the La Presse+ application for tablets. He continues to serve the Corporation as a special advisor. 

Evolving Power Board Structure

Subsequent to the financial crisis which began in 2008, Power took the opportunity to re-evaluate its governance structure. The number of directors was reduced from 21 to 12. Related Party and Conduct Review Committees were created at the boards of Power Corporation and at all of its publicly traded subsidiaries.

Power’s governance model remains defined by the philosophy of making long-term investments, providing active ownership and close oversight of its subsidiaries as a means of driving performance, and by contributing to the communities in which it operates.

Saying Farewell to a Canadian Icon

The year 2013 came to close on a sad note. On October 8, the Honourable Paul Desmarais passed away peacefully, after a life of remarkable personal and business achievement.

He was born in 1927 in Sudbury, Ontario and studied commerce at the University of Ottawa and law at Osgoode Hall until taking on the challenge of rescuing the family’s failing bus company. A visionary entrepreneur, he acquired control of Power Corporation in 1968. Paul Desmarais spent the ensuing years transforming Power Corporation into a dynamic financial, industrial and communications holding company with major interests in North America, Europe and Asia.

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Paul Guy Desmarais, 1973

During the course of his lifetime, Mr. Desmarais distinguished himself as an exceptional philanthropist and as a citizen who cared greatly about the arts, architecture, music and education. Through his work, Power has become a force in the charitable giving field and Mr. Desmarais himself gave generously to social causes in support of those less fortunate.

Always a passionate defender of national unity and proud of his French-Canadian heritage, Paul Desmarais was appointed a member of the Privy Council of Canada, Companion of the Order of Canada, and Officer of the Ordre national du Québec. He was also a recipient of the Grand'Croix of the Légion d’Honneur of France and Commandeur de l’Ordre de Léopold II of Belgium. He saw his success in business at home and across the world as a contribution to the development of Canada as a nation and an example to young Canadians of the importance of both official languages.

Viewing Power Today

As at December 31, 2017, Power Corporation had $445.5 billion of consolidated assets. Power Corporation’s 2017 adjusted net earnings attributable to participating shareholders were $1.56 billion, its total dividends declared were $706 million and it had a market capitalization of $13.4 billion. The Corporation’s financial services companies are all industry leaders with diverse and complementary distribution channels, a critical strength in this highly competitive business. These companies are all prudently managed and operate with low cost structures. 
 


Highlights

*December 31, 2017
Adjusted net earnings attribuable to participating shareholders is a non-IFRS financial measure. Refer to the section "Non-IFRS Measures and Presentation" of the Corporation's most recent management's discussion and analysis for the definition and reconciliation of the IFRS and non-IFRS measures.

During the financial crisis, Power’s financial companies kept their credit ratings, raised capital to extend their reach and gain market share, and maintained their dividend. For their part, the Corporation’s other investments in North America, Europe and Asia are diversified, have a foundation in deep and long-term relationships, and produce sound returns. These investments include Pargesa’s investments and the Corporation’s interest in China AMC. Operating under the Sagard brand, Power has three separate investment platforms exploring opportunities in China, the United States and Europe; at the end of 2015 they had a combined fair value of over $1.8 billion.  

Power’s prospects remain strong as it works towards the 100th anniversary of its founding in 2025. From its relatively humble beginnings, through its evolution over the course of the 20th century, and now firmly positioned in the 21st, Power has been built for endurance, for financial strength and for long-term success. 

List of Officers and Directors

2016
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Paul Desmarais, Jr. (left)
and André Desmarais

With a focused investment portfolio, dynamic leadership and strong management teams at its group companies, Power faces the future with great confidence and optimism, in the knowledge its foundations remain solid and are capable of supporting future growth opportunities as they arise.

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