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Who is Paul Desmarais?

A friend sent us this article from 2009, which compared Paul Desmarais to Warren Buffett. Much as Adam Smith said about Warren Buffett in his 1972 book Supermoney, when we saw the article we asked ourselves: “Who is Paul Desmarais?” We’re always interested in learning about successful investors, especially those that keep a low profile, so this article was immediately of interest despite being a few years old.

Paul Desmarais  controls The Power Corporation of Canada and  is 235th on the Forbes list of billionaires. Desmarais has also partnered with Albert Frere on a number of deals.  Frere is a name we know and someone often given the coveted “Warren Buffett of X” moniker. In this case, the Warren Buffett of Belgium. Unfortunately the article didn’t shed a whole lot of light on how Desmarais invests but there were a few tidbits:

  • “Before making an acquisition, the Desmarais examine how an industry will evolve over 10 or 15 years.”
  • “Desmarais’s political connections have long spurred speculation he’s swayed government policy in his companies’ favor.”
  • “He was a transaction junkie at that time (1967).”
  • “Paul was attracted by the simplicity, or the cleanliness, of the balance sheet of an insurance company,” Mulroney says. “It provided good, solid cash flow.”
  • “Desmarais was an avid reader of financial statements. ‘You could mention almost any company of any note in North America, and he’d know about it because he’d read the balance sheet.’”
  • “Desmarais also traveled to China, convinced that opportunity lay in that country’s shifting relations with the West.”
  • “One of Paul Desmarais’s great talents was his insight into where the great developments were going to take place in the world,” Martin says. He also acted out of necessity. Desmarais’s home market, now 33 million people, was too cramped for a man of his ambition. “Canadians can’t build world-class businesses without looking outward,” Martin says.
  • “I was struck by his integrity and reliability and his strategic sense of the business deal,” says Frere.