We pull back the curtain on the financiers, scions, politicians and CEOs—plus a few bureaucrats and even one hip-hop star—who wield true power in Canada
Only one miner makes the list, Vale Canada’s Jennifer Maki. – Stan Sudol
1. Paul & André Desmarais | Co-CEOs, Power Corp.
If there is a key to the Desmarais family’s formidable wealth and influence, it is this: entree. Paul Desmarais Sr. possessed astonishing business acumen. But it was his ability to cultivate the crème de la crème in politics and finance that elevated him to the highest levels in North America, Europe and China. He met with Deng Xiaoping in Beijing; invited Bill Clinton and George W. Bush to his estate in Charlevoix, Quebec; and received the Grand Cross of the Legion of Honour from Nicolas Sarkozy in 2007.
Most importantly, Desmarais, who died in 2013, meticulously groomed his sons, Paul Jr. and André, for succession. In 1996, he named “the boys”—now in their early 60s—co-CEOs of Power Corp. Since then, Power has quintupled in value. How have they done it? As magnate Peter Munk said in 2008: “The boys got introduced to his contacts. They were educated well, they married well and they’ve behaved.”
Power sits atop a vast collection of assets. Like Warren Buffett, Desmarais built a core of holdings in insurance, then branched out. Power controls asset management firm IGM Financial, as well as Great-West Lifeco, which owns Canada Life, London Life, Irish Life and Putnam Investments. In Europe, through a 50-50 partnership with the family of Belgian billionaire Albert Frère, the Desmaraises have investments in mining, cement, French oil giant Total, Adidas, and spirits maker Pernod Ricard. In China, they have billions invested in infrastructure and manufacturing.
Like their father, Paul Jr. and André network as assiduously as they invest. Paul Martin, Brian Mulroney and Jean Chrétien have all worked for the family. Pierre Trudeau opened the doors to China’s top leadership for the Desmaraises in 1978. When Justin Trudeau mused about negotiating a free trade deal with Beijing last year, he consulted the Desmaraises.
36. Jennifer Maki | CEO, Vale Canada
Maki has quietly risen to become one of the most powerful Canadians in global mining. The native of Kitchener, Ontario, oversees base metals for Vale SA, the Brazilian resources giant. Her empire pulls in more than $6 billion (U.S.) a year in revenue, and spans the former Inco nickel mines in Sudbury and Indonesia, refineries in Europe, copper mines in Brazil, as well as numerous other operations.
Since being appointed chief executive of Vale in Canada in 2014, she has overseen the development of a nickel mine in New Caledonia and the opening of a refinery and smelter in Long Harbour, Newfoundland. Based in Toronto, she is only beginning to build a public profile, but if nickel prices rise and Vale follows through on its long-mulled plan to spin off a chunk of its base-metals operation, she will find herself thrust into the spotlight very quickly.
Maki, the first Canadian to head Vale’s Canadian operations since Vale took over Inco in 2006, has also achieved an unusually long period of union peace in Sudbury, a site of bitter management-labour battles in decades past.
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