7. Estate of Paul Desmarais, Sr.
$4.93 billion +12% | Last year #7 | Age: 86 Montreal, Power Corp. of Canada
Canada has had its share of influential leaders, but none will likely ever match the global business and political connections Paul Desmarais Sr. cultivated over his career. The patriarch of the Desmarais family, who counted former prime ministers and U.S. presidents as friends, died on Oct. 8 at his expansive estate in Quebec’s Charlevoix region. He was 86.
Desmarais got his start in 1951 by quitting law school to buy his family’s struggling bus line for $1. Desmarais quickly restored it to health and in so doing whetted his appetite for putting right struggling companies. He used his growing fortune to make ever-larger acquisitions. One, in 1968, involved a publicly traded conglomerate called Power Corp. Under Desmarais’s stewardship it took on grander meaning. Today Power Corp. is an international financial services conglomerate with more than 30,000 employees in North America. Its primary asset is a controlling stake in Power Financial, which in turn owns the Great-West life insurance companies and IGM Financial. Although Desmarais transferred executive control to sons Paul Desmarais Jr. and André Desmarais in 1996, he remained controlling shareholder and head of the executive committee. Because the sons were groomed over decades to succeed him, his death won’t likely prompt any great unraveling.