Honuor Roll 2003

GILLES LEPAGE

‘I don’t like to look back. My way is to always look forward.’

JOHN DEMONT June 30 2003
Honuor Roll 2003

GILLES LEPAGE

‘I don’t like to look back. My way is to always look forward.’

JOHN DEMONT June 30 2003

GILLES LEPAGE

‘I don’t like to look back. My way is to always look forward.’

WHEN DOES IT become apparent that Gilles Lepage is not your stereotypical CEO? Is it when he reveals that instead of collecting still lifes or playing golf, he likes to hook rugs when he needs to chill out? Or is it when he gets behind the wheel of his glamourless silver van and apologizes for the cracks that have been spiderwebbing the windshield for the past year. It could happen as he spins through the Caraquet, N.B., headquarters of the Mouvement des caisses populaires acadiennes (MCPA) and, with the intimate knowledge of a village postman, rattles off the names of the passing businesses, schools, churches and hospitals that have experienced his organization’s largesse. Or maybe it’s when he explains that next year, at 57, he’s perhaps going to chuck it all to become a gentleman farmer, harvesting maple syrup and growing blueberries. “I don’t like to look back,” says Lepage. “My way is to always look forward.” Fair enough. But after nine years running New Brunswick’s string of 34 Acadian caisses—or credit unions—a retrospective round of applause is clearly in order. Lepage, a farmer’s son from Rimouski, Que., wasn’t expecting to make a career at the MCPA when he started work there in 1969 after a business degree at the Université de Moncton. All the same, since he became CEO in 1994, the MCPA has doubled its work force (2,000) and asset base ($2 billion) and more than quadrupled profitability—$20.3 million in 2002 vs. $4.5 million nine years ago. Member-owned, co-operative-style financial institutions are dying in many parts of Canada, but they’re thriving in New Brunswick’s Acadian community, where 200,000 people, representing 60 per cent of French-

speaking households, are caisse members.

Lepage’s secret: a pragmatic strategy that embraces the capitalist ethic of creating shareholder value while nurturing economic and social development for a people still sorely lacking both. “We used to have a more passive approach,” says Lepage, who has pushed his organization into everything from mutual funds and providing venture capital to administering corporate payrolls. “In a competitive world, we had to be more proactive and find new opportunities.”

The upshot: the MCPA’s members are able to give back as never before. Four per cent of profits, more than double the rate before Lepage took over, are direcdy plowed back into the community. This money goes to university scholarships and academic chairs, music festivals, theatre troupes, art galleries and hospital, school and sports programs. A prime example: an annual $40,000 contribution that makes possible the Acadian Games, held every summer at a different location in the Maritime provinces. Says Lepage: “We exist to be deeply imbedded in our community.”

Lepage also points to the thousands of competitively paid jobs within the caisse system itself, which have slowed the exodus of the young and ambitious from the area Growing bigger and more profitable, he says, also allows caisse branches to fund more companies, organizations and individuals that the conservative bigger banks would never touch. “Our success,” Lepage adds, “makes Acadians realize they can succeed, too.” Spoken like a man who knows there are other ways, beyond the bottom line, to measure a businessman’s achievements.

JOHN DEMONT