Louis Beaulieu, General Manager of Ouellet Canada — A Leader Who Connects Generations
Aug 29, 2019
By Line Goyette
Neither a Millennial nor a Baby Boomer, Louis Beaulieu embraces new technologies and new markets, but remains faithful to family traditions. He holds a bachelor’s degree in finance and a master’s degree in management from Laval University and is the General Manager of Ouellet Canada. A perfect profile for a career in the family business.
When I ask him if, as is often the case in a family business, he had always known that he was going to join the company, he replied, “Not at all. When I was young, I spent my school holidays at my older brother’s farm at Ile d’Orléans. I spent 10 summers away from L’Islet and learned the hard way that farming was not for me.” Of his connection to the family business when he is not yet old enough to work there, he will say, “Of course I knew the language of distribution, our business model. Discussions were regular around the table, but as there were already several family members working there — my father, uncle, cousin and brothers — my father saw with a good eye that I would make my way outside the company family.”
It was in the banking world that he began his career. “I really enjoyed working for a large corporation at the end of my studies. It was an amazing school.” In 2001, during a wave of consolidation in the industry, his uncle retired and his father became the company’s main shareholder. Then in 2009, his brother asked him to come and share his expertise and experience with the rest of the family and to join the company as national sales manager. A professional page had just been turned for Louis Beaulieu. The three brothers, Martin, Philippe and Louis, became the main shareholders of the company that same year.
Upon his arrival at the company he first had to tame a new industry, far from the banking world. “I was lucky enough to have at my side for four years the director from whom I took over. He constantly advised me and trained me on all aspects of work, from profit margins to customer service. I had to settle with the company partners, but I was very fortunate to have a surname and reputation that preceded me. People treated me spontaneously like a family member, I didn’t have a broken pot to fix. My job was to build.”
He says his brother saw the next generation in him, and six years later he became CEO of Ouellet Group Canada. He goes on to talk about the unheard-of luck he had to be able to count on almost two generations ahead of him: his father and his brother, who is 12 years older.
“With three generations at the table, we have a great historical perspective on what has been done. My father and brothers have saved me from mistakes and taught me patience. You would have to have a huge ego not to listen to a father with 45 years in the company and a brother with 30 years of experience. When in doubt, I always listen to them. It’s an incredible wealth.”
“I’m still relatively new to my role — it’s only been three years — and when there are changes in leadership, there’s always a lot of change to manage. I ended up with a younger, renewed management team. When I came from the world of finance, some people feared that the culture of the company would change. We have managed to maintain the company’s vision, but things are changing, we need to change people. I knew that investing in business relationships with distributors and entrepreneurs was important and desirable, but also with our peers. Over the past few years, I have been able to reap the benefits of maintaining relationships with other industry partners. I continue to participate in industry events such as Electro-Federation Canada’s annual conference, because it’s by working with people in the industry that we can share best practices.”
Mergers, acquisitions, introducing new products, developing the U.S. market, things have been moving since his arrival. I ask him what he is most proud of under his leadership. The answer is spontaneous: “Giving young people, women, people who don’t come from the industry, that’s what I’m most proud of and the reward is seeing people succeed and in return these people develop loyalty.” This is all the more important because for him one of the biggest challenges facing the industry is the labour shortage. “The problem is not so much at the assembly level, but in terms of other services — engineering, marketing, customer service, sales service. It’s a real headache. Turnover is expensive. We need to find winning solutions to attract and retain the workforce.”
The other major challenge for the electrical industry according to Louis Beaulieu is modernization. “We need to develop e-commerce, adopt digitization, and look for gains in terms of fluidity. Our competitors in other industries have integrated everything from ordering to delivery, like Amazon. We have a long way to go, technological innovations to adopt. They are important investments and it is very complex. Our distributors do not all operate at the same speed: we still receive fax orders. I think the turn is going to be difficult. The return on investment is not clear, and at the moment the question is, ‘What will happen if I do not?’”
I ask Louis what he thinks are the major trends in electric heating, his segment of the industry, especially in the face of climate change? “There is a lot of uncertainty about what is coming in the long term. There is pressure on other sources of energy, a conversion to electricity, we hope, we have always hoped, but we may have to wait a little longer. Customers want efficiency, intelligent systems, more comfort, more radiant products. They’re becoming more demanding and want economical and comfortable heating.” Louis points out that the industrial and commercial market is moving more slowly than the consumer market, but that diminishing supplies of oil open up immense potential for electric heating.
The challenges are great in both the electrical industry and Ouellet Canada’s sub-sector. Tariffs and economic battles are front page news, and he points out that in his view any trade tension in a global economy hurts and hinders business development. There are many issues to be raised; he is aware of and ready to raise them.
In this context, how does he reconcile his personal life with his professional life? “Over the last 10 years, I haven’t had many work breaks. However, I don’t consider my work to be a burden, I like what I do, follow the company’s performance, it is not an effort for me, I often feel on vacation even when I work. I like to see the world, I participate in a lot events. The day I can’t wait to go on vacation may be the time to retire. There are people who like crossword puzzles, I’m keeping abreast of what’s going on in the company and in the industry that I love. Sometimes I arrive at dinner and I am concerned, but my two-month-old and three-and-a-half-year-old quickly bring me back to earth.”
Line Goyette is Managing Editor of CEW; firstname.lastname@example.org. Find out more about Ouellet Canada Inc.: www.ouellet.com
L-R: Louis Beaulieu, Philippe Beaulieu, Martin Beaulieu and Raymond Beaulieu