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I crossed paths with Patrick Marion during my first interview in the electrical industry world almost 20 years ago. My mandate was to meet with electrical industry leaders so that I could learn the trends, the origins, the actors… In short, to learn more about the world in which I was going to dive. The subject of the interview was Pierre Dowd, who introduced me at the end to Patrick Marion by saying hey, here’s the person who will succeed me.
“Pierre has always been sure of himself,” said Patrick, who is now president of Desdowd Inc., a manufacturers’ representative for the electrical and electronic distribution market. Patrick arrived at Desdowd one September 11. He was then 26 years old, and his greatest desire was to work on the road. “My father had always been in sales. It seemed exciting, he sold oil for heavy vehicles. As a student, I had worked as a salesperson at Bernard Trottier Sports to pay for my competition skis, I knew that I wanted to be in sales. I also wanted to be on the road, but Pierre told me that I had to first know the products.”
Patrick is a pragmatic being, one part explorer. He began his studies in history, but anticipating that he would not find a job at the top, he continued in administration, economics, marketing. He knew sales and that he wanted to make a career of it on the road, but he followed the advice of the person who would become his mentor and agreed to learn the ropes and follow the course laid out for him. “Upon my arrival at Desdowd I went into the basements of buildings, met entrepreneurs, and promoted products. When I started, I didn’t know electrical products. The electrical world, you fall into it by chance and realize later that it is a wonderful and tightly knit world. People are passionate and so interesting, everyone knows each other.”
Already crazy about the industry, knowing its products, single, childless, he was the ideal candidate to take a position Desdowd opened in Ottawa a little less than two years after his arrival at the company. “I took my backpack and settled in. I stayed for seven years. Then around 1998, Pierre told me that I had proven myself and I returned as Director of Sales for the company.” And started to buy shares in the company.
When I ask why Pierre chose him, he tells me that in team meetings he was always the first to take the floor, to stand on his chair and explain his strategies and methods to other salespeople on the team. “People listened to me and followed me, Pierre saw my capacity for leadership. He was like a conductor, an artist. He had an innate sense for finding the right people for the job.”
It took Patrick 10 years to buy the company, and for the last three years he has been owner and president. He has a partner, Jean-Sébastien Bercier, who has also started buying shares in the company and acts as Vice President. “I had learned the importance of surrounding myself with capable people, and went looking for the perfect partner. Jean-Sébastien has taken the reins of the company, and my work now is more analytical and financial.”
When I comment that he must find this role a bit tedious, he replies with a laugh that the love story between him and Desdowd was made to last. “Indeed, I like to meet people, I still do it and I’m still on the lookout for new lines for our portfolio.”
And so he sees his future with the company. But how does he see the future of the industry?
“I’m very optimistic. There have been many mergers in recent years, and enormous sums of money are involved in these transactions. These new companies will focus on research and development, and will leave it to sales professionals to deal with their products. There are of course online sales, but this is still not still the main form of transaction in our industry and our distributors still retain the old good proven formula of sales counters and points of sale. For the time being, this he business model is not expected to disappear.”
He adds that our industry is changing course, but not necessarily quickly. “Today we have the same problems we did 15 years ago, and the most important one is succession. It is difficult outside the niche of succession family to attract young people into our industry.”
Pierre remains involved in the industry. Invited by Sylvie Boileau of Dubo to join the Quebec Section of Electro-Federation Canada, Patrick served as its second president. Today he is still involved and takes care of chapters fall events. An invitation was issued to members for a function at the Grévin Museum on October 2: speakers from the business world in the afternoon, and in the evening members and their companions will circulate among the museum’s famous wax figures. Pragmatist and explorer.
And his personal future?
“Manufacturing agent, this is the greatest job in the world. Our company is well oiled. I am surrounded by good people, and the stress no longer rests on my shoulders. What made this company successful was to hire good people, never put off fixing a problem until tomorrow, and don’t be afraid to step up to the plate see things through. If you feel that you are heading in the wrong direction, then change direction.”
Piere’s personal future seems to be inspired by this formula. If he had not fallen into sales, and if Desdowd had been larger, he might have ended up a forestry engineer. Still part pragmatist and part explorer, he recently bought a sugar bush. And because there’s nothing to keep him up at night, there’s nothing preventing him from having a second interest — art. There are works of art throughout the building, including his office, all professionally lit. Patrick is a connoisseur. He has bought the great contemporary masters — Cosgrove, Riopelle, Ferron, Besner. He buys only what moves him. He shares this passion with his wife, Caroline White, artist and gallery owner.
Sometimes the word retirement comes up during our conversation, but no one seems to really focus.
Desdowd was founded in 1967 and has 20 employees, including 11 sales representatives. The company has offices in Montreal, Quebec City and Ottawa, and is known for having long-term relationships with the manufacturers it represents. Some have been partners from the beginning.