2006 PRINTING INDUSTRY HALL OF FAME — BUILDING A DYNASTY
THE WINDS of fate are unpredictable. Somehow, they guided Rémi Marcoux into the world of commercial printing, when he easily could have embarked on a career in accounting.
Had Marcoux turned into a numbers cruncher instead of leading his own printing company, Montreal-based Transcontinental Inc. would have perished in 1975 at the hands of bankruptcy, never having grown to a $1.9 billion empire that employs 14,000 people. It may have been Marcoux’s destiny, for it was hardly a mapped out plan.
In that regard, Marcoux—Transcontinental’s executive chairman and a 2006 inductee into the PRINTING IMPRESSIONS/RIT Printing Industry Hall of Fame—is more than happy to welcome aboard newcomers to the industry. Perhaps he has a soft spot for those whose journey to printing was anything but preordained.
“I like working with people and seeing them develop their careers,” he says. “We have hired some young people who didn’t have any printing experience, and today they are in charge of some of our operations. That gives me great satisfaction.”
Marcoux hails from Beauce, Quebec, a small region located 35 miles south of Quebec City, known for its entrepreneurship. His father owned a general store which, in the 1950s, carried just about anything imaginable, from groceries to hardware. The store adjoined the Marcoux home, which housed Rémi, his six brothers and three sisters.
“In those days, there were no regulations as to store hours, so the store was always open,” he says. “Personally, I feel lucky to have grown up in a family business atmosphere. I learned a lot from my father because I spent a lot of time there.”
Marcoux developed a love for the printed word as a child, latching on to magazines and books for the thrill of reading detective or adventure stories.
Lead Down Different Path
The elder Marcoux passed away at age 39, when Rémi was only 14, and his mother was forced to sell the business. Marcoux no longer had footsteps to follow, so after high school he enrolled in a course in electronics—a vocation popularized by the onset of the television.
Working for a large corporation in Montreal, Marcoux found his initial choice unexciting and opted to enroll at the University of Montreal. He graduated in 1968 as the Canadian equivalent of a CPA and landed a job with the auditing firm of Deloitte & Touche (now KPMG). One of the Deloitte’s clients was a $30 million printing company called Quebecor.
“It was a lot smaller in those days, and they did mostly commercial printing,” Marcoux recalls.
Marcoux soon joined the Quebecor fold and quickly moved up the ranks. He was named COO in early 1971, a position he held until 1975. As the head of operations, Marcoux had the opportunity to help develop Quebecor’s overall strategy, which entailed working on acquisitions. Along the way, he learned what to look for in an ideal fit.
“The first thing I look at is the culture of the company we’re looking to buy,” says Marcoux, who’s engineered some 100 deals over his career. “If there’s too much of a gap between the two, we won’t make a deal because it would be too difficult to integrate. It’s easy to buy machines for a company, but to change the culture of that business is very difficult.
“The first 100 days after an acquisition are highly important. You have to be a good teacher right from the beginning.”
In late 1975, Marcoux saw an opportunity to take the helm of his own printing company. A firm called Imprimerie Trans-Continental, located in the Montreal suburb of St-Laurent, found itself in dire straits following the death of its owner and was not performing well financially. So he teamed with partners André Kingsley and Claude Dubois to obtain and reopen the company.
The plant re-emerged as a specialized flyer printer—the first to introduce four-color flyers to the Quebec market—and posted $3 million in sales its first year. The company grew steadily, opening a plant in Toronto in 1981, followed by Calgary and Vancouver. Its flyer focus evolved during the past 20 years into general commercial printing, book printing, direct mail and newspapers. A network of plants focus on the retail market.
Today, Marcoux proudly notes the No. 1 Canadian positions Transcontinental holds in flyers, books and direct mail, as well as its growing role in outsourced newspaper printing.
“A good chunk of our success is due to the specialization in the early days,” he says. “Also, we spend lots of time training our people. In the flyer business, we were the first to have our own training school in the plant. It’s important to train people not only about our equipment, but also our culture.”
Marcoux counts the late Harry V. Quadracci, founder of Quad/Graphics, as one of the more influential figures in his career. Not surprisingly, Transcontinental shares Quad’s sense of employee community.
“I had the chance to visit his operations a few times,” he says. “I have great respect for Harry because he did things differently than other printers in the United States. They have a culture about how to best serve a customer, about how they organize their labor—stressing teamwork—and about the workflow in their plants. We have developed some of our facilities based on that model.
“I think it’s important to relate to people all over the organization if you want to create and maintain a family atmosphere. Transcontinental is a much larger organization today, but we still think and act as a big family. Although I don’t get the chance to do it as much anymore, walking around on the plant floor and being able to discuss things with the pressmen is important.”
David Friesen, CEO of Altona, Manitoba book printer Friesens Corp., sees Marcoux as “an icon of Canadian printers.” Friesen is most impressed by Marcoux’s vision for Transcontinental and ability to turn that vision into a reality.
“He’s a gracious man and a great Canadian,” Friesen says. “He looks after his people, his managers, and they speak highly of him. I’ve known many of the companies he’s acquired, and I haven’t heard anyone speak a negative thought about him.”
Mark Foote finds Marcoux to be a bright businessman who sports a business edge yet remains approachable, friendly and honorable. Formerly with Canadian Tire, a Transcontinental customer, Foote developed a great admiration for Marcoux over the last 10 years.
“He’s a deliberate, successful man who has great determination and insight,” Foote says. “He’s a very relentless guy, constantly pushing for the next answer, the next interpretation of information. He’s got great endurance.”
Supporting Graphic Arts
Marcoux is an active supporter of graphic arts and educational endeavors. The company backs the graphic arts program at Ryerson University in Toronto and l’Institut des Communications Graphiques du Québec. He has loaned his support as co-president of the United Way in Montreal and headed a fundraising campaign for the International Centre for Conflict Resolution and Mediation, which seeks to quell violence in schools.
Marcoux was named the fourth most-respected CEO in Canada in 2004, according to auditing firm KPMG’s “Survey of Canada’s Most Respected Corporations.” He also received an honorary doctorate in 2003 from his alma mater.
Rémi and Carmelle Marcoux have been happily married for 39 years and have three children: daughters Nathalie and Isabelle, and son Pierre. All three have played various roles in the company’s success, as have two sons-in-law—one of whom, François Olivier, is president of Trancontinental’s printing products and services sector.
Marcoux enjoys going fly fishing for salmon in the summer, downhill skiing, as well as golf, a sport he took up in recent years. But perhaps nothing brings him more joy than spending time with his family, which also includes seven young grandchildren. All of Marcoux’s children live in Montreal; both daughters reside within walking distance of his house. At Christmas time, they vacation together.
“We’re a bit like an Italian family,” he says. “Very close.” PI
Related story: Marcoux PI/RIT Hall of Fame Speech