His passing was announced by the Power Corp., the business he ran from 1968 until 1996, and helped turn into a global force with assets of more than half a trillion dollars.
Desmarais was a 24-year-old lawyer when he took control of his family's business, a bus and rail company called Sudbury Bus Lines, in 1951. According to a 2009 profile in the Australian Magazine, Desmarais had to scramble to keep the business afloat, borrowing to meet payroll.
“Desmarais sometimes drove the buses himself, and his wife, Jacqueline, counted the daily receipts on the kitchen table,” the magazine said. “Using his one bargaining chip -- the fact that (Inco) needed its workers at the mine every morning -- Desmarais finally negotiated a loan from the company to help pay creditors and back taxes.”
By 1968, Desmarias had made the business so profitable, he was able to take control of the Power Corporation, an international management and holding company that had assets worth an estimated $527 billion in 2012.
Desmarais' net worth when he died was estimated at $4.5 billion, making him Canada's fourth-richest man and 276th richest man in the world, according to Forbes Magazine.
“Known for his vision, leadership and his innate sense of entrepreneurship and for his profound attachment to his country, Mr. Desmarais contributed greatly to turning Power Corp. into an international management and holding company with interests across North America, Europe and Asia,” the corporation said in a release Wednesday.
Desmarais was chairman and CEO of Power Corp. from 1968 to 1996, when he passed control to his sons. Paul Jr. became chairman and co-chief executive officer, and André became deputy chairman, president and co-chief executive officer.
However, Desmarais Sr. remained controlling shareholder until his death.
“A private family funeral is to be held in the coming days, to be followed by a memorial service at a date to be announced by the Desmarais family,” the corporation's press release said.