Nobody in the Canadian co-operative movement draws more attention or more speculation than Monique Leroux (pictured left). The vibrantly attractive CEO of Desjardins Group, which bestrides Quebec with $212 billion in assets, $1.5 billion in after tax profit, 45,000 employees and six million members, with more tentacles all the time extending en dehors la belle province, evidently wants the world as her oyster.
The rush of Desjardins to take the world by storm has been described here. Most recently, the giant caisse populaire has acquired the Canadian arm of U.S. insurer State Farm Life Insurance Co., in a move that will transform Desjardins into Canada’s second-largest property and casualty insurer, nearly doubling its annual premium income to $3.9-billion.
Readers of Accelerator will know that Ms Leroux has been our odds-on choice to lead the co-op movement in Canada, which has been sorely lacking creative leadership for decades. But our choice doesn’t appear to be hers. Those who are close to her say she’s more likely to be heading abroad once her current (second) tour as CEO of Desjardins ends next year.
Some believe she may have Pauline Green’s role in view. Britain’s Dame Pauline, who is five years older, is the head of International Co-operative Alliance, the apex organization that represents almost a billion members worldwide, more than a quarter of them in the United States. ICA, based in Geneva, is co-sponsor with Desjardins of the International Summit of Co-operatives, a Davos-like gathering of co-op business leaders that’s holding its second event in Quebec City this October. The first edition, a highlight of the UN’s International Year of Cooperatives in 2012, drew 3,000 participants to an extravaganza that cost a hyperbolically estimated $10 million and was universally judged a spectacular success.
The Quebec Summit has allowed Ms Leroux to host nobel laureates (Robert Shiller), international diplomats (Madeleine Albright) and public intellectuals (Jeffrey Sachs) among hundreds of other leading lights. Following its initial triumph, she was elected a director of ICA, joining there the CEO of Co-operators Group, Kathy Bardswick, another member of the sorority that dominates the financial co-op sector in Canada (five of the seven largest financial co-ops are headed by women). Also prominent at ICA is Nicholas Gazzard, CEO of Co-operative Housing Federation of Canada, who leads the Alliance’s co-op housing subcommittee. This vanguard is supported by a phalanx of Desjardins’ officers, including Stéphane Bertrand (pictured left), who runs the Quebec Summit and was a member of the working group that wrote ICA’s “blueprint for a co-operative decade” to 2020; and Éliane O’Shaughnessy, special advisor to Ms Leroux, who is on the international steering committee for ICA’s World Cooperative Monitor.
Those who see ICA in Ms Leroux’s future think she may be following the path of public service plowed by Mark Carney, who left the Bank of Canada last year to take over the Bank of England. There are others, though, who think she’s more likely to emulate Matt Barrett, who went from CEO of Bank of Montreal to Barclay’s Bank in Great Britain at the turn of the century. Desjardins already partners in a $50 million high tech venture capital fund with Crédit Mutuel, the fifth largest bank in France.
Assuming that she does move to the global scene, who else is in view with what it takes to reinvigorate the Canadian co-op movement? At the apex of the capitalist party of property in Canada today as CEO of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (of which Ms. Leroux is a proud member, shading her co-op allegiance) is John Manley, a former deputy prime minister. Oddly enough, a coincidental connection to new co-op leadership may well run through Ms. Leroux’s cabinet. Before Stéphane Bertrand took on the Quebec Summit for her, he was chief aide to former Quebec Premier Jean Charest. Therein, some find hope for the future. Mr. Charest, who is another former deputy prime minister and a couple of years younger than Ms. Leroux, has renounced politics and is languishing in a big-law office in Montreal these days. If he gets the call to cooperate, who knows?, he might answer.