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Forward facing

Pierre Morrissette, MBA’72, LLD’10, still pushing Canadians toward a more entrepreneurial future

by Jason Winders, MES’10, PhD’16

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During a years-ago conversation between a pair of Canadian communications giants – Pierre Morrissette and Ted Rogers – the late Rogers Communications CEO joked that his definition of an entrepreneur was someone who, at some point, had mortgaged their house to make payroll.

“What does it mean if you have done it twice?” Morrissette asked.

“That means,” Rogers replied, “you’re now a member of the club.”

Morrissette, MBA’72, LLD’10, has been a member of that entrepreneur club for nearly half a century. For a kid who preferred his father’s Fortune magazine to Sports Illustrated, there was no other future in mind. And today, as he enters the next stage of a storied career, Morrissette still sees entrepreneurship not only as an integral part of the next generation’s mindset, but a vital piece of a prosperous future for Canada.

“Most people would like to start their own business, own their own business – but few do. Why is that?” Morrissette asked. “For one, entrepreneurship is tough. Every step of the way, you are starting from scratch. Ultimately, you need a tolerance for risk, you have to be willing to bet the farm. And you have to have great supports.”

After early stints in the banking and communication sectors, the Montreal-born Morrissette founded Pelmorex Media Inc. in 1989. Starting with a handful of television stations, the company purchased The Weather Network and MétéoMedia in 1993. Under his direction, Pelmorex became the undisputed leader in weather-related data across all platforms in Canada.

It is a position the company garnered by its leader’s willingness to think a bit differently.

“Managing from the rearview mirror doesn’t get you very far,” said Morrissette, who drew early inspiration from his father, who started as an entry-level accountant in a multinational food company and, eventually, rose to become its CEO. “As a company, we have been very good at going where the market is going to be. We get there early, we occupy that space and we create a leadership position there. And we often do all that before we know what the exact business model is going to be.

“It is entrepreneurial. It is innovation. And it requires embracing change.”

Serving as Pelmorex founder and CEO since 1989, Morrissette became the company’s Executive Chairman in September 2017 as Sam Sebastian, former Google Vice-President and Managing Director of Canadian Operations, was named President and CEO. While an active advisor within the company, Morrissette has also used this transition to augment his focus on helping the next generation of entrepreneurs across Canada.

“More and more people, especially among this generation, view entrepreneurship as a really exciting path to follow, a really exciting career. I don’t think it was seen as that 20 years ago,” he explained. “These are young people who see the advantage in taking ownership over their lives and careers through entrepreneurship. In them, I see that determination and tenacity necessary for success.”

Among 18-34 year olds, more than 1-in-3 consider themselves an entrepreneur. Perhaps surprisingly, the positivity of these young entrepreneurs has not been swayed by economic slowdown or an evolving job sector shedding full-time work in lieu of a ‘gig economy’ of part-time and contract work. Among self-identified entrepreneurs, almost 60 per cent see good opportunities to start a business in the next six months. More than half have confidence in their skills to start a business; a further majority are uninhibited by thoughts of failure, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor Canada 2016 report.

More broadly, Canada stands as the second-easiest place in the world to start a company, behind only New Zealand and a full 49 positions above the United States, according to the World Bank’s Doing Business 2017 report. Nearly 1-in-5 working-age Canadians are either setting up a company or are already owner-managers of a revenue-generating business less than three and a half years old, according to the Global Entrepreneurship Monitor.

But this isn’t just a young person’s opportunity. Morrissette pointed to numerous mid-career individuals looking to make the leap, as well. And he should know – he made his entrepreneurial leap in his mid-40s

“We are going to see more and more of that. And that is a good thing,” he said. “The more people who come into private enterprise – and that is the base of our economy – that means we grow our economy, we grow investment, we grow jobs.

“That is why I am so passionate about entrepreneurship. The end result is long-term, beneficial growth for Canada.”

Calling it the “engine that drives the country’s economy,” Morrissette sees entrepreneurship as an opportunity to create homegrown global champions of Canadian values, beliefs and practices and export them into new markets. At every level of government, at every university, we need to create ways to help these people chase and achieve their dreams, he stressed.

For the last decade, Morrissette has done that through the Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship at Ivey Business School. Created in 2006, the Institute is the global standard-bearer for entrepreneurship research and education.

It was the success found within those walls that inspired Morrissette to push out even further. As co-chair of the Western in Entrepreneurship Advisory Board, he is a key player the campus-wide entrepreneurship ecosystem taking shape over the last year.

“We were very successful in the Ivey Business School with the Morrissette Institute,” he explained. “But now, we are seeing it grow throughout all the faculties at Western. Other universities have achieved success within one faculty – like with engineering at ‘The Other W School’ – but Western is setting itself apart by partnering across all faculties. We are integrating all of our skill sets to create success stories.

“We are talking about expanding entrepreneurship across the university. We are looking to create ideas and then enable the commercialization of those ideas. What that means is employment, investment and growth. With where the economy is going in the future, the more of these type of people Western produces, and as Western becomes a leader in this area, then we are contributing greatly to Canada. That is exciting.”

This article appeared in the Winter 2018 edition of Alumni Gazette
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