While a man is not measured by what he does in his spare time, the interests of AGF President Serge Gendron are indicative of his energy and bold choices. Though passionate about his work, when Gendron finds time to unwind, he rarely appears to take the easy way; his pastimes include maple syrup production, salmon fishing, and sailing.
“My father founded Acier Gendron in 1948, right after graduating from École Polytechnique with a degree in engineering,” explains Gendron. With funding from one of his professors, he started a company that was the first in Canada to specialize in reinforcing steel, commonly known as rebar. “Before, contractors had to do this work themselves. They would buy steel, cut it, bend it, and install it on their work sites.” Acier Gendron took advantage of the 1950s construction boom in Quebec and other provinces to build its business.
In the early 1980s, the recession put an end to those profitable years. “I was working as a consulting engineer at the time. My father called and said, ‘I need your help.’ I joined him and learned the profession to salvage the company.” It took Gendron almost ten years to rebuild the firm’s core competencies and surround himself with key personnel again. In the early 1990s, he made a bold move by joining the ranks of those working on the Hibernia project, an immense oil platform off the coast of Newfoundland. “We did business with people from Norway, France, and the United States and performed very well.” Hibernia was followed by other projects, along with acquisitions in Canada. Acier Gendron became AGF Group and began entering new markets. “We now have business units in about ten countries,” notes Gendron.
Although it is a multinational, AGF Group has retained its family roots. “My family works with me. The third generation has now joined the business.” Determined to succeed, Gendron is preparing and training those who will take over for him. “Over five years ago, I set up a family council where everything is discussed transparently. I want the business to last. Maxime, the future CEO, and Catherine, chief of organizational culture, already have all the tools they need to continue AGF’s mission. All I have to do is continue supporting them as best I can during the transition.” Accordingly, the company has adopted a new governance model, formed a board of directors, and implemented a crisis unit, which proved very useful at the beginning of the pandemic. It was able to adjust to the changing market and its diversification without abandoning its values or affiliations.
Work and family are closely linked for Gendron. However, despite the fact that office hours can often extend into time at home, his easy solution for getting away from it all is to find refuge in nature. “I’m fortunate to have a second home in the middle of the woods; it’s like a big playground that keeps me very busy. Managing 150 acres of forest involves a lot of physical activity. I do everything from collecting wood to producing maple syrup.” As you can see, the man enjoys a challenge! For example, instead of using a tubing collection system, he prefers to collect maple sap the old-fashioned way. “A pipeline would ruin the fun for me. Doing it the way it was done 100 years ago means I’m completely independent. We’re very traditional; everything is done by hand. There’s no electricity or running water in the sugar shack. We have to prepare the wood for the evaporator the previous fall. In the spring, we put on snowshoes to collect the sap and then bring it back to the shack using a tractor or snowmobile.” Forestry activities and maple syrup production keep him busy in the fall and spring, while summers are devoted to a sport that requires dexterity, patience, and nerves of steel: salmon fishing. “I couldn’t get through a summer without three or four fishing trips to the Gaspé Peninsula, home to the most beautiful salmon rivers in the world.”
As if forestry and fishing were not enough, Gendron is also passionate about the ocean and sailing. “Sailing was my favourite activity but I had to sell my ship in France. Though my days as a sailor are not over, they are temporarily on hold because of the pandemic.” It is only a matter of time before this self-taught seafarer, who learned to sail his boat after taking a basic navigation course, is back out on the water. “As an engineer, I really loved sailing the Atlantic and dealing with the currents, tides, shoals, marine traffic in Brittany, plotting a course, the weather, etc. When I’m on a sailboat, I relax completely and don’t think about anything else.” Sailing, just like old-fashioned maple sugaring and fly fishing, offers a certain independence. “That’s what I enjoy about sailing the ocean. You decide where you want to go. You just have to be organized. You dock in new ports you’ve never seen with people you don’t know. Sailors share a very special bond.”
Are these pastimes a sign that retirement is on the horizon? “I don’t think that’s the right word. Instead, I plan to modify my role to make more room for the next generation,” says Gendron. Then, before concluding the interview, he talks about another of his passions: wine. No doubt about it, this man will never run out of ideas for new challenges!