Stephan Crétier, Founder, Chairman and CEO of GardaWorld

by Stephan Crétier – Founding President and Chief Executive Officer, GardaWorld

Stephan Crétier is Founder, Chairman and CEO of GardaWorld, the world’s largest privately owned security company.

Stephan knows all about risk and reward. In 1995, he sold his car and took out a second mortgage to start the company. Since then, he’s faced bankruptcy four times, nearly losing his home in the process. But thanks to Stéphan’s incredible entrepreneurial spirit, the company today is worth more than $10 billion.

In this episode we’ll talk about Stephan’s early years as a baseball umpire, his illicit high school business, and the number of fugitives on the island of Montreal.

The transcript can be found here. Please note that the transcript is unedited.

Goldy Hyder:

Welcome to Speaking of Business, Conversations with Canadian Innovators, Entrepreneurs, and Business Leaders. I’m Goldy Hyder, President and CEO of The Business Council of Canada. Today, I’m speaking with Stephan Cretier, founder, chairman, and CEO of GardaWorld, the world’s largest privately owned security company. Stephan knows all about risk and reward. In 1995, he sold his car and took out a second mortgage to start the company. Since then, he’s faced bankruptcy four times, nearly losing his home in the process.

Goldy Hyder:

But thanks to Stephan’s incredible tenacity and entrepreneurial spirit, the company today is worth more than 10 billion dollars. In this episode we’ll talk about Stephan’s early years as a baseball umpire, his illicit high school business. How’s that for a teaser? And a number of fugitives on the Island of Montreal. This is a great one, so sit back and enjoy.

Goldy Hyder:

Stephan, thanks so much for doing this.

Stéphan Crétier:

It’s a pleasure. Thanks for having me.

Goldy Hyder:

We’re delighted to have you here. Now before I start talking about you we have to talk about your business because you made a major transaction back in July.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, indeed. Well, I privatized the company in 2012, really trying to conquer the world at that time. We’ve gone to private equity. They always say they’re there for five, seven years, but when you bring them returns of 35% every year, they have a tendency of going out .So we privatized at 1.1 billion and we just did the largest buyout in Canadian history this summer at 5.3 billion dollars where I took 50% of the business with a new private equity, so very exciting.

Goldy Hyder:

We’ll come back to that I’m sure, but now that we’ve gotten the headline out of the way in terms of the big news at Garda this year, let’s go to the beginning. I want to start talking about your upbringing here. Your father was a maitre d’ and a union leader. Your mother was an aesthetician.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yep.

Goldy Hyder:

How did you wind up in business with that?

Stéphan Crétier:

I’ve got no idea. Maybe it’s a question of survival or something. There’s this question of growing up and being independent. My parents immigrated in the late 50’s to try to get a better life here, and, yes, they did get a better life.

Goldy Hyder:

He came from Italy, and she came from Switzerland?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes, they met in Geneva. One of my sisters was born in Geneva.

Goldy Hyder:

So immigrants?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, exactly. I arrived in Halifax, and my father as he was telling me the choice, going to Australia, South Africa, or Canada. That was the idea. He moved to Canada, and when he had job, my mom followed a year later. I think there’s a question of independence. I saw them struggling. It wasn’t easy. They separated a certain time. The aspect of independence was there, so in my view there was always this idea of call it financial liberty in there, but at the same time this aspect of creativity also was there saying what kind of business could I have. I remember having small businesses at school. I won’t say what it is because… Well, it is legal.

Goldy Hyder:

Lemonade stands?

Stéphan Crétier:

It is legal today, so that’s another story. I’ve done crazy things in terms of trying to have businesses and all that. Even started the baseball school at age 18, which was the first baseball school in Canada. I’ve always had this kind of entrepreneurial, but I just didn’t know what.

Goldy Hyder:

You’re just a born businessman by the sounds of things?

Stéphan Crétier:

Well, I don’t know, but I guess there was this aspect of independence. It’s funny because when I was young I was working for the City of Laval, a suburb of Montreal, and my idea was I want to get a permanent job here because for me it was this aspect again of financial stability there. But I had the same idea of having a small business on the side. And I still remember my good friend, it was my boss, he said, “Sometimes you’d think that you almost accepted a job being a civil servant in the City of Laval.”

Goldy Hyder:

I don’t think you would have lasted, Stephan.

Stéphan Crétier:

No, exactly. So I’ve had this question a lot in saying, “Is there something?” I don’t know. The same thing my father spoke fluently five languages and was trying to get me to speak Italian at home. I’ve got this very independent mindset. No, I wasn’t going to speak Italian.

Goldy Hyder:

Any regrets?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, of course. Of course you’d like to speak many languages today. But they decided, “So you don’t want to speak Italian, at least we’re going to send you to an English school.” So think 70’s, you’re a francophone, and you’re sent in the high school of 2,000 students which is anglophone during the separatist movement in Quebec. I can tell you, I think my average was probably a fight a day. So you learn to survive a little bit. I think my Italian blood helped me because there was all this [crosstalk 00:05:00].

Goldy Hyder:

You might’ve wanted to use your Swiss blood and create peace.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, well, that wasn’t the case there. I think it was more survival. I think there’s also this aspect of survival in this environment, which was a tough environment at school. People talk about bullying. At that time, it was either you survive or you get bullied. I think I learned quite fast choose your fights.

Goldy Hyder:

How did that experience shape you? We forget, you’re just a kid, and you’re having to suddenly deal with the political realities of your province.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, well, it was a challenge because I remember teachers taking really radical positions with students that were francophone, and we were nine.

Goldy Hyder:

Such as? What did you experience? What do you remember?

Stéphan Crétier:

Oh, no, just if we would have comments or asking questions just to put maybe a doubt of what [inaudible] at that time was saying, oh my God, you would get a zero on your essay. I think it shaped me a little bit around what I would call the Quebec nation and the aspect of protecting the French nature of businesses. It’s something that is well known in the company. We do communicate in French. Yes, we communicate in English, but all our communications there’s always a French communication in there, and we don’t need a lot to tell us that.

Stéphan Crétier:

I think that’s something that came from the school of being bullied by teachers at that time. It wasn’t the students, it was the teachers that were just bullying you just because you were a francophone. It just doesn’t make sense.

Goldy Hyder:

I want to go back to your childhood. You just mentioned baseball. Were you good at sports? Was baseball just from the Expos? Why baseball? I obviously am going to ask the obvious question about that, which is you went into being an umpire.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes. Well, I wasn’t good at sports. As I said, I was good boxing. I was good boxing and fighting.

Goldy Hyder:

Sounds more like street fighting to me based on what you said.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, but it’s still a sport. You get in a gym, and still… But I wasn’t really good. But my friends, some of my friends, were involved in baseball when I was 14 years old. One was coaching and he said, “Oh, you should coach a team,” and I decided to start coaching nine, ten years old. Naturally you’re competitive, and you’re always arguing with umpires, and you’re arguing with the other coach. There’s all kinds of arguments in there. One day one of my friend coach said, “Stephan, we’re going to stop arguing.” He said, “I’m going to take an umpire coach next year, and I’m going to know the rules, and I’m going to beat you.” I said, “Oh, I’m going to do the same thing.” So that’s how I started being an umpire is I went to umpire school.

Stéphan Crétier:

Unfortunately, if you wanted to keep your permit or your license you need to umpire. I wouldn’t say I was the best umpire. I think I was the worst umpire I could get, but I could control a game. So the difference of managing people and being a little bit guy responsible for traffic made me a good umpire in there. I kind of enjoyed it. That’s how my umpire career started from small game when I was 14 years old to-

Goldy Hyder:

You got you some big league games, didn’t you?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, indeed. Indeed. What happened is by 16 I was doing provincial championship, at 18 I was doing national. At age 20, there was the World Cup that was in [inaudible 00:08:19]. They had selected umpires, and they asked me to go, but they needed an exemption from the International Federation because you needed to be 35 to umpire a major competition, an international competition. I got the exemption. As a player, you win, you go to final. An umpire, you’ve got a committee that evaluates you and you get to the playoffs. I was chosen as the umpire and chief for the final, youngest to do that in the history of sport. So go back… You know, I’m 55. Go back 30 something years ago, and it was a game between the US and Cuba on World Wide of sports, a Saturday afternoon. Fantastic game.

Stéphan Crétier:

That brought me to professional baseball because at the end of the game someone knocked at the door here in the locker. You’re having a beer with your friends, and someone is taking care of your equipment and all that. Someone knocks at the door, and I can still remember the logo and the name of the guy, Bud. It was major league baseball, Bud something. It was written umpire scout or scouts for umpire. I’ve never heard of that. The guy starts telling you, a good salesperson, “We’ve been following your career. You’re rated number one rookie, umpire number five.” I didn’t even know that existed. He started a pitch around the Expos and the Blue Jays, and they wanted more Canadians. That’s where I decided to attend the training camp for minor league umpires where I was selected.

Goldy Hyder:

Right. You didn’t stick with it though. Why?

Stéphan Crétier:

Well, I had this dream again. There’s always the dream of being number one. I think that was the idea of saying, “You know, I want to be the first Canadian major league umpire.” So I did the camp. They were choosing 35, and we were 235. I’d like to tell you I finished first. I finished 35th. It was an adaptation. I never traveled. The maximum I traveled was to Maine, so that was a six hour drive from Montreal. I enjoyed it. I enjoyed every moment. I was four years in the US umpiring in a number of what you would call minor league pro ball working off-season camps for major league baseball. I did it all.

Stéphan Crétier:

At the same time you’re reflecting on what you want to do in life, and I think this aspect of liberty was there. I was saying, “Okay, I’m probably four years from the major, five year major if everything goes well.” I was 24. I was going to turn 25. You’re thinking, “I’m going to be 29, 30, and for whatever reason you’re stuck in triple A.” You just ruined 10 years-

Goldy Hyder:

The prime of your life.

Stéphan Crétier:

… of your… Exactly. It just didn’t make sense. They were paying us $800 per month plus coupons for Burger King. I’ve eaten so much Burger King in my life that I can tell you the days they were cleaning the grills. That was just crazy.

Goldy Hyder:

When you think about sports and you think about umpiring, there’s a lot of parallels to business, isn’t there? What are the things that you learned that you’re now applying to your career?

Stéphan Crétier:

Well, a number of things. It’s funny because I must have 40 or 50 umpires in the organization that are working for me.

Goldy Hyder:

Interesting. Recruitment tool.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yep, exactly. It’s a very recruitment thing. No, I think there’s a de-aspect of communication. I think the aspect of communication people don’t realize that you may have 40,000 or 50,000 spectators or if you’re doing a minor league, you’re in a town where there’s 10,000 spectators and you’re all alone with these people, and they’re all coming from a different background. Minor league baseball is really tough. You’ve got 25 players on one side and all black, the other ones are 25 all Latinos. The only way they can get out of poverty these guys is their capacity to pitch, run, throw, and bat a baseball.

Stéphan Crétier:

So I think you develop a certain task of I would call stress management. People say, “I don’t understand. You’re not stressed by that.” I think you don’t know what stress is all about because that’s one to the aspect of communication. You’re a francophone. My English was so-so at that time. You need to run the show. You need to run the show there. I think the aspect of communication, the aspect of leadership is very important. There’s books from the association of baseball and leadership. I run my business like a baseball game.

Goldy Hyder:

How so?

Stéphan Crétier:

Well, the number one role of a CEO is talent management in my view.

Goldy Hyder:

You’re like the dugout coach?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yep. Number one is every morning I get up, and I wonder if I have the best lineup. Everyone knows in your organization it’s exactly that. I’ve terminated president of division that made their budget for the last five years, but in my view they had won the last five races, but they weren’t going to win the next races. This aspect of performance driven, this aspect of long term, long season 162 games, but short season every game counts, brings a sense of urgency that is very, very important.

Stéphan Crétier:

The aspect of mix. You always say I’m recruiting for fit, which is the end of the day BS because if you’re looking for fit you’re just looking for people that you want to have a beer with-

Goldy Hyder:

Get along with.

Stéphan Crétier:

… which is not true. You want one third baseman. You want one short stop. You want one center field. You want one catcher. If you got four catchers, it doesn’t work. It’s like having a CFO catcher and adding other persons in your organization, which are more salespeople, which is someone who is batting third, which is there for home runs. It just helps me compartmentalize the company and the talent and always thinking the right person at the right place.

Goldy Hyder:

I love it. I think there’s a lot to be learned from sports to business and business to sports. I certainly use a lot of sports analogy. I’m assuming you still get out to some ballgames?

Stéphan Crétier:

Rarely. It’s funny. Rarely. I still like… Well, I’m part of the group that’s trying to bring back baseball in Montreal. I’m a passive investor in there. I still have a passion for the sport. I don’t have a passion at watching games, so it’s a little bit different. I’ll still go on my yearly visit to Fenway and watch a good Red Sox game.

Goldy Hyder:

Is that your favorite place?

Stéphan Crétier:

I like going there.

Goldy Hyder:

Everybody loves Fenway.

Stéphan Crétier:

It’s a real stadium. You go there, and it smells shit. This is what a baseball stadium should be.

Goldy Hyder:

The Red Sox.

Stéphan Crétier:

[inaudible 00:14:43]. The toilet smells. You walk in there, and it feels like a real baseball stadium.

Goldy Hyder:

None of this modern stuff.

Stéphan Crétier:

No, exactly. You smell. You smell the pizza. You smell the hot dogs. You smell everything. I like that.

Goldy Hyder:

One last question from your early days, and we’ll sort of get to when you were in the United States. I read that one of your first jobs was store detective at The Bay.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes, yes.

Goldy Hyder:

Was that the beginning of where we’ve ended up or was that just a-

Stéphan Crétier:

No. While I was doing baseball I was coming back in the winters here, and I would work for the City of Laval in parks and all that. At the same time I had a few hours, a little bit of hyperactive at that time. I found a job as a store detective at The Bay working maybe 15 hours a week. I worked there maybe four, five, six months maximum and between you and I more running after the girls in cosmetics than really running after shoplifters. But in reality, that’s how I became a security expert. This is really how I became a security expert because when I stopped baseball and I came back, I got my resume out, and I started getting interviews in the security industry. It was a bunch of mom and pops. It was large retailers that were looking people in loss prevention. You’re going to all these interviews, you say, “Interesting. Yes, interesting topic.”

Stéphan Crétier:

I remember calling the recruiter, Andy. I said, “Andy, why these interviews in the security industry?” He said, “First of all, you’ve been in the US for so many years. Everyone knows in the US there is guns. They kill people, and it’s dangerous. You must know something about criminology.” He says too, he says, “I look at your resume and you worked at The Bay as a store detective.” I guess that made me a security expert, and that’s how I entered the security industry.

Goldy Hyder:

You’re from Quebec. You’re Canadian, but you’ve really done a lot of your assessments of the nature and the culture of American business in terms of, I believe your words were, they are more predatory than the usual culture in Canda. How much did your time in the United States shape your attitude on how to do business in Canada and how to compete and win in Canada?

Stéphan Crétier:

It’s been a game changer. I think I’m probably one of the most American CEO you can find, American Canadian CEO.

Goldy Hyder:

In the way you think?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes. I would say when we’re publicly traded there was a number of journalists that were following us, and they would describe exactly that. We love doing interviews where you’re so American in the way you answer. You’re so blunt. You’re so direct. You’re so not politically correct in how you answer, and it’s good paper for us.

Goldy Hyder:

Must have gotten you in trouble from time to time though.

Stéphan Crétier:

Oh, many times. Many times. Many times. But you’re right, I see the world in a very predatorial way. You’re either on the menu or you’re looking in the menu.

Goldy Hyder:

It sounds like sports again, right? The other team’s here to beat you.

Stéphan Crétier:

Exactly. I don’t believe in the Olympics where there’s a silver medal. No one remembers who finished second at the Super Bowl last year.

Goldy Hyder:

As they say, you lost to get that.

Stéphan Crétier:

Exactly. You need to win the last game. That’s what it is. I’ve built this culture at GardaWorld around you’re either looking at a menu or you’re on the menu, and this is not the Olympics here. You either win or you lose, so naturally it brings this aspect of being predator in the markets that we enter.

Goldy Hyder:

All right. So then you come back to Canada, and you end up in a job as a director of operations with a security company. In that job you had a revelation. What was it?

Stéphan Crétier:

I’ve had many revelations, but, yeah, I discovered an incredible industry. These industries were all run like police force. All this industry was police people trying to be in business. At the end of the day I saw this business as being a simple B2B model but specialized around security. Having studied a little bit what was happening in Europe because Europe invented in reality the modern security market, I was seeing the potential, and I said, “We can do something fantastic,” and that’s my five years in this organization. Was named CEO of the business after six months because I just transformed the model and just repackaged the process around the business and got it extremely well focused where we were able to multiply the top line and bottom line by five. I really got excited by the potential of the industry.

Goldy Hyder:

I think your line was, “Security people were in business instead of business people in security.”

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, I’ve repeated that. I still repeat that in front of investors. It’s exactly today.

Goldy Hyder:

You’re a businessman.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes.

Goldy Hyder:

That happens to be in the area of security.

Stéphan Crétier:

Exactly. Of course, I have access. Sometimes people at the Business Council, probably 70% of the people there I’m their shit fixer. I hate to say that, but I take care of their problem. Sometimes they see me as the real security guy. In reality, I’m the businessperson that sees a lot of security, so maybe I have a knowledge of security that is a little bit more open than others. But before anything else, I’m a businessperson.

Goldy Hyder:

So we brought the listener now to the place where you have this moment where you realize that you can do a better job of this in where you’re working. You come home and you convince yourself, I think, to basically take out a second mortgage for $25,000 to start up GardaWorld. Is there ever a moment where you’re thinking, “Should I do this? Shouldn’t I do this? What the heck am I thinking?”

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes, yes, and yes. Well, at the end of the day what happened is I never felt I was going to be the pure entrepreneur, so I’m not the guy who woke up and said, “I’m going to be a pure entrepreneur.” But after five years, I sat with the owner who was a former policeman. I said, “George, I want to buy 10% of your business. Here’s what I think we can do, get some leverage on the balance sheet, and we can go and conquer Canada.” He made a pause. And I still remember exactly where it happened in Montreal the restaurant. He started yelling after me, but yelling after me saying, “That’s never going to happen. This is a family owned business. You’re insulting me,” and all that. “This business is going to go to my son,” who unfortunately was an idiot working for me.

Goldy Hyder:

You got to tell me how you really feel about things sometimes.

Stéphan Crétier:

But he said, and he paused at the end. He started calming down, and I’m shocked. He says, “Well, Stephan, don’t worry. When you turn 65, I’ll give you a good check so you can retire.” I said, “Okay, I’m 30 years old, and the next 35… ” We’re on microphone. I’m not going to say what I thought in my head. But walking back, that was the end for me. The question was saying I like this industry. I think I made a difference in this industry, and I think I can make a major difference in the industry. It’s more of the aspect of creativity than the aspect of financial that we’re pushing there. And the part that I don’t say is I look for an investor to start the business for me for six months.

Stéphan Crétier:

People say, “Security, janitors in uniform. Who wants to invest in there?” No. Everyone turned down the door. Discussion with my girlfriend, which his still my girlfriend 25 years. I said, “What do you think if we stopped going to Latina and we go to Giorgio instead or Olive Garden?” for those who prefer Olive Garden, and we go and choose it because we’re too poor for one. We sell the nice sports car, and I buy an old Honda Civic, and I start from scratch.

Goldy Hyder:

You did all of that?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yep. Did exactly that. Almost went bankrupt four times. It was terrible. It’s a working capital business. The more you grow, the more you’re almost bankrupt. You need to-

Goldy Hyder:

But you persisted?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes. Oh, no, that’s something maybe the thing I do the most is being extremely persistent. When you’re an umpire, you learn to be very persistent in there and understanding the dynamic. But I think not succeeding was not an option. Was it difficult? Yes, it was difficult. But we go through tough times. I would be the patrolman answering at 2:00 in the morning an alarm somewhere, and I would wake up. Stephany would wait by the phone in case I won’t answer after I do my tour. I did everything, but it’s a working capital business. Working capital meaning that you need to pay your employees after two weeks. The clients will pay you 30, 35 or 40 or even 60 days. The more you grow the more you’re closer to going bankruptcy.

Stéphan Crétier:

Even when business was going extremely well and I was really growing, I was tripling sometimes in size.

Goldy Hyder:

What year are we talking about here?

Stéphan Crétier:

When did I start? 95. So 1995. So we did $600,000 the first year, 1.8, 3.6, 6.8, 15, 40, up to and over four billion today.

Goldy Hyder:

Sorry. Just say that again in slow mo. You started with what number in year one?

Stéphan Crétier:

$600,000.

Goldy Hyder:

$600,000. And today it is?

Stéphan Crétier:

From CAE. First client is still a client today.

Goldy Hyder:

And you’re not at?

Stéphan Crétier:

1.8, 3.6, just over four billion.

Goldy Hyder:

Just over four billion. True Canadian success story.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, yeah, and just starting and taking analogy from baseball. We’re just in third inning here, so we can-

Goldy Hyder:

Yeah, well, we’ll come to that because I think your business like others is going to be going through a lot of disruption. I asked you the year because of course there was an event September 11th that really changed the viewpoint on security at large because as you said it was just seen as people who man the front door. What did you do in that situation to see what was coming and how business was going to change for you and in the industry?

Stéphan Crétier:

Well, the perception of security has really changed. But at the same time did it really change the dynamic of the business? No, I wouldn’t say that.

Goldy Hyder:

Did it professionalize it more?

Stéphan Crétier:

I’d like to say yes. The answer is no. Unfortunately, not. For some companies, you’re seeing it more I would say in the last few years where there’s the aspect of professionalism as more important, but if I look at the US market I exited the US market. I had a guarding business in US, and I exited it because it was just a commodity business. You were competing against Burger King to recruit staff. People were not ready to pay. You look what they did with the TSA in the US. They took the employees that were doing anywhere between $6.00 and $7.00 an hour, they brought them in house. They gave them an increase of $15 an hour. Today, they’ve got these guys that are paying them $23 to $27 an hour unionized and everything. We say, “Well, the service is terrible.” That’s just because it’s the same guys that were doing $6.00 to $7.00 an hour. They haven’t changed the dynamic of the industry.

Stéphan Crétier:

Some companies because of, I would say, a question of proper governance I’ve made a difference, but the worst on the planet are the governments, the worst on the planet are the governments which go to hiring companies that are not regulated, that hire people that are not licensed. They’ll do all the tricks just to be able to make their budget. So, yes, the aspect of security where that’s changed is all the Middle East market opened. All the Middle East market opened, how it opened up in terms of opportunity for an entrepreneur like me who was looking at the world and saying, “Where can I make a difference?” That had an impact for us.

Stéphan Crétier:

But the aspect of professionalism unfortunately not really despite the fact that I think we were lucky at that time that I started the business with the idea of having this aspect of quality and there’s always value. The value proposition was always saying, “I’m able to manage this business and a business better and give you a better quality, but more importantly consistency,” working with the idea of really consistency instead of saying, “You’re going to get quality people.” It was all about the process and the training.

Goldy Hyder:

Now as I mentioned GardaWorld is, of course, a great Canadian success story. You could’ve set up the operations anywhere. You chose Montreal. You have invested in Montreal. You found the talent in Montreal. You’ve convinced capital to invest in Montreal. What does it take to grow Canadian champions?

Stéphan Crétier:

That’s a good question. I think the aspect of Montreal, again, being under radar, we’re, I think, third or fourth largest head office in Montreal and people always think about certain companies. But we’ve been able to stay very private in there. But before answering your question, I would go to something a little bit different is the aspect of having no policy of building global champion here in Canada. The number of people, and I still remember Rick Scott was Governor of Florida who did everything for me to move our head office to. I’m a proud Canadian. I go everywhere as a proud Canadian. I may be not sharing some of the values of governments that go there, but I’ve got my Canadian flag there. When I’m in Africa, Middle East, people they’ll hate the Americans, all the Brits, and the French, but they do love the Canadian. We still have a very strong brand here.

Stéphan Crétier:

But the aspect of policy of building global Canadian champion I could tell you I’m the largest provider of security to the US Government, to the British, to the Australian, to the French, to the EU, and naturally you would say Canada. What about the Canadian? I would say ABC. What’s ABC? Anything but Canadian. I think that’s the most negative. There’s not one year that there’s not a discussion around the [inaudible] all that and saying how you’re doing business with the Canadian government. Why are you still here? Why don’t you take some tax benefits somewhere?

Stéphan Crétier:

I think this aspect of proud Canadian, I love Montreal. The roads are not paved, but the energy is great here in Montreal. The labor is fantastic. We’ve got a management team here that is great. We’re embedded in the community here. We love it. But coming back to the question around how do you build it. It’s being open to the world. I think my biggest mistake I made is when I started in Quebec, I went west instead of going south and around the world. Canada is a small country, but using Canada and using the brand of Canada to grow, I think that’s the part we forget here sometimes. We’ve got a fantastic brand here, but we just don’t use it.

Goldy Hyder:

I had read that you had wanted Garda to be known as the Walmart of security. What does that mean?

Stéphan Crétier:

Well, you know, I think that’s more a journalist that decided to put me at that and it became a-

Goldy Hyder:

I’m glad I asked that.

Stéphan Crétier:

… I think an article. I think I can still see the article the Walmart of security. But I think it was the idea of this one stop shop in there where there’s an aspect of value in there. So today we’ve been able to do that in a number of markets going from the people side to the equipment, to the alarm, to the response and all that. I think that was more the idea around being this one stop shop. There is a 911. You call 911. It’s us, and we can take care of almost everything on a value basis meaning on a quality basis. At Walmart you’ll have the Black & Decker, and you’ll get the Black & Decker at the right price instead of getting it somewhere else. With Amazon today, it’s different. You get it at a cheaper price, but that’s another story.

Goldy Hyder:

How is corporate security evolving in Canada given what we’re seeing the evolution of even terrorism? When you think about it, cars running into people, random shootings, malls being shot up in the US and stuff. How is corporate security responding to this?

Stéphan Crétier:

Terrible. We’re the most naïve on the planet I think on that. Unfortunately, that’s going to hit us. There is not one week that I travel that there’s not someone who talks to me about the incident that happened at House of Commons where someone came in, and if it wasn’t for someone who shot, the Cabinet was all dead. Here, it made page eight or page nine of Le Journal de Montreal newspaper, and because it was important it was in the goals for the Canadians that night.

Stéphan Crétier:

I think there’s really an aspect of naïve here. There’s an aspect also of having our governments understand the dynamic of security, the dynamic of change with immigration. I think we’re good at doing that, but when you think that the average shooting per day in Toronto is 1.2 per day, that’s scary. This is over 350 a year. You’re starting to look like Chicago here. You can say it’s gangs, it’s this, it’s that, but this is just a start. You move in there with the aspect of terrorism, and you open your borders. You’re close to the US. Immigration a little bit more open. I think there’s an aspect of thoughts here that unfortunately the behavior is not there. That’s for sure.

Goldy Hyder:

Now your business like every other business I seem to read about must be experiencing disruption. Disruption can also be a positive influence.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes.

Goldy Hyder:

I’m assuming that things like artificial intelligence, robotics, the use of data, how are those things impacting your business and how will they impact the future of how security is being provided? Do we still need human beings doing this?

Stéphan Crétier:

Well, I think the answer is yes. It’s funny because when cameras started, all the systems of camera, I remember sitting with investors at that time. It was growing. I’ve always been looking for money. That’s for sure. So I’ve always been in front of investors. People are saying, “Your business won’t exist. For three guards, we’ll put a camera and a guard.” The problem is the more you put a camera the more you see things. The more you see things the more you need people to get involved. That’s been the reaction. You look at the growth of the security industry, the people side of the business. Since cameras have been there, it’s unbelievable. The growth is there.

Stéphan Crétier:

The aspect of combining with technology is important. That’s the future. We have a big business in the US of remote monitoring, which is attached to artificial intelligence, so you’re able to have one person looking at 7,000 cameras and then just the analytical, he’s able to focus on what’s happening in there. So definitely there’s a change in there, but it remains a people business. It’s like arriving in a hotel and saying you’re going to check in online at the hotel and get your room. Yeah, you can do that, but you still want someone that’s going to give you your key and give you your bottle of water and all that. There’s an aspect of hospitality in there.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes, statistically, the world is safer today than it’s ever been, but in reality the perception of security is higher than anywhere. The aspect of security when I say security it’s not just criminality. I’m just looking at our business of travel security. Our business of travel security 15 years ago was all around the kidnap and ransom, so you got people kidnapped. Today, it’s someone being stuck in an earthquake, Puerto Rico is a good example, the number of evacuations we did in Puerto Rico when there was a hurricane. This is the change also in we’re talking around the world is you got people that are traveling. Maybe you’re traveling on vacation, but even if you’re traveling on vacation the impact on your business is very important for the board. They don’t care today if you’re traveling for pleasure or you’re traveling for business, you’re traveling and you’re important to the business. All the aspect of travel security becomes extremely important.

Stéphan Crétier:

There’s a number of changes that are happening in the world. I look at Africa where the growth market is just unbelievable there.

Goldy Hyder:

We spent a lot of time talking about the corporate side of your business, but I also know that you’re very involved with NGOs. You look at what’s going on around the world in terms of the movements that are taking place, in terms of the uprisings from the challenges in Hong Kong to the Arab Spring and so forth. Again, where does security fit into all of this, and what’s happening behind the scenes there that we don’t know about?

Stéphan Crétier:

Just to bring me back sometime to reality, I try to visit refugee camps around the world. I still remember visiting a refugee camp in the interest of the Syrian border of Jordan, all women and all children. I still remember traveling from Ma’an, and it’s 46 degrees outside. You arrive. The Jeep just parks in the middle of the camp. The door opens, and the first thing I did is threw up because the smell of death that was there. It was just unbelievable. Unfortunately, today we see the world sometimes through video games, through TV, through newspaper, and we don’t see the reality of Syria. Five million people being displaced. That’s a change. Two years of these five million being displaced, there’s game changers there.

Stéphan Crétier:

That’s going to transform humanity. You can go through other countries from… I’ve gone through refugee camp in Rwanda and Burundi or the Ugandan border, and what you see there you can’t describe. But you need to come back and say, “Okay, what can I do?” Every day it’s-

Goldy Hyder:

We’re going to see more of these situations likely, not less, particularly some of the uprisings that I’ve talked about. We’re seeing a bit of that in Egypt. Where does security fit into all of this? Are you hired by countries? Are you hired by corporations? Are you hired by the protest movements? Who brings you on board?

Stéphan Crétier:

We rarely work for governments. We will work for the US in addition to all that. We don’t work for local governments. That’s something we’ve… It removes the aspect of potential corruption and all that, so we’ve closed the door on that. We work a lot for NGOs. People don’t realize the number of people that get kidnapped in those places.

Goldy Hyder:

Are we talking the Greenpeaces of the world?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, the Greenpeaces, the [inaudible 00:37:10], the RRC, the International Rescue Committee, Unicef, INGO Oxfam, and a number of organizations that work there. There needs kind of policing in those camps, access control, evacuations. So we’re playing a major role for NGOs around the world, mostly paid by US, British, the French, and the U Governments in a number of situations in Africa and the Middle East.

Goldy Hyder:

As we wind down I wanted to ask you just a couple of more topics. The one is your view of leadership. We’ve touched on it, how it was shaped from being an umpire and sports. I’ve often looked at leaders. Do they excel in times of success or do they actual excel in times of adversity? You’ve had adversity in your life. Your stock in 2008 in the height of the financial crisis went from $17 to 57 cents.

Stéphan Crétier:

And I bought three million shares that made me a billionaire.

Goldy Hyder:

I was going to ask you what did you do? You bought three million shares. That’s the answer. Buy low, sell high.

Stéphan Crétier:

No, but coming back to that, it’s so funny. I forget the name of the people that bring you a document that they want to seize the house and all that. They were coming so often to the house that my girlfriend knew their name, and it was a real joke because the banks weer all over us at that time. Not because the operation wasn’t going well, the operation was going well. It’s just the perception of risk around debt at that time that was crazy. The stock price went at a certain time 27, 28-

Goldy Hyder:

But this shaped you as a leader at that moment?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, I think it’s… Yes, definitely. I have three other times-

Goldy Hyder:

Near death experiences.

Stéphan Crétier:

The role of a leader is true alignment. That’s what you’re looking for people. You’re looking for true alignment, and I think that’s something I do extremely well. But at that time I brought everyone in, and I said, “Stop focusing on what’s impossible. Focus on what’s possible.” We’re going to emerge out of this crisis, and we’re going to be the best company on the planet. So we’re going to focus on making sure we got the best margin, and we’re the best performing. We’re going to start putting KPIs in there and just bring this business to what it is today. We’re seen as the best operator on the planet in the fields that we’re active.

Stéphan Crétier:

I think we came out, and we are very well today not despite of this, but helped by what we went through.

Goldy Hyder:

Now speaking of help, and I want to end on this topic, and that is the importance of philanthropy in your life and the life of your partner as well. You’ve got a foundation in your name, you’ve gone out of your way to support veterans. Just talk to us about your interest in philanthropy, where that comes from, and at the same time maybe tell us about the Bolo program.

Stéphan Crétier:

Yes, oh, you did your research there. I think that’s something fantastic from the US is exactly that. People start giving money young. Here I’m always surprised when I’m having dinner with people my age, and they’re successful, and I say, “Are you giving? What are you supporting?” And people say, “I haven’t started. I’ll start when I’m 65.” I said, “I don’t understand. You’re worth 300 or 400 million. Why are you not giving back today?”

Stéphan Crétier:

This is something that I’ve always been extremely discrete on that. We’re giving for a long time, in Middle East a lot supporting orphanage, supporting [inaudible 00:40:31], supporting an exhibit of art from an Afghan girl in Qatar, the Qatar Museum, at the Doha Museum. I couldn’t go. Stephany went, my girlfriend. There was the Taliban there. We’ve always done that in there. Veterans in Canada I think is another part we’ve just forgotten here. I won’t get in the commissioner, this NGO that is sponsored by the government who does 600 million of revenue protecting the government with no veterans. I won’t go necessarily in there, but the aspect of how we’ve treated veterans here and how we treat veterans everywhere in the world is an issue. How we’re able to help in having certain programs for the family, not just for the veteran, we’re trying to play a big role in there.

Stéphan Crétier:

But that’s more corporate, all the company, because we’ve got so many veterans in there. Program Bolo is the funny part. You take the Island of Montreal-

Goldy Hyder:

Let the listener know what it stands for.

Stéphan Crétier:

Be on the lookout.

Goldy Hyder:

Be on the lookout, Bolo.

Stéphan Crétier:

The program Bolo is the funny part. It comes from a little bit of what I would call the fugitive movement or the aspect of understanding that for example on the Island of Montreal today, which is population of 1.8 million or something like that, there is today 10,000 people that are wanted just on the Island of Montreal. That’s just the Island of Montreal. So you talk about terrorism in Canada, and that’s the part we’re naïve. There is only one small, two policeman working on a fugitive squad out of Toronto, and no one in Canada works on that. Absolutely no one. The people in the US, they send warrants here for the marshals in the US and no one is working in.

Stéphan Crétier:

So you get arrested if you go on a red light, and they check and you’re in the system and they arrest you. There is not this philosophy here. I’m in the view that the role of public safety as Canada is changing is the role of every single citizen. It’s not the role of the police that’s saying there’s something happening at the neighbors, there’s something happening.

Stéphan Crétier:

There’s an aspect of being exactly that, being on the lookout for what could be the risk for you, what could be the risk for a country. Of course, we’re focusing on what I would call major criminals, and what we’ve done is we worked with a lab in Montreal to develop I would call a kind of technology that is able to amplify events when you’re looking for someone, when they decide to put a focus on someone. We’ve developed a system that puts a lot of pressure on the person using social media. We’ve been very successful. We’ve done on the first year seven cases. We’ve caught one person that was wanted for 15 years. The objective is not necessarily to catch more people, but it’s to get people to realize on the long term that the world might be safe, but if everyone was doing their job of being on the lookout, the world would be a safer place.

Goldy Hyder:

This has been fascinating speaking with you. Thank you for taking us through the journey. I do have some baseball questions to end with because I think people want to know. This should probably be an easy one, but American League or National League?

Stéphan Crétier:

I’m a National League guy. Yeah.

Goldy Hyder:

Yeah, the surprise. Expos side, right?

Stéphan Crétier:

Yeah, I’m a National. American League is more spectacular. The National League is more strategic.

Goldy Hyder:

Interesting. That’s a subject for another podcast altogether. This will probably answer itself as well, but designated hitter versus no designated hitter?

Stéphan Crétier:

Well, that’s exactly the aspect of designated versus no designated. I’m the person that the pitcher should bat, so that’s why the aspect of National League is more important there.

Goldy Hyder:

Are we going to see baseball in Montreal?

Stéphan Crétier:

I don’t know. There’s people working really hard there. There’s a view to that. I’m also involved on the basketball. I think there’s a clear path on basketball here coming to Montreal. I think there’s something there. Baseball, there’s a path of the team in two cities. Would the baseball player accept that? But clearly the owner of the Tampa Bay team wants to do something in there, but I’ll let Stephen Bronfman who’s running the show on this one as the spokesperson.

Goldy Hyder:

Well, Stephan, this has been a home run of a podcast. Thank you so much for doing this, and we appreciate you sharing your personal story but also the story of GardaWorld, yet another great Canadian success story.

Stéphan Crétier:

Thank you, Goldy, it’s been a pleasure.

Goldy Hyder:

Thanks again to Stephan Cretier for being my guest on this episode of Speaking of Business. Subscribe now for more conversations with Canada’s top innovators, entrepreneurs and business leaders. Search speaking of business wherever you find podcasts or visit speakingofbiz.ca. That’s biz with a zed, to join our email list and follow us on social media. Until next time, I’m Goldy Hyder.