CEO Speech at HEC Montréal Convocation

Charles Brindamour, CEO of Intact, recently spoke to over 700 graduates at HEC Montréal Convocation, where he was also awarded an honorary PhD. Read on to hear what he had to say to the class of 2019:

Dignitaries, professors, students, parents and friends, welcome. First of all, I’d like to thank Université de Montréal and HEC for this wonderful recognition. I must say, I’m really happy and touched. Most of all, I was surprised by this honour. But when I thought about it, I thought this recognition is for my team and for those around me. There are many of them here, representing almost 5,000 employees in Quebec and just over 14,000 employees in North America.

In life and in business, success is a team effort

Although I haven’t accumulated the wisdom of a leader who’s near the end of his career, I’ve tried to look back on the first 25 years of my career to think of any important takeaways: things I could share with you that you might use in your own career and in the larger community, and in building strong businesses here in Canada. When I graduated in 1992, my father said something to me. He said, “Charles, you have to join the best,” and that’s what I did. In ’92, I joined a Commerce Group team that was the best in the insurance industry. That’s the reputation they had. And my father was right. Whether in life or in business, success is a team effort. So, the first thing I thought I’d share with you is, how do you spot a winning team? How do you identify an outstanding team? The team is the key to your success, so how do you build one?

First, team members trust one another. They trust each other because they have shared values and because they believe in the team’s mission and the company’s mission. Secondly, the team is ambitious. They relish challenges and are energized by obstacles. And their goal is a team goal, a company goal; it’s not about the individual team members. The team works hard together, and they have to enjoy what they’re doing. To achieve success in life, it’s absolutely critical that you enjoy your work. And even though it’s not easy to find a team like this, I think that guiding principles like these will help you be successful in life.

Be open to new opportunities

I’m very lucky, because the team I’ve just described is my team. When I think about my career, aside from the team, there are three things that have made a big difference for me. The first is jumping on opportunities. You see this in business when people are offered opportunities; they take a long time to think about it, they weigh the pros and cons and so on. When an opportunity comes along, just take it! Looking at the path my career has taken, I started in Saint-Hyacinthe. A year later, I worked on building our data infrastructure in Toronto, and two years after that, I was involved in acquisitions in Amsterdam. A few years later, I helped build a life insurance company in Eastern Europe, and saw that with every opportunity I took, even more opportunities came along. And the more opportunities you seize, the more you develop a bigger, broader perspective, and the more resilient and confident you become. And confidence is a major success factor, in life and in business.

Always exceed expectations

The second thing that has worked out really well for me is always exceeding expectations—on little things and big things. And I’m not talking about the boss’s expectations, I’m talking about your colleagues’ expectations. Your employees’ and family’s expectations. Exceeding expectations is the best way to help those around you, to develop credibility with your colleagues and your family and to make people want to work with you. And that’s really important for advancing your career.

Stay true to yourself

The third thing is staying true to yourself. Keep being you. When you advance in your career, you have to realize it’s because you’ve been offered opportunities based on who you are. It’s really important to stay humble as you climb the ladder of success, and to remain true to your values and beliefs. I encourage you to think about these three things I’ve mentioned. They’re pretty simple, but really powerful.

The keys to success

Now, I want to look beyond my own career and talk about the company. Intact’s growth was touched on earlier. What’s made a difference for the company? There are a number of things that are fairly simple, yet pretty hard to achieve. First, recognize your strengths. Focus on and invest in your strengths, and don’t get distracted. Second, discipline and dedication, because there’s no “easy” button in business. Shortcuts rarely work. Discipline, dedication and a long-term perspective are really important keys to success. Even when you achieve success, continually raising the bar and always striving for excellence. As I said before, never compromise on your values; they’re more important than short-term results, and they lead to results in the long-term. And finally, work with a smile and with respect for others. These things have contributed to Intact’s success and helped us exceed expectations and deliver on our mission of helping Canadians get back on track.

You’re privileged to have received this education. You’re entering a world filled with promise, growth and opportunity. But you’re coming into this world at a time of declining confidence in public institutions. And that means citizens like you have important responsibilities. You’ve developed strong skills, and you’re talented and driven. I encourage you to start thinking about what you can do for the environment or the community you work or live in, what you can do now to address the major social issues of our time. You don’t have to wait until you’ve established your career to start making a contribution. You have a lot to offer, and the world really needs it. On that note, thank you again for this wonderful recognition. I’d also like to thank my team, who are a huge source of motivation every day, who really inspire me to do what we do, day in and day out. Thank you so much. I wish you all the best, and I encourage you to go make a difference.