By Sauvé Fellow Charles Onu
Wednesday, 11 November 2015 was definitely an intellectually stimulating day at Maison Jeanne Sauvé. We had the pleasure of hosting Mr. Charles Sirois as part of our ongoing series of Leadership Encounters.
In this very engaging session, laced with insightful thoughts and humour, we navigated a number of interesting topics, including the impact of the early telecommunications movement, action as a critical component of leadership, the Quebec political landscape, social entrepreneurship, and the prospect of a world that is wholly connected by technology.
Mr. Sirois is a leading figure in Canada’s communications industry and holds the distinguished honour of Member of the Order of Canada. In 1988, after co-facilitating the merger of major telecoms companies in Canada, he became the pioneer CEO of BCE Mobile Communications. Mr. Sirois recounted how he founded a series of global communication companies over the next two decades. Some of these were responsible for launching the very first telecoms operations in many countries.
Leadership can be expressed in diverse ways. Entrepreneurship is just one style of leadership. These were the starting words of Mr. Sirois. He urged us to not hold a narrow perspective of leadership but to see it broadly as taking action where we find a need. His leadership journey is a practical demonstration of this idea.
In the early 1990s, cellular telephones were so expensive that only one-tenth of the population could afford one, and they were so big that they could only fit into the trunk of a car. Mr. Sirois expressed a vision that one day, phones would be so ubiquitous that babies would be assigned phone numbers at birth. Many thought that he was crazy for taking telephones to poor people in India who could not even afford to eat. Yet, through the success of his early enterprises in India, Brazil, China, Romania and other countries, he demonstrated that better communication technology is critical to pursuing the basic needs of life (such as accessing food in the most cost-effective way.)
From being a driver of the early communications movement, he went on express his leadership in politics through co-founding a political party, the Coalition Avenir Quebec (CAQ), to serve as a channel for translating some of the societal visions he and his colleagues had into policy.
Mr. Sirois also wears the hat of a philanthropist. In 2003 he co-founded Enablis Entrepreneurial Network, an NGO which invests in developing entrepreneurs in several countries across Africa and South America. His goal is to reduce poverty through exponential job creation.
When we thought that we had heard it all, Mr. Sirois wrapped up with a riveting exposition of the huge advances in technology that are just around the corner, with specific highlights on internet of things (IOT), artificial intelligence (such as driverless cars) and 3D printing. He held us spellbound with sensational examples of the possibilities of a world where not only people but objects are connected to the internet – painting the key role that technology will likely play in reshaping the world.
In all, this Leadership Encounter gave us insight into a beautiful mind and into some of the values that have motivated Mr. Sirois throughout his life and career, and a glimpse of his vision for where the world is headed.
The biggest theme that stood out for me was “action”. Leaders, he said, need to invest more energy in building solutions than in complaining about problems.