Canadian Consulting Engineer
Pierre Duhaime, ing. became the new president and chief executive officer of SNC-Lavalin on May 7. Previously he was executive vice-president responsible for the company's worldwide mining and metallu...
Pierre Duhaime, ing. became the new president and chief executive officer of SNC-Lavalin on May 7. Previously he was executive vice-president responsible for the company’s worldwide mining and metallurgy division.
CCE interviewed Mr. Duhaime at the company’s head office in Montreal concerning his personal background and aspirations.
Q. DID YOU SEE YOURSELF BECOMING HEAD OF CANADA’S LARGEST ENGINEERING AND CONSTRUCTION COMPANY WHEN YOU STARTED OUT?
No. From a young age I was interested in science, but I didn’t even think that I should go to university. Instead, I went to CEGEP college in Trois-Rivires and graduated as a technician in metallurgy. In the meantime –and to my surprise –one of my teachers said, “Pierre, you have the talent to go to university to be an engineer.”
So I worked for one year as a technician and then went on to university and graduated in metallurgy at Montreal’s cole Polytechnique.
Q. WHY HAD YOU NOT CONSIDERED UNIVERSITY BEFORE?
Mostly it was cultural. I come from the Quebec region of Mauricie, which is a rural and farming community. I grew up close to the earth and to the people. My father ran a dry goods store, and I have three brothers and two sisters.
I started my career with Noranda in 1980 and right away, I was put on a project –a major expansion of the Valleyfield plant. For four years I had two jobs as project manager and also manager of metallurgical operations. But I really preferred the project management side, so I consciously decided that I would do project management as my career.
I joined SNC-Lavalin in 1989, and in 1991. I did my MBA at the cole des Hautes tudes Commerciales in Montreal.
The thing I like about engineering is that when I visit a project I can see exactly what is the result of our work –it’s not a report, it’s a concrete thing. You see people coming to work at the plant, you see it producing, you see the economy going on around it. You can see improvements in the life of people. That has been the big motivator of my life: changing things for the better.
Q. DO YOU FEEL IT IS IMPORTANT TO KEEP WORK OUT OF CERTAIN AREAS OF YOUR LIFE?
Yes. Work is always somewhere in your mind, but you need to have the discipline to separate the two, to take care of your own life also.
I am fortunate and enjoy my relationship with my wife and she tries to keep me down to earth. We have been married for 32 years. I also have a daughter, aged 25.
But it’s very hard. When your business is international it is 24 hours a day, seven days a week, 365 days a year. There is no stop. And you travel a lot. You need to have the discipline to get some exercise, you need the discipline to have time for changing your mind. You need also to have enough sleep. If not, you are not going to perform. People are not machines.
Q. NOW YOU ARE IN CHARGE OF 21,000 EMPLOYEES, WHAT’S THE MOST CHALLENGING PART OF YOUR JOB?
It’s two things: It is being here in Montreal and yet reaching these 21,000 people and passing on to them the passions and the vision we have for this company; also telling them how important it is for customers and how to go forward. The other thing is to be sure that all our customers are happy customers and that we are doing the utmost for them at all times.