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Serge Godin

A True Canadian Success Story

Serge Godin
Founder and Executive
Chairman of the Board, CGI
October 19, 2011 | Version française

Serge Godin is The Conference Board of Canada’s 2011 Honorary Associate. The Honorary Associate award is the Conference Board’s highest honour and is conferred annually upon individuals who have served both their organization and their country with distinction. The Honorary Associate Award Dinner takes place in Toronto on November 9, 2011.

CGI was founded in 1976 in a basement in Québec City by Serge Godin, now Executive Chairman of the Board, and has since grown into one of the largest independent information technology and business process firms in the world. For 35 years, CGI has worked tirelessly to remain at the leading edge of technology and to offer its clients business solutions fully adapted to their needs. Today, the company employs more than 31,000 professionals in 125 offices around the world. Its annualized revenue stands at $4.5 billion.

CGI is ranked first in Canada, fourth in North America, and seventh in the world in its industry.

Long active in the community, Serge Godin has helped many organizations raise funds supporting education, health care, and young people in need. In fact, his interest in helping the community extends beyond his corporate involvement. In 2000, he established the Fondation Jeunesse-Vie, whose mission is to alleviate poverty, advance education, and improve the health of disadvantaged children and teens across Canada. He has personally funded the Fondation in addition to donating his time and other resources to it.

Throughout his career, Serge Godin has remained very involved in organizations dedicated to the economic development of Montréal, Quebec, and Canada. He has served as President of the Board of Trade of Metropolitan Montréal and today sits on the board of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives. He is also a member of the Cercle des présidents du Québec.

Serge Godin completed post-secondary studies in computer technology, obtained the equivalent of a bachelor’s degree in management, and undertook studies toward a master of business administration (MBA) at the Université Laval in Québec city. He is a Fellow of the Ordre des administrateurs agréés du Québec.

Serge Godin is also a Member of the Order of Canada and the Ordre national du Québec. In 2008, he was inducted as a Laureate into the Canadian Business Hall of Fame.

InsideEdge: You founded CGI in 1976 in a basement in Québec City. What did you envision the business becoming at the time, and has CGI turned out the way you anticipated?

Serge Godin: André Imbeau and I founded CGI in Québec City in 1976. In creating the company, we wanted careers in information technology. But we also had a dream—and that dream is still alive today and shared by 31,000 professionals—to create an environment in which we enjoy working together and, as owners, contribute to building a company we can be proud of. Over the past 35 years, CGI has acquired more than 70 businesses. Half of CGI’s growth is through acquisitions and half is organic. Today, CGI ranks seventh among the world’s independent information technology companies. In this market of consolidation, which will soon boast no more than five world-class players, CGI stands out as both a leader and a consolidator.

InsideEdge: Companies from emerging markets, especially India, have been changing the competitive landscape in your business. What are you doing to keep CGI ahead of the curve?

Serge Godin: Advances in technology now enable 40 to 50 per cent of maintenance activities to be conducted remotely. Businesses and governments choose CGI in order to draw on our knowledge and benefit from our client proximity model. Using this model, which organizes operations around client locations, we are able to provide clients with solutions that respond well to their particular needs and situation. It is this approach that has led us to develop 15 centres of excellence, including one in India. We have centres of excellence across Canada ... Halifax, Saguenay, Sherbrooke, Moncton.

InsideEdge: Does CGI have the necessary skills to compete with the best companies around the world?

Serge Godin: Our professionals are the heart of CGI. The CGI culture and policies were developed to draw and retain the most talented individuals in the information technology services sector. For example, 90 per cent of CGI’s professionals hold shares in the company. It was also in this spirit that we created our Leadership Institute, which offers training programs specifically designed for CGI professionals.

Over the past 30 years, investments in research and development have been primarily directed toward gadgets, yet 67 per cent of IT spending by clients is in the service domain.

InsideEdge: Canada has a poor record of business innovation. What needs to be done to turn this performance around?

Serge Godin: Investments in IT are essential. We often feel there is a disconnect with respect to where best to direct investments in IT. For example, over the past 30 years, investments in research and development have been primarily directed toward gadgets, yet 67 per cent of IT spending by clients is in the service domain—architecture, system development, etc.

InsideEdge: Why does it matter that head offices are based in Canada? And what must Canada do to enable more companies to build global success stories from a Canadian base?

Serge Godin: From 1999 to 2009, the number of head offices in Canada dropped from 2,400 to 2,100. If the non-regulated businesses alone are considered, the numbers would be even worse. In today’s environment, it would be quite simply impossible to create CGI in Montréal as we did 35 years ago. Information technology activities are a direct function of head offices; this is also the case for many other services and professions whose clients are mainly head offices. One of the first recommendations for keeping our head offices in Canada would be to allow shareholders of publicly held companies to vote only after they have owned shares for a minimum of one year.

InsideEdge: What does being the 2011 recipient of The Conference Board of Canada’s Honorary Associate Award mean to you?

Serge Godin: I am not the sort of person who seeks out competitions and tributes. This recognition by The Conference Board of Canada does not belong to me; it belongs to CGI. For it is CGI and its 31,000 professionals who have built 35 years of success. CGI is first and foremost the 2,500 clients worldwide who have placed their trust in us and who offer us extraordinary challenges. The professionals at CGI all work tirelessly and with great determination to earn this trust.

So I accept this tribute on behalf of this exceptional business relationship—indeed, friendship—that exists between our clients and our professionals.

Serge Godin Serge Godin
Founder and Executive,
Chairman of the Board, CGI

2011 Honorary Awards Dinner