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All roads led to Jules Paquette’s success as the CEO of Boreal-Information Strategies (also referred to as “Boréalis,” a Magog, Que., software and services specialist for mining, oil and gas industries that prides itself on environmental and social responsibility solutions. Boréalis was honoured for excellence in small-to-medium business at the 2012 Business without Borders HSBC International Business Awards gala in Toronto October 24.
Jules Paquette, President and CEO, Boréalis
Paquette’s dad is a professor of human geography. Sustenance farming in developing countries was dinner table conversation. At the same time, Jules loved the outdoors, particularly mountaineering. When he went to university in the early ’90s, he studied physical geography—“Not quite geology but very close,” he says. Back then he met Patrick Gregoire, now his business partner, and the two got jobs on a pipeline project in Africa in 1999. They were geographic information systems guys interested in best practices. “The issues we had to work on were land access and community stakeholder engagement,” Paquette says. The stage was set.
Founded in 2004, Boréalis fosters corporate social responsibility (CSR) by providing the latest mobile apps linked to a centralized management system so that site teams (“guys in the bush,” Paquette calls them) and corporate management can talk in real time all the time. “More and more in the extractive industries,” Paquette explains, “they have to go where there are people, where the land is being used for something else. They have to put measures in place to control their social and environmental impact. Mining companies care about these things because they have to in order to develop their projects.” With clients such as Rio Tinto, and ExxonMobil and Barrick Gold working in the backyards of the world, he says, CSR is key. “Do they listen to what we have to say?” he asks. “Well, we were two [employees] seven years ago and we are over 150 today.”
Boréalis does more than 95% of its business internationally. It began by identifying the most promising markets, such as Peru, where the partners already had contacts. “Before we went, we organized as many meetings as we could,” says Paquette. He credits trade commissioners at Canadian embassies with opening doors. “Then, once the door is open, it is all up to you. The only way is going out there.” Other bits of advice—hang on to a sense of perspective and be yourself. Boréalis’s client list may seem daunting, but, he says, “They are people just like you and me.” And? “When you go to Africa, don’t pretend you are one of them. You are from somewhere else, you have your culture and you are bringing a lot that they are looking for.”
Of course, even for a software pioneer, there are nuts and bolts. Says Paquette, “Every time we start in a new market, we have to learn how it does business. What is the business culture? What is the culture itself? What are the rules, the local regulations? Do we need to set up a legal entity? Do we need to create an entire branch or just operate from our headquarters? It does become routine, but you are better off to start and fix it as you go.
Travel has been challenging. “Now I try to keep it down to four months a year,” Paquette says. “I would love to be in Peru, but I need to be in Australia. Because I can’t be everywhere at once, I have to choose very carefully.” And here’s a low-tech idea—Paquette answers his own phone so that clients anywhere in the world can stay connected 24/7.
This year, for something different, Boréalis is also working in Canada although it hasn’t cracked the oil sands, yet. For fun Paquette ice climbs and plays with his children. With no hint of a sigh, he says, “I measure my time by the minute.”