The horizon is clear for Pierre Alary, who has played a key role in the growth trajectory of Montreal-based Bombardier Inc., a worldwide leader in aerospace and rail transportation. Alary, who has been the company’s Senior Vice President and CFO since June 2003, has worked to steer a steady financial course for the corporation through two global slowdowns and aggressive worldwide expansion. Today, this Ernst & Young alumnus is engaged with Bombardier’s extensive business interests in North America, Europe and emerging markets.
Before joining Bombardier, Alary spent two decades at Ernst & Young in Canada. At the time of his departure, he was serving as lead service partner for Bombardier’s aerospace business. In 1998, the company recruited him to join Bombardier Transportation, its train manufacturing division, as Vice President for Finance and Information Technologies. Since then, Alary has faced a succession of significant challenges. Within a year of coming on board, Bombardier acquired Berlin-based Adtranz, a much larger transportation business that had been formed only three years before as a merger of the ABB and Daimler-Benz transportation groups. Suddenly, Alary was traveling internationally three weeks a month and was responsible for a massive integration of finance and related business operations across 24 countries. It was a crash course in globalization.
Alary recalls that the integration process, which took two years, was the most complex undertaking of his career. Adtranz itself had not been fully integrated when Bombardier purchased the company. “There were several business cultures at work,” Alary explains. “And we had to find a way to establish consistent processes while respecting the cultures of the different companies and countries.” After the acquisition, the finance function of Bombardier Transportation was relocated to Berlin, which is where Alary spent much of his time during the integration.
When Alary returned to North America as Bombardier’s Vice President of Finance in 2002, he found other major challenges. The economy was reeling from the 9/11 terrorist attack, the tech bubble of 2000 had burst, the integration was proving more costly than expected and Bombardier faced a liquidity crisis. It was, in his words, “a perfect storm.” A new CEO came on board and asked Alary to take on the corporate CFO position on an interim basis. Alary’s mandate: restore Bombardier’s financial health.
The company implemented a major turnaround plan, which included a recapitalization of Bombardier through a significant share issue, the sale of its recreational product division and the wind-down of its finance division, followed by a major restructuring of its aerospace and train businesses. Subsequently, Bombardier undertook a top-down strategic risk analysis, and, as a result, brought a greater level of discipline to the full spectrum of business processes and worldwide governance practices. This wide-ranging initiative was a success. Consequently, the company was well prepared to withstand the global recession that erupted in 2008. Today, Bombardier boasts a strong cash position and, Alary believes, healthy prospects for both its aerospace and train manufacturing businesses.
Alary identifies one of his greatest challenges as achieving consistency while bringing in large numbers of people from dramatically different business environments. “To bring about standardization on a global basis, good communication is crucial.”
The global citizen
As Bombardier expands its global presence, Alary identifies one of his greatest challenges as achieving consistency while bringing in large numbers of people from dramatically different business environments. “To bring about standardization on a global basis, good communication is crucial,” he says. “It is relatively easy to plan, but the challenge is ensuring that processes are implemented in a way that bring the benefit you are seeking.”
Alary is on the front lines of globalization and is fascinated by the rapid pace of change in developing countries where Bombardier is focusing the bulk of its investments: China, India and Brazil. Alary describes the modernization of emerging markets as “dramatic,” especially in China, where the transition is “happening right in front of you.” With its centralized government committed to accelerated infrastructure development — incorporated into detailed five-year plans — China is a focus of the company’s efforts to expand its transportation business.
Bombardier is also homing in on India and Brazil, where the growth prospects for public transportation are significant. For India, a democracy with a tradition of private enterprise and large gaps between rich and poor, the transformation will take longer. Still, as the pace of globalization continues to accelerate, Alary says, “We need to ensure that we develop an effective 'local roots’ organizational model to capture new business opportunities in key worldwide markets we target. Clearly, this can only happen when leaders can overcome barriers of language and culture.”
On the home front
Perhaps because of all the travel his business requires, Alary is particularly happy when he can embark on vacation travel to Europe and other destinations. Home base is Montréal, where he lives with his wife, Johanne. When he is in town, Alary stays busy with his three grown daughters, Marie-Ève, Caroline and Brigitte, and granddaughter Zoélie, a very recent addition. He is also involved in an array of community activities (see sidebar).
Even with his years away from Ernst & Young, Alary considers it a second family. He continues to attend Ernst & Young functions and remains in regular contact with two now-retired partners, Réal Brunet and Claude Bismuth. As mentors, Brunet and Bismuth taught Alary important lessons that have helped him throughout his years at Bombardier. “They helped me understand the importance of big-picture thinking, having a vision for the future and delivering quality client service.”
More about Pierre Alary
- Serves as Chairman of the Board of Théâtre du Nouveau Monde, now in its 60th year
- Sits on the Board of Directors of the Université du Québec à Montréal (UQAM)
- Is involved in fund-raising activities for the Foundation of Stars (children’s health research) and the Foundation Marie-Vincent (lifeline for children aged 12 and younger who have suffered abuse)
- In January 2009, obtained the Chartered Director (D.Dir.) designation from The Directors College
- In March 2011, obtained the Fellow (FCA) nomination from the L’Ordre des Comptables Agréés du Québec
They’re now on opposite sides of the earth, but Trent Henry and Lou Pagnutti share a vision for bringing the world closer together than ever.
Canada provides global leadership for Ernst & Young
About a year ago, longtime Canadian Ernst & Young firm Chairman and CEO Lou Pagnutti was asked to move to Hong Kong and become Area Managing Partner of Ernst & Young’s new Asia-Pacific Area. Trent Henry, former Canada Tax Managing Partner, was tapped to fill the Canada firm’s CEO role. Now that they’ve had a chance to settle in, we asked them about the global changes they see on the horizon.
Pagnutti: The potential for Asia-Pacific is just enormous for our business. China alone is emerging as a huge market — second only to the US and rising fast. The global Ernst & Young network is a huge asset for our clients in the region and for clients looking to do business there. More now than ever before, barriers are coming down, and countries such as Canada and the US are seeing the possibilities of these new markets and the tremendous investment these countries can make in the West.
My goal is to make sure that we develop a strong, integrated Asia-Pacific practice that enables us to build further on the level of high-quality service we already provide to our clients and to give them access to the best and most experienced teams wherever they do business. Operating on a more integrated basis will also provide greater opportunities for our people to build diverse careers across accounts, geographies and industries.
Henry: Canada performed very well during the economic downturn, and that meant that we were well positioned to capitalize on the recovery, as compared to most developed countries. Ernst & Young is in very good shape to seize opportunities to grow our business in Canada, both this year and beyond. We’re very focused right now on getting as close to our local markets as we can, to develop key relationships and respond nimbly to new opportunities.
The entrepreneurial sector is Canada’s economic engine, and we’re going to help entrepreneurs grow and go global by bringing to them our firm’s deep experience in this space. The financial services, mining, energy and media sectors play a major role in Canada’s economy, and here we’ll leverage the power of our global network to bring Canadian companies our best people and knowledge and help them succeed. We’ve invested heavily in our transfer pricing and tax controversy services to respond to increased needs for help navigating tax issues in a globalized world, and we’re also targeting strong growth in our Advisory business, driven by a tremendous interest in performance improvement.