Canadian business magnate Paul Desmarais Sr. dies at 86

TORONTO Wed Oct 9, 2013 11:36am EDT

TORONTO Oct 9 (Reuters) - Paul Desmarais Sr., the controlling shareholder of conglomerate Power Corp of Canada and one of Canada's richest and most well-connected businessmen, has died at the age of 86.

Desmarais, a self-made billionaire who took control of Montreal-based Power Corp in 1968 and served as its chairman and chief executive officer from 1968 to 1996, died late on Tuesday, the company said. It did not disclose the cause of death.

"Mr. Desmarais contributed greatly to turning Power Corporation into an international management and holding company with interests across North America, Europe and Asia," the company said in a statement.

Born in Sudbury, Ontario in 1927, Desmarais remade the former hydroelectric company into a conglomerate with holdings in transportation, communications and financial services.

According to Canadian Business magazine, Desmarais was Canada's 7th-richest person in 2012 with a net worth of C$4.4 billion ($4.26 billion). According to Reuters data, he held 15.5 percent of Power Corp's shares at his death.

Power currently controls a sizable financial services empire through its Power Financial subsidiary, which holds controlling stakes in insurer Great-West Lifeco, asset manager IGM Financial and Switzerland's Pargesa Holding SA.

Desmarais was also known for his political connections in Canada and abroad.

Former Canadian Prime Minister Paul Martin was president of Power subsidiary Canada Steamship Lines in the 1970s and eventually bought the company from Power. Former Prime Minister Jean Chretien sat on the board of another Power subsidiary in the 1980s and his daughter married Desmarais' son Andre.

Desmarais was also reportedly close to former French President Nicolas Sarkozy.

After stepping down as Power Corp's top executive in 1996, his sons Paul Jr and Andre became co-CEOs and split the titles of chairman and deputy chairman. Paul Sr remained on the board and at his death was serving as chairman of Power's executive committee.