Charles Sirois, the billionaire pioneer of wireless telecommunications in Canada, was presented with the 2018 Words & Deeds Leadership Award by the Centre for Israel and Jewish Affairs (CIJA) at a gala attended by about 500 guests at the Palais des congrès in Montreal on June 5.
Sirois, who is currently chairman of the board of the family owned equity company Telesystems Ltd., which he founded, was recognized for both his business acumen and philanthropy.
He is also an admirer of Israel and, among his charitable endeavours, he has supported the Jewish General Hospital’s Segal Cancer Centre. With his wife, Susan McPeak, he founded the McPeak-Sirois Group for Clinical Research in Breast Cancer.
Sirois said he agreed to accept the award because of a visit he made to Israel with his friend Brent Belzberg, a fellow investor in innovation and founding co-chair of CIJA.
“I came back amazed at how your perception can change when you have been on the ground,” he said.
Sirois, who was born in Chicoutimi, Que., began his career in the burgeoning telecom industry 40 years ago, following in his father’s footsteps. He developed the pager – one of the first mobile devices – and later headed BCE Mobile Communications, before founding a long-distance phone company called Teleglobe.
He also co-founded the Coalition Avenir Québec party, with its leader, François Legault, in 2011.
Sirois predicated rapid advances in all types of technology in the next 10 to 20 years, which will “increase dramatically our power to change the world.”
One of Sirois’ major philanthropic interests is Enablis, a non-profit that he founded and chairs, which helps emerging entrepreneurs in Africa and Argentina.
He said that three things are necessary to ensure that technological growth is beneficial to all:
“One, we have to be open to each other and learn from each other; two, inclusivity – this is fundamental to the future of our society; and, three, sustainability … we only have one planet.”
He added that he is “open to listening and better understanding what CIJA can do.… I believe we can all build on openness and inclusivity.”
Sirois was introduced by Monique Leroux, chairman of the board of Investissement Québec and former president and CEO of Desjardins Group.
“I’ve met many entrepreneurs in my life, but there is only one Charles Sirois. He is first and foremost a philosopher, a scholar, with intense emotions. He is always open to others and new ideas,” she said.
CIJA national chair David Cape, a co-chair of the event, said Sirois has dedicated his life “to the well-being of others. It is a value that fits perfectly with Jewish ethics. Many of us have been offered the means and opportunities to give back. Some of us do it, and some of us do even more.
“It is in this latter category that all our Words & Deeds honourees fall and none more than tonight’s recipient. We are deeply grateful to him.”
The evening was an opportunity to highlight the flourishing economic and scientific ties between Israel and Quebec, which were described as “two societies with shared skills and values,” and CIJA’s role in furthering those relations.
In a videotaped message, Quebec Premier Philippe Couillard, who led a mission to Israel last year, underlined that Quebec and Israel share “a spirit of innovation and entrepreneurship.” Israeli Consul General David Levy echoed those sentiments.
Jewish federations across Canada are partners in the Words & Deeds Awards. This is the second time the event has been held in Montreal. Two years ago, Michael Sabia, president and CEO of the Caisse de dépôt et placement du Québec, was the honouree.
Besides Cape, the event co-chairs were Anne-Marie Boucher-Garber, Tasso Lagios and Joel Reitman.