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In conversation with Eric Gignac

Fulfilling a lifelong dream, this January Eric Gignac became the president and co-owner of Groupe Guilbault, one of Quebec’s largest trucking companies. He represents the third generation of family owners since his grandfather, Andre...


Fulfilling a lifelong dream, this January Eric Gignac became the president and co-owner of Groupe Guilbault, one of Quebec’s largest trucking companies. He represents the third generation of family owners since his grandfather, Andre Guilbault, founded the company in 1929.

Gignac, his cousin Nadine Guilbault, and executive committee members Guylaine Ouellet, Daniel Gariepy and Ghislain Poirier purchased Groupe Guilbault from Eric Gignac’s father Michel and uncle Jean Guilbault, who purchased the company from Andre Guilbault in 1972.

Groupe Guilbault has 800 employees and annual revenues of more than $100 million. Truck News contributing editor Carroll McCormick spoke with Gignac this February in his Boucherville headquarters about the new ownership, and trucking.

TN: The last time we met, you were the CEO. As the president and new owner, how have your responsibilities changed?

Gignac: It is no different, except that I owe money!

TN: Your press release describes the new owners as avant-gardiste, or forward-looking, in the English translation. What does this avant-gardiste team have planned?

Gignac: We have to be smarter every day. We must be more technology-oriented. I think that it is the solution for the future. We must not be afraid of technology. My controller is looking at the Canada Post increases and we are contacting all of our customers, asking to do paperless billing. We would like 100% paperless billing. We send e-mails to our employees asking them to stop copying everything. We have the cloud…now I get all my stats reports in .PDFs. We are looking for routing software for Montreal. We are starting continuous improvement committees with employees. They are our eyes and ears.

TN: Are you going to take advantage of the 30% Quebec government rebate to buy liquefied natural gas (LNG) tractors?

Gignac: I am not ready for LNG. Something else will come. We have to do something. In 10 years, I don’t think we’ll have diesel.

TN: Tell me about your pledge for continuity as a new generation takes over the company.

Gignac: The sale stopped all the rumours that my competitors were spreading; for example, that the company would be sold. Our employees were very relieved. I met with the banks, suppliers and manufacturers. I told them, ‘I will not change everything. I do not want to change everything.’

The major problem in next-generation transfers is that the next generation feels that it knows everything. It wants to change everything. I still call up (Jean and Michel) for advice. When the post-2008 recession hit, we spoke with them and they said, ‘This is nothing compared to the high-interest ’80s.’ I ask my father about spec’s. Continuity, but we are asking employees what can be improved?

TN: Do you see long combination vehicles (LCV) as the salvation of the trucking industry?

Gignac: Yes. We were the first to do LCVs, 28 years ago. In 2013, Guilbault did 1.5 million miles with LCVs. We saved a dollar a mile. From Jan. 1 to Feb. 8 2014, we did 351 LCV trips between Montreal and Riviere du Loup, compared to 169 between Jan. 1 and Feb. 8 2013.

TN: You mentioned to me last month, ‘I’ve already started discussion with the Quebec Trucking Association and Transports Quebec about (running LCVs) on the 175 between Quebec City and Chicoutimi. It is the most beautiful road in Quebec. I want permission to take LCVs on the 175.’ But my map shows it as only being twinned part of the way.

Gignac: The official opening of the twinned highway between Quebec City and Chicoutimi was last fall. In my life, I have only had a few goals. Own Guilbault, have kids and have LCVs go to Lac Saint-Jean (due west of Chicoutimi). I asked the Transport Minister to run LCVs (on the 175) from mid-May to mid-September. We will be doing some LCVs (this year). There is not a lot of front-haul, but I can say to the major shippers in the Lac Saint-Jean region…we can help them keep their plants open…and ship by truck instead of train. Alcan is asking all its carriers to reduce their rates by 15%. That is on the table right now. LCVs are competitive with trains from Quebec to the Eastern Seaboard.

TN: What provincial harmonization issues concern you?

Gignac: Running LCVs in Ontario is very, very expensive compared to Quebec. Ontario might be making a change to not recognize Quebec LCV drivers’ licences. Our new drivers will have to take the Ontario Trucking Association (OTA) driver course. I don’t know who is running the LCV file in Ontario, but sometimes we wonder if they know what they are doing.

TN: You have a ringside view of Autoroute 20 from your office. What will we see out there a few years from now?

Gignac: There will be fewer carriers, better rates, better fuel consumption, better trucks, better management. We will be more efficient and the government should understand this. In 10 years, I hope the respect between carrier and customer will be better. There is always a way to have a straight partnership, win-win. This is what I hope to see.


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