But despite that momentum, Mr. Vachon and Maple Group have a big problem on their hands. Even if they can convince regulators in Quebec and Ontario, and shareholders across the country, to turn down the LSE merger and side with their offer, Maple still must somehow convince the federal Competition Bureau that their idea to merge the bank-owned Alpha exchange with the TMX and its other clearing functions is not anti-competitive. This is by no means a small hurdle.
"I'm obviously optimistic," Mr. Vachon says. "I think we've shown in Canada we are quite good at finding an equilibrium in this balancing act."
Mr. Vachon is an optimist by nature. His father ran a trucking company during the oil crisis in the 1970s, when gasoline prices soared and the recession caused the shipping business to dry up. He remembers family vacations at the beach clouded by the stress those years put on his father. It helped give him perspective during the financial crisis in 2009. "I had seen my father go through ups and downs," he said. "And I drew a lot of self-confidence from that."
In between bites, Mr. Vachon explains that he doesn't get out for lunch much, usually opting for the corporate dining room at National Bank's headquarters, since it's closer to the job. His obsession with salmon is what keeps him from ordering too much red meat. By the time salmoncourse No. 2 arrives, Mr. Vachon has put the issue of Maple behind him and moved onto another pet topic - his plans for expanding National Bank across Canada.
Only a few weeks earlier, the bank expanded its reach into Western Canada with the purchase of the 83 per cent of Wellington West Holding Inc. that it didn't own. The deal balances out National's revenue base - about 45 per cent of its wealth management revenue will now come from outside Quebec. "So we're almost 50-50," Mr. Vachon says.
Similarly, in wholesale banking, where National has moved aggressively in recent years, the bank gets 60 per cent of its revenue outside Quebec. These aren't merely coincidences, either. Mr. Vachon has national aspirations.
"We want to continue to expand. The new frontier for us is the rest of Canada, so we remain focused on expanding outside Quebec," he says. Only in retail banking - the bricks and mortar branches - is National still focused primarily on its home province. More than 70 per cent of retail banking revenue comes from Quebec. Of its 450 locations, only 110 are outside Quebec. However, National is about to open a new branch in Victoria.
But getting bigger will be a methodical process - more evidence that the former trader with the snap decisions now wants to take his time. "Are there areas where we could be bigger? Yes," he says. "But we're going to do it in a very disciplined, targeted way."
LOUIS VACHON'S CURRICULUM VITAE
Born in 1962. Raised in Lévis, Que., across the river from Quebec City. Grew up on the same street in Lévis as his wife of 20 years. They have a son, 17, and a daughter, 15.
After high school, went to college in the United States. Earned a BA in economics from Bates College in Lewiston, Me., and a Masters of International Finance from the Fletcher school of law and diplomacy at Tufts University.
Got his start in banking at Citibank, which recruited him to New York then moved him to Toronto. Joined National Bank in 1997.
Played hockey as a boy, played rugby in college. Took up the Japanese fencing art known as Kendo.
THE FAMILY BUSINESS
Descendant of the Vachon cakes empire, started by his great-grandparents. The company sold bread door to door in Quebec and expanded into cakes, including its most famous product, the Jos Louis. Named after the boxer Joe Louis, the company ran into copyright problems. To settle the dispute, Vachon's great-grandfather changed the name slightly to Jos Louis, combining the names of his two sons Joseph and Louis. The business was eventually sold to the Saputo family.
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