Robert Dépatie, president and chief executive officer of Vidéotron Télécom Ltée, turned the Montreal-based giant from a disorganized regional provider into one of Canada's most well-regarded telecom companies. The Globe and Mail caught up with him at this week's Canadian Telecom Summit in Toronto, as the federal government contemplates easing foreign-ownership restrictions and Vidéotron prepares to launch a wireless network in Quebec.
How would easing foreign ownership restrictions affect Vidéotron?
We've been very successful in an open market. Regulation for us is more pain than gain. The only thing this will do is make this market more competitive, which is okay for us, because more competition means we have to surpass ourselves.
You've pushed back the launch date for your wireless network until late summer, right?
We're not in a hurry. I prefer to do like Apple did: They were not the first in the Mp3 world. But they came out with the best.
Looking back, how do you view the government's auction of wireless licenses in 2008?
We viewed the auction as a good thing. But too expensive. Way too expensive. Our plan was not to pay that kind of money. The government had the courage to set aside (wireless spectrum) for the new entrants, which I think was the right thing.
Bell is your main competitor in Quebec and it is investing big in a fibre optic network to compete.
I have to respect Bell, because not so long ago they were one of the most respected companies in Quebec. And they built a strong franchise, but they have lost ground in the past five years. So we took advantage of that, obviously. We think we can still beat them. But we're keeping ourselves on our toes.
Some have said that Shaw's move to buy CanWest is an attempt to replicate what Vidéotron has done in Quebec, but that it may be less successful due to the difference between operating content and distribution businesses in English and French Canada. What do you think of their move?
I think for Shaw, it's a good acquisition. We have proven to the rest of the world that being part of a family who owns content, who owns media, who knows information - it's been very good to us. And yes, the French-speaking aspect is a competitive advantage for us. We're not as attacked by the U.S. market like anglophones are. Nobody is producing anything in French in North America. That's the only reason why Quebeckers are so proud of their content. But you guys, anglophones, have a different story. You have great American programs that can compete, easily. We don't have that.
Vidéotron was in rough situation when you came on board in 2001. What did you do?
It started when I sat down and Pierre Karl [Péladeau, Quebecor Inc.'s president and chief executive officer]said, "Robert, you got to take this company and turn it around into a sales driven company." And I said, "Okay, I'll take the challenge."
I went outside and brought people who are used to competition. I meet every single one of my employees every year. People who are not able to fit with the values and the mission statement, we just fire them.
This interview has been condensed and edited.