F rançois-Philippe Champagne. Remember that name - you'll be hearing it again. Mr. Champagne, 38, is strategic development director for Amec PLC, the big engineering firm based in London. He was recently designated as "a young global leader" by the World Economic Forum, the folks who run the elite Davos powwow. With this honour, which identifies people under 40 who will shape the future, he joins the likes of Anderson Cooper, Belinda Stronach and Leonardo DiCaprio. Yet he remains the kid from Shawinigan, a Quebec Liberal with a big hankering for public life.
How does one become a young global leader?
I am not sure what the recipe is. I have always believed in three pillars: You need the basic set of skills, a lot of ambition and a tremendous amount of luck. That has been the story of my life.
When you were named to the honour, your father Gilles called you "a little guy from Shawinigan," in the manner of Jean Chrétien. Are you like that?
I'd like to be. Obviously those are big shoes to fill. One day I do intend to come back in the country and seek elected office to serve the nation.
Will you be prime minister?
Listen, one has to try and if Canadians believe in what I can do, I will certainly give it a shot.
Has your father been an inspiration, having built Bionest, a waste-water treatment company?
He is an entrepreneur in the true sense, and certainly has been an inspirational figure. We have a number of family businesses. I have chosen in my life to go international, and seek experience in world-class companies like Amec. It's a nice combination because I know the family business side and I know also the big multinational.
But why turn to politics when you could be a global CEO some day?
I have had a certain amount of success in the private world but I feel the need to give back. I know it sounds a bit old-fashioned but I still believe in service to the country and giving back, and that's what I intend to do one day.
Is there a particular cause?
For me, the unity of the country is very important. Having spent a number of years abroad, I do think Canada is a unique place. When you see Canada from abroad you start to appreciate what the rest of the world feels about Canada.
I certainly feel we have a role to play in the world. We are looked at very highly by the rest of the world. Canada is for me the country of the future.
Are we living up to our potential?
Sometimes we should be more inspirational, in the sense that Canada can do a lot. We have national resources, we have a young population and we have a very open society. Everywhere I've been, people dream about coming to Canada.
Has your period abroad shaped you?
Living abroad has been a great personal experience; professionally, it has been a tremendous adventure. It teaches you about different cultures, different languages. I've lived in Europe for many years, seeing a number of countries. When you bring that home, you are a better person. You understand some of the issues that new immigrants face in our country, and what Canada is all about.
What does it take to be a leader these days, as opposed to a manager?
You need to be inspirational. You need to be there to set goals, to make people believe that we can do things better, faster and cheaper in the industry. There is a difference between being a manager and a leader, but to be successful in business, you need to be both. There are too many managers and too few leaders in today's business world.
Have you ever been inspirational?
I have tried to influence people through various activities, and even within Amec. My background was not conventional for the type of role I was given but I have tried to inspire a small team in creating a think tank within our company in terms of strategy and M&A. We want to be regarded as kind of the internal investment bank in Amec. I have tried to raise the bar. I think we've done that.
What does it mean to be a think tank?
Trying to think outside the box. I know that is a cliché, but I'm really trying to say we are a small team who together need to bring the new ideas in terms of strategy. Where are we going to be in five years? What should we do in three years? Within a small group, we want to serve as a brainstorming function in the company.
Do Canadians function well in international business?
I think so, maybe because of our dual background, our openness. Canadians are well-versed in the international arena. We tend to be people who would go abroad, feel well abroad.
I speak three languages today, English, French and Italian. I wish I could speak more.
What will be the arc of your career from now on?
There is no rush. In the medium term, I have this desire to come back to this country but within Amec, I still have a lot to do. This is a company in transformation with big aspirations.
I'm probably the youngest executive on the management committee. So for someone like me, there are a lot of opportunities within the company. I want to keep involved in our transformation under the leadership of our CEO, who is one of the inspirational leaders I know.
Do you have trouble as a young executive in asserting yourself?
I have been the youngest in most things I've done. It was a struggle in the earlier years because I looked so young. But today people judge me more for what I bring to the table and less for my age. This is the new way of thinking in business. You judge people for what they bring, as opposed to who they are in terms of age or race or whatever.
You still need to prove yourself because experience is something you cannot buy - you can only live through it.
What made your reputation?
In my early days of my career, I served at ABB [another major engineering firm]for 10 years and I built the reputation as someone who could deliver. I've been lucky because there was someone who believed in me and gave me tremendous responsibility at a very young age. I had files in ABB such as the Adtranz [train-making]joint venture with DaimlerChrysler. I have had huge responsibilities at a very young age, and they have shaped who I am.
So judgment is more important than years?
If you are exposed to big decisions early on, you develop that sense of being able to manage. Judgment is by trial and error and you grow in that.
What's better for a business career, an MBA or law degree?
Law gives you very rational thinking but you lack the numbers part. The MBA brings you the marketing, strategy and numbers but you could use the rational thinking of law. In today's business world, law has taken on quite a bit of importance. So it is a nice mix to have both.
Do you regret not having an MBA?
I studied some administration in college, but it was not as sophisticated as an MBA. I wish I had more financial training. It would serve me well, but you have to make do with what you have. I started as a lawyer and switched to business, which I think is the dream of most lawyers anyway.
TITLE: Strategic development
director, Amec PLC, London
BORN: Greenfield Park, Que., on June 25, 1970
EDUCATION: Bachelor of laws, Université de Montréal
Master of laws, Case Western Reserve University, Cleveland
Early career: Worked as senior attorney for Elsag Bailey Process Automation, Group Operations for Europe and Asia
1999: Joined ABB Ltd. in Switzerland, where he rose to group vice-president and senior counsel
2008: Joined Amec as strategic development director