The normally accessible Stephen Jarislowsky was strangely unreachable last week when his investment management company, Jarislowsky Fraser Ltd., announced a huge shakeup, including the departure of president Len Racioppo and vice-president Marc Trottier. Instead, the company hired National Public Relations to field calls and made the new chairman of the firm's executive committee Pierre Lapointe available for interviews.
Streetwise figured it would only be a matter of time before things returned somewhat to normal at the firm and the salty 87-year-old billionaire founder took calls again from the press.
Indeed, a call on Tuesday was patched straight through to Mr. Jarislowsky in his Montreal office. He was in fine form, droll, sharp and feisty as usual.
Mr. Jarislowsky, who is stepping back as CEO to let a management committee led by Mr. Lapointe run the firm, confirmed he'll still manage private accounts and "I'll definitely be available [to the organization]. I'm not dead yet and still have an office here, but it's up to them to run the company."
Asked about the changes at the firm that the German-born, Harvard Business School graduate founded 57 years ago, Mr. Jarislowsky said: "We had two leaders who were pretty much operating a vertical corporation from the top down. I believed we could do better if [the structure was changed] to a horizontal corporation. It seems to work better because we're getting more responsibility and input when we empower the people more than being leaders from the top down."
Mr. Jarislowsky wouldn't shed any light on what led to the departure of his two top executives, who are starting their own investment counselling firm together. "I don't want to go into any of it at this point. It serves no purpose," Mr. Jarislowsky said, although he described the departures as amicable. "It's always amicable. Why not? They've worked here for years," he said. Asked if it was difficult to say goodbye, he replied, "Is parting easy? It's never easy."
One of the big questions surrounding Jarislowsky Fraser is its ownership structure and future given the advanced age of the founder and widespread industry consolidation that has seen other independents mopped up by large financial institutions. Mr. Lapointe said last week the privately owned firm is not for sale.
Mr. Jarislowsky indicated that the voting structure in the firm is 50-50; his family controls half the votes while a group of managers controls the other half. Independent director Bill Corcoran presumably casts the deciding vote as needed. "I would never be able to sell it without permission from the partners," said Mr. Jarislowsky, who refused to say how proceeds would be divided in a sale.