A man of ideas: Marcel Côté

Businessman, thinker and longtime CAmagazine columnist.

Marcel Côté, a key figure in Canada's economic and political landscape who penned the popular CAmagazine column "Outlook" for more than 20 years, died on May 25 at age 71.

Born in 1942 in Malartic, Que., Côté cofounded management consulting firm SECOR in 1975 with partners Yvan Allaire and Roger Miller. He was a close collaborator of Canadian prime minister Brian Mulroney and Quebec premier Robert Bourassa, and ran for mayor in Montreal’s municipal elections last fall. He wrote six books, including Growing the Next Silicon Valley and Innovation Reinvented, both co-authored with Miller. Côté died of heart failure in the Lanaudière region during a Défi Métropolitain cycling event. He is survived by his wife, Louise Drouin.

Known as a man of ideas, Côté was an innovative thinker with prolific results. Daniel Denis, partner at KPMG SECOR in Montreal, recalls one of his first mandates shortly after being hired by SECOR in 1984. The Quebec government had set up a task force of a dozen businesspeople and financiers to study and foster the capitalization of enterprises. "Marcel alone made about 20 proposals, while the other members put forth maybe three or four each," says Denis.

Brainstorming was the preferred practice at SECOR. "We could walk into a room equipped with a screen, throw out all sorts of ideas and, after an hour, we were ready to write an article," says Miller. The brainstorming led to an endless stream of viable ideas. "They were practical," Denis adds.

A straight shooter, Côté’s candour could seem harsh to those who were timid or sensitive. "He didn’t hesitate to say what was on his mind. He was like that with clients, too," Denis says. "But he wasn’t arrogant, and he never put people down."

Côté was a man of insatiable curiosity and he loved a good debate. Unlike many other intellectuals, however, Côté sought to harness the opinions of others at the table rather than prove he was right. If someone could make a case that his or her idea was better, Côté would accept it without fuss and even defend it vigorously.

"He was humble," says Véronique Fournier, a member of Côté’s Coalition Montréal party, who served as counsellor for Montreal’s South-West borough from 2009 to 2013.

Generous and kind, Côté supported young people and their causes. Even after his fourth-place showing in Montreal’s municipal elections, Côté agreed to act as special adviser to Montreal’s new mayor, Denis Coderre, for a token $1 annual salary. "Further proof of his humility and dedication to public life," says Fournier.

With his well-written arguments on controversial topics, Côté’s "Outlook" was the most widely read column in CAmagazine — and a consistent winner at the Canadian Business Press awards. "Year after year, our surveys showed it was the first piece readers read, whether or not they agreed with Marcel," says Christian Bellavance, former editor-in-chief of CAmagazine. One final detail, which speaks volumes about Côté: "He never once failed to meet a deadline for his column," says Marie Josée Boucher, assistant French editor of CPA Magazine. "He was tactful and highly professional. That’s what impressed me the most about him."

Farewell and thank you, Marcel Côté.