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The remarkable legacy of Marcel Desautels

McGill community mourns the passing of a champion for business education in Canada


Business leader Marcel Desautels, LLD’07 (CM, O Ont, OM), was a visionary philanthropist who transformed management education and invested over $38 million in students, programs, research and facilities at McGill’s Desautels Faculty of Management. 

A tremendous supporter of higher education in Canada, Desautels died on January 31 at the age of 88.

Marcel’s character, business acumen, generosity and commitment to higher education profoundly and positively shaped the Desautels Faculty of Management,” says Dean Yolande Chan.

“The years since his landmark gift in 2005 have represented a seismic shift for our Faculty, enabling us to leverage existing strengths and to make new advancements."

“In addition to generously donating his own resources and time, Marcel was deeply passionate about inspiring others to give and get involved. Because he believed in us, so many others did too. He gave us the confidence, the tools, and the vision to be one of the world’s truly great management schools,” adds Chan.

Marcel Desautels’s game-changing $22-million gift to McGill’s Management Faculty in 2005 came at a crucial time and ushered in an era of historic growth and impact. On the 15th anniversary of the gift in 2020, Morty Yalovsky, interim dean at the time, said: “What have his donations allowed us to do in the past 15 years? Pretty much everything. Every single person who has walked through our doors has experienced the ripple effects of Marcel’s generosity in one way or another.”

In addition to his business achievements, Desautels was a tenor who loved music and opera. He established the Mariana Paunova and Stefano Algieri Scholarship in Voice at McGill’s Schulich School of Music in 2012 to commemorate the distinguished singing careers of Algieri, a tenor and associate professor at the School, and his late wife, contralto Mariana Paunova – both opera singers of world renown.

“He could have had a world career. That’s how beautiful a voice it was,” says Algieri, who was his Voice professor. 

Algieri met Desautels at an event celebrating his extraordinary gift to the Management Faculty in 2005. At one point during the event, Desautels sang a baritone aria from the opera Faust. Algieri immediately knew Desautels was a tenor, and invited Desautels to come by his studio to show him technically what he meant. “He came the next day, like a singer would, and as the story goes, he entered a baritone and he left a tenor.” 

Character, honesty, humour and loyalty are some of the adjectives Algieri used to describe his best friend.

“There’s nothing I could say that would fully pay tribute to Marcel – that’s how good a person he was,” says Algieri, calling him a man of integrity who was very spiritual, steeped in the Jesuit tradition from his youth. 

A native of St-Boniface, Manitoba, Marcel Desautels was raised with equal measures of humour and discipline and a deep respect for higher education.

He worked his way through university and launched a private legal practice in Winnipeg as a young man before offering his services to the Great-West Life Assurance Company and the Treasury Board of Canada. Later, he took the helm at Creditel of Canada, the country’s largest commercial credit and debt recovery bureau, and presided over 25 years of unprecedented growth. Creditel was sold in 1996, and Desautels used the proceeds to launch the Canadian Credit Management Foundation (CCMF), a non-profit organization that would support Canadian business education for years to come.

The CCMF made major contributions to several Canadian universities before its landmark $22-million gift to McGill in 2005 – at the time, the largest donation ever made to a Canadian business school. This influx of resources funded endowed chairs, scholars’ awards, symposia, and student awards and fellowships, and the Faculty was renamed in honour of Desautels’s extraordinary generosity. In 2008, he provided a further $10 million to create the Marcel Desautels Institute for Integrated Management, which aims to introduce interdisciplinary “big-picture” thinking into a global business world that must increasingly operate with both social and financial balance sheets in mind. In 2014, he donated an additional $5 million to provide seed funding to convert the building that once housed the McGill bookstore into the new Donald E. Armstrong Building.

In 2007, Desautels received an honorary McGill doctorate in recognition of his outstanding contributions to business education. In July 2008, he was made a Member of the Order of Canada, one of the highest civilian honours bestowed by the Canadian government. He was an Honorary Lifetime Member of the Desautels Faculty of Management’s International Advisory and Advancement Board.

Marcel Desautels will be greatly missed but his positive impact and remarkable legacy lives on at McGill and in higher education across Canada.