Francine Guay, President of the M.I. Integration group, was awarded the title of “Grande Estrienne’

Francine Guay, President of the M.I. Integration group, was awarded the title of Grande Estrienne 2017 at the Gala Reconnaissance of the Chambre de commerce de Sherbrooke, held last April 21 at the Théâtre Granada.

“I still haven’t come down from the clouds. When I learned that I was named the Grande Estrienne, I was speechless, very touched. It is a great honor, a wonderful recognition,” states Francine Guay, President of the M.I. Integration group, upon receiving the title of Grande Estrienne 2017 at the Gala Reconnaissance of the Chambre de commerce de Sherbrooke. The Gala was held Friday evening at the Théâtre Granada.”

It was an emotional moment as Francine Guay, President of M.I. Integration, accepted the title of Grande Estrienne 2017 at the Gala Reconnaissance Estrie of the Chambre de commerce de Sherbrooke, held Friday evening at the Théâtre Granada.

Initially, I didn’t know where it all started, but I later learned that it was my daughter Manon [Houle] and Monique Compagna (ed. note: President of Pliages Apaulo) who were behind this nomination, and it made me even prouder,” confided the winner.’

Following a career as homemaker for eight years to raise her three children, Francine Guay set out on the entrepreneurial path in 1984 with her spouse Claude Houle. Together, they created the company Modelage Mécanique CH.

Over the years, the couple then founded Moules Industriels, a firm specialized in the design and production of molds for the plastics and rubber industry, Plastech, a specialized thermoplastic injection firm, and M.I. Integration, which encompasses the sales force, human resources and administration of the other firms. Mr. Houle and Ms. Guay also opened two companies in Mexico – SLP MI Integration and SLP Moldes.

M.I. Integration currently employs approximately 250 people and generates more than $30 M in sales with its five factories (two in Sherbrooke, two in Mexico, and one in Ham-Nord).

Overcoming challenges

A secretary by training, Francine Guay had to roll up her sleeves to develop her entrepreneurial skills when she was propelled into the business world.

I didn’t even have a Cegep or university education, so I had to learn everything by myself, build a network of sources to train myself,” she explains. “I became a member of the Maison régionale de l’industrie and began meeting local business people, I took training, attended conferences…”

Ms. Guay is a member of several boards of administration, including the Société de développement économique (SDES), the Corporation de développement économique communautaire (CDEC) and the Chambre de commerce de Sherbrooke.

All this experience allowed me to learn how a board of administration is run,” she explains. “It turns out that the big winner of all this involvement is me.”

The year 2001 brought with it a new challenge for the businesswoman, when she replaced her husband at the head of Moules Industriels, and then became president of M.I. Integration in 2007.

I didn’t see the presidency as a great challenge, because it was basically what I had been doing,” states Ms. Guay. “But I had underestimated the influence that Claude had with the company. It was not easy taking my place and developing my leadership status. I had to work hard to succeed.”

Management succession

For the past three years, Francine Guay has been working alongside two of her three children, Vincent and Marie-Claude Houle, who are gradually taking up the reins of the family business.

I like to think of my role as a mentor to them,” Francine explains. “I am slowly stepping back to give them more room.”

But is it difficult to work with one’s children? “It is not difficult, but it can be delicate,” responds Ms. Guay, after pondering the question. “Sometimes you have to set things straight. But one of my best strengths is harmony. So for me, there is nothing that requires us to argue amongst ourselves.”

Although the word ‘retirement’ makes her shudder, the president of M.I. Integration admits she thinks about this next step.

“Naturally, I want to do something else,” she confides. “The company has become major, and I no longer have the desire to stretch myself to the limit to lead this organization elsewhere. (…) I will give myself a few more years to exit the company and let my children develop it in turn.”

When she looks back on the career she built up over the past three decades, Francine Guay is proud of what she has become.

“Whether I am with my grandchildren, in a board meeting with Sherbrooke Innopole, on a panel to discuss business or training, I am still the same person. (…) Regardless of my role, I have the same values, the same viewpoint, the same personality. I am very proud to have maintained this identity and to still be surprised by what comes up.”