Former AAPA Chairman Ross Gaudreault led the Quebec Port Authority to impressive growth in his 23 years at the helm and established Quebec City as a top cruise destination on the St. Lawrence River
By Sarah Sain
When Ross Gaudreault walks down the street in his hometown of Quebec City, it’s not uncommon for a passerby to stop him and strike up a conversation.
It’s just a part of daily life for the man who led the Quebec Port Authority for more than 20 years.
“I got involved with everybody. Everyone knew me – they still do,” he said. “I was on the wharf. When we had cruise ships, I’d be down there. The press knew me. I would talk to everyone. I took it as if I owned the port. I really got involved personally with all my energy.”
It’s that personal involvement and passion that helped contribute to unprecedented growth and diversification at the port and to a lasting legacy with the American Association of Port Authorities, of which Gaudreault is a proud member of still today.
Investing in the Future
Gaudreault, 71, joined the Port of Quebec in 1985 as chairman of the board. Little did he know that two years later, he would become president and CEO, spearheading the port’s growth during his 23 years at the helm.
“In 1987, the CEO of the port went for another job, and I had to look for a new CEO. We looked, but for some reason, someone must have sent me the light,” he said. “I thought, this is a great job, and I think I can turn the port around and bring in new business.”
He immediately brought in a team to analyze the areas in which the port should invest.
“When I arrived at the port, it had a few dollars in the bank, and it was making money with interest. But I said, ‘This is not our goal, we are not a bank. We are a port, and we must create economic activity and develop the port.”
Gaudreault decided to capitalize on the port’s unique situation along the St. Lawrence River. As the deepest port on the St. Lawrence in close proximity to Montreal, the port can accommodate larger ships.
“I said to myself, ‘We can become the transshipment port in the St. Lawrence for the American Great Lakes and the U.S. with coal and iron ore.’ So we invested more than $200 million, and we went with our suitcases around the world with the American Great Lakes Association and the Canadian Great Lakes Associaton, and we sold the idea that the port would be a transshipment port. And that’s what it has become.”
The port increased its annual tonnage from about 1.5 million tons that first year to more than 29 million tons in 2011.
But it was another investment that Gaudreault made in the port at that time that sealed his legacy in Quebec and the industry at large.
“I was doing a lot of speeches for the Chamber of Commerce and making a lot of TV appearances then, but people didn’t really care. Yes, they were conscious of the importance of the port, but handling iron ore and coal, it’s not very sexy. Suddenly, I got the answer to get the people involved. I saw the first cruise ships arriving in Quebec City in 1987. I said, ‘My god, this is something.’”
The location of the original cruise docks downtown near the old city offered tourists and locals a chance to interact. Gaudreault capitalized on that by working with the city to create parks and biking alleys.
The port held big parties at the opening of each cruise season that would bring in 20,000 people.
“When the Queen Mary 2 arrived for the first time in Quebec City, we had 25,000 singing songs on the port. That was fantastic,” Gaudreault recalled.
The port built a new cruise terminal in 2002, and it was renamed the Ross Gaudreault Cruise Terminal in 2010. Today, it hosts more than 150,000 passengers a year, and it’s one of the highest rated cities with Holland America Cruise Lines.
On its renaming, Port of Quebec Executive Vice President Marcel Labrecque said: “Ross Gaudreault is truly worthy of this honor. The terminal was his project and his dream. He won over his opponents and rallied the citizens of Québec City to make it happen. Over 500,000 passengers later, I think the time has come to congratulate him on a job more than well done.”
“The cruise terminal brought the attention of the people to the port – their port,” Gaudreault said. “They started to understand that the port brought a lot to the economy for the area.”
Because of his exhaustive efforts in growing the cruise business, Gaudreault was named Grand Québécois by the Chamber of Commerce, and he received the AAPA Cruise Award in 2008.
A Very Special Relationship
After taking over the role of president and CEO at the Quebec Port Authority, Gaudreault attended his first AAPA Convention in 1987 in Galveston.
“That began my love story,” he said.
“I met a lot of people. I met Kurt (Nagle, president and CEO of AAPA), and I got involved. It took a few years to get to know everyone, but I’m the kind of guys, I get involved, I shake hands, I’m easy to talk to.”
Gaudreault was named chairman of AAPA in 2000, and he served on the Executive Committee for a record 14 years, during which time he was integral in the in the creation of the Cruise Committee and Cruise Seminar.
Before the first workshop in 1998 in Port Canaveral, Gaudreault said the goal of the event was to create relationships that before that time were non-existent.
“I realized when I went to Seatrade (Cruise Shipping Convention), the executives of the cruise industry didn’t know about AAPA and vice versa. We had no contact. Cruise ships were coming to our ports, and we should have a special relationship with the cruise line executives. They should know who we are.”
Today, the picture has changed.
“We’ve done a great job with AAPA over the years to let the cruise business know who we are. So when we go to Seatrade now, every member of AAPA, every port is there. The cruise executives know who AAPA is today.”
Gaudreault said during all his years in leadership at AAPA, one of his more memorable accomplishments was the success of the 2001 AAPA Convention, held in Quebec City just three weeks after the tragic events of Sept. 11.
“After hearing the president of the United States on television say, ‘America, let’s go back to living life,’ I called Kurt in Washington. I said, ‘We’re not cancelling.’ We were the only American convention not cancelled in Quebec City at that time,” he continued. “We had worked four years to organize that, so we said, ‘Come to Quebec City, we’re going to heal together.’”
There were only a handful of cancellations, and more than 900 people attended the convention.
Continuing to Enjoy Life
Just a couple months after his retirement in December 2010, Gaudreault was diagnosed with malignant lymphoma, a rare cancer of the small intestine. He underwent surgery and chemotherapy.
Today, he’s happy to say he’s doing well.
“So far I’m cancer-free,” he said. “They’re checking me every few months – you have to watch for a small cell, but right now I’m keeping my fingers crossed. My last test was very good, but they’re checking me every three months. I’m not 100 percent recovered because it takes a long time after the chemo, but you just have to learn to listen to your body. I’m still active, but not as much as I was before, but it’s coming back – I can see a big difference.”
He continues to recover and spends his time with the people he loves, doing the things he loves – volunteering (he’s been president of the Board of Directors of the l’Enfant-Jésus Hospital Foundation for 24 years), traveling, biking, fishing and skiing in the winter.
He also remains active in the ports community. He is an Honorary Member of AAPA, and he started a sought-after consulting firm – Ross Gaudreault Consultant.
“I’m refusing some customers because I don’t want to work every day,” he said. “I picked a few that I really enjoy, and they’re wonderful people to work with.”
He played a role in helping one of his clients, the Port of Saguenay, expand its cruise business.
“We have cruises now leaving New York or Boston and coming into the St. Lawrence,” he said. “We have ships that cruise from Quebec City to Saguenay to Halifax to Saint-Pierre and back and exchanges passengers. That’s something that I dreamed would happened, and I realized it last summer. Take a cruise from Quebec City and back.”
He looks forward to seeing many of his friends again this fall at the AAPA Convention in Port Canaveral.
“I’m still in contact with many friends from the industry, and when I was sick, I received so many emails from my friends in the U.S. and Latin America telling me to keep going, keep fighting,” he said. “I’ve made so many friends in the 42 countries that are AAPA. And Kurt, he’s a great friend. It is a fantastic organization.”
Read this article now in AAPA Seaports Magazine’s new interactive digital edition.