Team player Annie Lemieux builds on father’s legacy at LSR Group
The following article was written by Paul Delean for the Montréal Gazette and was published September 28th, 2015.
Because she enjoyed sports so much, Annie Lemieux thought her dream job might be sportscaster.
“I wanted to be Danielle Rainville,” said Lemieux, alluding to the groundbreaking Quebec radio and TV host of the ’80s and ’90s. Lemieux’s father Serge, a prominent real-estate developer, didn’t disapprove of the career choice, but had a suggestion. “He said study something serious first. After that, try it if you want. If it doesn’t work out, you have a background in something else.” Her something else was engineering. She graduated from Ecole Polytechnique in 1994. Lemieux then took a stab at sportscasting, enrolling in a local broadcasting school. That’s as far as it went. I realized two things early on: I don’t like criticism, which goes with the job, and I didn’t like the rivalry. When you messed up, others were happy about it, because they thought it made them look better.”
Teamwork and motivation were what she liked most about sports, and it’s what she likes most about the business she’s in now, real-estate development and project management. After her short fling with broadcasting 20 years ago, and two years working for an engineering firm, Lemieux joined the family business, LSR Group, working alongside her father and brothers Benoît and Éric. ”I’m entrepreneurial, like my father,” said Lemieux, 44. “We like creating new things.”
A native of St-Hyacinthe, Serge started LSR in 1969, after completing studies in civil engineering. There were supposed to be three partners — each represented in the corporate name by the first letter of their first name — but L exited early and R dropped out later, leaving only S. Slowly and steadily, Serge built the company, buying and building apartment buildings. By the mid-1980s, LSR was up to 1,800 units in nine different buildings in Montreal, St-Laurent and the South Shore.
Later that decade, he saw opportunity in the depressed U.S. housing market and snapped up 1,300 rental units in Houston. “He didn’t speak English well but that didn’t stop him. It was rare back then for a Quebec entrepreneur to go outside the province, before Couche-Tard and Jean Coutu,” Lemieux said. LSR is still in Texas, has expanded into Florida and now manages almost 3,000 rental units in its U.S. division, overseen by Benoît.
In Quebec, the company branched into condo construction and, more recently, seniors’ housing. In 1986, Serge undertook his most ambitious project, the three-tower, 300-unit Rive Droite condominium complex along Highway 132 in the South Shore municipality of St-Lambert. Others followed, in St-Lambert, Nuns’ Island and Laval. And from the time she joined the business, Lemieux played a central role; her father believed in delegating responsibility. That led to some tough lessons. In one housing development in S-Lambert, a new road was constructed higher than the building lots, requiring an expensive filling operation. “It was my mistake, but next time I knew. And my father was awesome about it.” He was her mentor and “best partner,” Lemieux said, but it came to a sudden end four years ago. At 68, Serge suffered a fatal heart attack while cycling. A month earlier, he and his daughter had completed one of his favourite cycling routes, St. Lambert to Orford. “He did it often, we did it once. I will remember that ride forever,” Lemieux said.
Since his death, she’s taken the reins at LSR GesDev, developing a reputation as someone capable of forging partnerships to finance and realize new projects. Current ventures include a $140-million development in Griffintown and a $21-million, eight-storey condo building called Vic & Lambert on the waterfront in St. Lambert. “It’s not enough just to have the right site, you also need the right product for it, something the market is looking for,” she said. “Seeing a project take shape, bring new life to a site, that’s what I love.” Business associates describe Lemieux as a total professional, with a human touch. “With Annie, what you see is what you get. You can’t not like her. She’s transparent and real,” said Marc-André Roy, president of Sotramont, whose company is constructing Vic & Lambert and worked with LSR previously on the Villas-Sur-Rive condo development in Laval. “She’s a quality person, very reflective, who knows how to assemble people with complementary strengths,” adds Normand Bélanger, president of the Solidarity Fund’s real-estate division, which partnered with LSR on a condo project in Poland almost two decades ago and has taken a $2-million stake in the St-Lambert project.
Still keen on sports, Lemieux jogs, cycles, skis, plays golf and tennis and even takes a regular shift at forward with Collège Brébeuf’s women’s alumni hockey team. “In team sports, you discover that everyone has different strengths and if you all work together and make the best of those talents, you can do big things,” she said. “I try to do the same in business, putting together the right team. I want projects that will make us all proud. “For me, the definition of success is not how much money you made. The project has to be good for everybody: the buyers, the municipality, the partners, the company. If it’s only good for the developer, you won’t be a success long-term.”