The Invisible Mentor Interviews Ron LeBlanc, CEO of Madacana

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Ron LeBlanc
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Tell me a little bit about yourself.

Ron LeBlanc:  I am a 58-year old Canadian and the Chairman of Madacana Holding Inc, a fairly major player in the gem business in Madagascar. I have a sapphire mine and land bank in Madagascar. We’ve been in Madagascar since 2004, and I took over operation and control of the mine in 2006, which is located in the south of Madagascar. Prior to 2006, I was a gem buyer.

Madagascar is a complex place, but I have experience doing business in Africa and I enjoy it. Madagascar is probably the best place in the world for gems so it was the right place and the right time. I am a low functioning polymath and I have done a lot of things: I’ve been in bars, restaurant and I have been in the aesthetics business for a long, long time. After two years of exploration, I am ready to go into serious mechanized mining in the gem business in Madagascar.

What’s a typical day like for you?

Ron LeBlanc:  There is no typical day for me. My days are different because of the responsibilities of running a mining company in Madagascar. In my particular business in Madagascar you have to be awake all the time. There is no real regiment. When I am in the field there are production and operations demands on my time. Most of my investors are Canadians so I am often in Canada raising funds for the company. At other times, I am putting those funds “in the ground” so to speak. I also have a cutting stone factory. Because I have raised most of the funds privately, I feel like I have to lead many things personally.

How do you motivate yourself and stay motivated?

Ron LeBlanc:  Everything I do is a consequence of my passion so I never have a problem getting up in the morning because I like what I do. I am completely animated by beauty and I have always been in aesthetics and that which animates life.  I never really have to motivate myself other than being in my passion which is gems, so I don’t need to motivate myself because I am motivated naturally.

If you had to start over from scratch, knowing what you know now, what would you do differently?

Ron LeBlanc:  That’s an interesting question but I don’t know if I’d do anything differently because all success is inevitably a compound of success and failures and I am convinced both my failures and vices have gotten me to where I am at, and I cannot see taking out one component over another because that would unsettle the nice integrated success to date so I do not see myself doing anything differently.

What’s the most important business (or other) discovery you’ve made in the past year?

Ron LeBlanc:  The most important business discovery I’ve made is really about myself, and that is to grow, you have to be collaborative these days. And the new Darwinian imperatives are not just survival of the fittest but survival of the most cooperative.

What’s one of the biggest advances in your industry over the past five years?

Ron LeBlanc:  In the gem business the biggest advance is a new business model which attempts to control colored stones by doing it in a larger and more scaled up fashion and that’s been the difference. All along the colored gem business has been a mine here, and a mine there and it’s been too random and the issue of randomness in any business is that you cannot establish market price. Now we are dealing with bigger mines that have dominion over the product so that we can begin to have stable pricing.

What are the three threats to your business, your success, and how are you handling them?

Ron LeBlanc:  The first threat to my business is political because I am in Madagascar. The country just went through a revolution. You have to be able to navigate the rapids when you are in Africa. Second, when the world markets are waning you have to be able to outlast the poor markets, and the third threat is you have to be adaptable in your company to foresee what’s coming.

What’s unique about the service that you provide?

Ron LeBlanc:  I am the most inexpensive gem merchant in the world.

What do you observe most people in your field doing badly that you think you do well?

Most people don’t understand that you need to have an economy of scale, you need to do things big enough to be able to afford to realize your potential.

Describe a major business (or other) challenge you had and how you resolved it.

Ron LeBlanc:  The business challenge I had was a revolution in Madagascar, and at the same time the world international community was collapsing. How I resolved this I simply turned the lights way, way down and stopped doing any kind of work, ensured that we had security in place, but I just knew that I had to outlast the revolution. I cut the cost down radically. I had to make sharp personal and business cuts.

What lessons did you learn in the process?

Ron LeBlanc:  You need to have a plan B because you cannot make plans that disregard external events. You need to see your business in relation to all the other factors, and you have to know what those factors are that impose themselves on your business. You have to move quickly to take advantage of open and closed windows. I got too arrogant, too prideful and presumed that things were too good for me, and disregarded the ambiance of the market. I think that’s a big, big mistake and you have to learn to go when it’s good and pull back when it’s not.

Tell me about your big break and who gave you.

Ron LeBlanc:  When you are in line with your destiny, a kind of intuitive certainty of the way forward, the world becomes benevolent and many things come to you. And there are always mentors around, as well as circumstances, but when you are aligned with your destiny and your passion you are always  fortunate.

Describe one of your biggest failures. What lessons did you learn, and how did it contribute to a greater success?

Ron LeBlanc:  One of my biggest mistakes I made was to presume that I did not have to deal with professionals. When you deal with professional the world becomes symmetrical and when you deal with fools the world becomes asymmetrical. I have dealt a few times with amateurs and the consequence of that is my world became more difficult to control.

What has been your biggest disappointment in your life – and what are you doing to prevent its reoccurrence?

Ron LeBlanc:  I haven’t really been disappointed. But it’s very disappointing that loyalty is so fickle, and one should not presume it in life, but reward it if it comes to you. I am talking about the people who work for you, your friends, and the people around you. Don’t look for it but if it comes celebrate it.

What’s one of the toughest decisions you’ve had to make and how did it impact your life?

Ron LeBlanc:  The toughest decision I had to make was axe someone I hired who turned out to be not very good at the job. You sometimes have to sacrifice friendships for the greater good, which is the shareholders.

What are three events that helped to shape your life?

Ron LeBlanc:

  1. Living in a small town, the world appears big and exciting. I had a kind of mythology that I shaped for myself, and that small town represented constraints. It was a bit of a dark little town, and every thing beyond that world unfolded with all its possibilities. It was a big thing in my life to leave that small town.
  2. Back in the sixties and early seventies I got entwined in nefarious activities and I think meeting my first wife really helped me cross that river stick. I had to move from that very dangerous life that I had taken on for myself and move into a straight life and she was pivotal in helping me to do that. It essentially changed the context of my life which was getting too dangerous and so that was a big thing. When I got into another life, I felt that business was easy because the courage that I applied to my nefarious world could be applied to the world of business. She gave be a choice between a life in darkness and one in the light.
  3. I was in Morocco and bought a bunch of gems as gifts. I was traveling with a friend and he later said “I hope you didn’t pay more than $5 for that crap.” I’d bought these gems which turned out to be valueless and worthless, and I said to myself that I’d never be fooled again. I felt shamed, and I steered my ambition to understand all things beautiful and aesthetic and decided that I would learn about gems.

What’s an accomplishment that you are proudest of?

Ron LeBlanc:  It’s what I am doing right now. It’s the inflexible drive to ensure that this company, despite all the odds, turned out alright. I am most proud of my stalwart push to ensure that this company will succeed against a lot of odds.

How did mentors influence your life?

Ron LeBlanc:  I have always surrounded myself with very bright people, and my mentors have always been good to me. I am always striving to improve myself.

What’s one core message you received from your mentors?

Ron LeBlanc:  Always deal with professionals and always get the very best people. If you do not have the best people you are not going to succeed in a difficult industry.

Which resources (books, movies, training etc.) did your mentors recommend to you?

Ron LeBlanc:  I was told to keep current on the front side of things because of the constant oscillations of the market and everything else. Everything that affects your business is always shifting so stay on the front side.  Get the best data and voices. I used to read Harvard Business Review, and marketing magazines.

What nuggets of wisdom can you glean from the interview? What are five takeaways?

Let’s keep the conversation flowing, please comment.

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