Jean-François Bouchard is the founding member of Sid Lee, a creative, multidisciplinary ad agency with 600 employees in Montréal, Amsterdam, Paris, Toronto and New York.
In 2012, Forbes named Sid Lee one of the best performing ad agencies. Four years ago, in collaboration with Cirque du Soleil, it created C2 Montréal, an annual event that attracts innovation’s best and brightest to Montréal, with Jean-François Bouchard acting as its Commissioner.
“I think Montréal has the best of both worlds: the irresistible vibe of an international city combined with the accessibility of a city of manageable size, that’s easy to live in.”
Are you from Montréal?
Yes. I was born in Montréal, grew up in Longueuil, and moved back here when I was 16 to attend boarding school at Collège Notre-Dame. Since that time, aside from a brief stint in Ottawa, I have always lived here. I now live in Outremont, with one foot in the woods and the other in a lively urban centre, with Mile End close by.
What are you really passionate about?
I have more interests than time to enjoy them! But they all have a common thread: my commitment to breaking down barriers between sectors generally deemed contradictory or mutually incompatible—creativity and commerce; art and business. I’m an amateur photographer, and even though I took a different career path, this artistic leaning continues to tug at me. This need to tear down walls is also what inspired C2 Montréal.
What do you like most about Greater Montréal?
What’s interesting to me is that it is both highly creative and very accessible. Sid Lee has offices around the world, and I’m often struck by how complicated it is to live in other large cities. But not here! I believe Montréal has the best of both worlds: the irresistible vibe of a large international city combined with the accessibility of a manageable sized city, that’s easy to live in. It’s 2 for 1, really.
I also like the way Montréal creativity manifests itself, at all times, in all sectors: music, the performing arts, communication or the digital sphere. It’s really at the forefront of art and technology, and we are often the first to discover the very latest trends.
What are three words that best describe Greater Montréal?
Eclectic, accessible and creative
Why do you feel it’s important to be an ambassador for Greater Montréal?
As a Montrealer, I think I have to make a tangible effort to promote the best the city has to offer. At the global level, of course, but also, right here at home, to help Montrealers develop confidence in and a positive attitude towards their city. Cities like New York or Amsterdam owe a good deal of their success to the enormous support they receive from their inhabitants, in addition to considerable public enthusiasm for future projects. My role as an ambassador is to help foster collective pride in Montrealers.
How do you think an event like C2 Montréal will help raise Montréal’s international profile?
When we created C2 Montréal, we had two objectives. First, to begin a constructive dialog both in and about Montréal via a positive, unifying event. And second, to give the city a major platform to help raise its international profile.
Where are we today? It took most major events, Davos or the TED talks, for instance, over 20 years to become firmly established. But that appears to be happening more quickly with C2 Montréal. This is only our 4th year and we already have a solid reputation and major international visibility on a global scale, in both social and traditional media outlets. The French publication Le Nouvel Observateur christened us the “Davos of creativity” and US-based BizBash named us Number 1 most innovative meeting, and this reflects back on the city. First and foremost, because Montréal appears in the event’s name. And because many of the C2 activities are specifically designed to promote Montréal innovation. Not to mention that PwC estimated that the event would generate over $100 million in economic spinoffs. We are about to win our bet: Montréal is increasingly viewed, internationally, for what it is—a creative, avant-garde city.
What do you hope Greater Montréal would be like in 20 years?
We often hear Montréal referred to as a hub for foreign companies making their first foray into North America. This is a very accurate description of the city, based as it is on our dual cultural inheritance, which forms the basis of our distinct identity. It’s also the trump card, from an economic standpoint. We must continue to strive to make Montréal a conduit between North America and the rest of the world.
If you could have a physical or mental superpower, what would it be?
To teleport myself, so I wouldn’t have to spend 12 hours a week on planes. And with Montréal in the forefront in new technologies, I wouldn’t be surprised if that technology was invented right here one of these days!