Stephan Cretier, Garda World Security Corp.
The two dozen countries in which Stephan Cretier's firm operates include such scary places as Iraq, Sudan, Colombia, Pakistan and Afghanistan. But for heart-stopping peril, none can match what was the scariest place of all for Garda World Security Corp. late in 2008: the TSX. The Montreal-based company's ultra-aggressive acquisition strategy had left it dangerously exposed when credit markets seized up. Investors fled from the highly leveraged security firm, cratering its share price from $13.74 in August 2008 to 57¢ four months later. Yet Cretier, Garda's president and CEO, insisted he had been right to borrow heavily. This allowed his firm to grow quickly to the size needed to deliver what big clients increasingly demand: one-stop shopping for security services. Over the past decade, Garda has used debt-fuelled acquisitions to grow from obscurity to No. 5 worldwide, with operations spanning cash logistics (e.g., armoured trucks), consulting and investigation, pre-employment screening and physical security. -- JM