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Transcontinental Inc. chief executive François Olivier.Graham Hughes/The Canadian Press

Transcontinental Inc. chief executive François Olivier retired on Friday after transforming the country’s largest printer into a leading global packaging company over the course of 13 years at the helm.

The Montreal-based company announced better-than-expected financial results late Thursday, and also welcomed Peter Brues as its new CEO. Mr. Brues, 53, became a Transcontinental director three years ago after spending more than 20 years at Switzerland-based packaging company Amcor. Transcontinental announced its succession plan in September.

Mr. Olivier is “leaving behind a much better-positioned business,” Mark Neville, an analyst at Bank of Nova Scotia, said in a report. “We do not expect a material change in strategy as Mr. Brues has been part of the board of directors since 2018.”

Transcontinental dominates domestic printing of newspapers, magazines and flyers. Its clients include major retailers and The Globe and Mail. Entrepreneur Rémi Marcoux founded the company in 1976 by purchasing a small printing plant after an internship at Quebecor Inc. Transcontinental is still controlled by Mr. Marcoux and his family. It has a $1.7-billion market capitalization.

Mr. Olivier, who is 56, spent the early part of his 28-year career at the company managing printing operations. He was named CEO in 2008. “Most of our sectors were facing headwinds 10 years ago,” he said in a conference call on Thursday.

“A lot has changed since then. We are a very different and diversified company. A majority of our revenue comes from businesses with favourable prospects.”

When Mr. Olivier became CEO, the advertising-driven printing sector was in decline. Shortly after he took the job, Transcontinental invested in new, more efficient presses. The company successfully consolidated the domestic industry and now continues to report a 24-per-cent EBITDA (earnings before interest, taxes, depreciation and amortization) margin from printing.

In 2014, Mr. Olivier launched an international expansion into the packaging sector, targeting customers in industries such as medicine, food, beverages and pet food. Transcontinental made acquisitions of nine packaging companies in seven years, including a $1.7-billion takeover of Chicago-based Coveris Americas in 2018.

The buying spree included a number of U.S. facilities that make products from recycled plastic. Transcontinental recently committed to ensuring all its packaging products are sustainable by 2025, in line with the Ellen MacArthur Foundation’s vision of a circular economy for plastic, where the material never becomes waste.

Packaging accounted for just 2 per cent of Transcontinental’s revenue in 2014. Over the past year, it accounted for 55 per cent of the company’s sales. Mr. Olivier also presided over a broadening of Transcontinental’s client base. When he became CEO, foreign customers accounted for just 15 per cent of sales. As he retires, Transcontinental earns 65 per cent of revenues from international operations in the U.S., Mexico, China and Britain.

“Transcontinental has transformed from being a Canadian company to an international organization that is more resilient than ever, whether it be to economic shock or technological change,” Mr. Olivier said on Thursday’s conference call. The company has 8,000 employees at 39 facilities in eight countries.

Transcontinental chair Isabelle Marcoux said in a press release that Mr. Olivier’s “innovative vision, decisive leadership and business skills have helped propel Transcontinental to its position as a leading flexible packaging company in North America and the largest printer in Canada.”

Mr. Brues, a former KPMG partner, now takes over a company that has cut its debt in half over the past five years, to $895-million at the end of the most recent quarter.

As the economy continues to recover from pandemic-driven shutdowns, Transcontinental is well positioned for growth, analyst Drew McReynolds at RBC Capital Markets said in a report on Friday.

“We believe Transcontinental has significant financial flexibility to execute on organic growth initiatives, tuck-in acquisitions and eventually a more robust capital return program of dividend growth and share repurchases,” Mr. McReynolds wrote.

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