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Executive MBA Grads Give Back to JMSB

Raffaele Gerbasi, Frédéric Lefrançois and Marcello Iacovella take their seats in the 10th-floor amphitheatre that will bear the Wildfire name in their honourRaffaele Gerbasi, Frédéric Lefrançois and Marcello Iacovella take their seats in the 10th-floor amphitheatre that will bear the Wildfire name in their honour

Call it serendipity. When three John Molson School of Business students met in 2006 the stars aligned, bringing them - and Concordia - good fortune.

Raffaele Gerbasi, Frédéric Lefrançois and Marcello Iacovella will never forget the significance of their summer convergence.

Entrepreneurial and studious, they quickly formed a triumvirate while earning executive MBAs at Concordia’s John Molson School of Business.

The graduates have now pledged $100,000 to JMSB to thank Concordia for bringing them together. The donation will go to the JMSB Building fund and a 10th-floor amphitheatre will bear the Wildfire name in their honour.

“It’s an emotional return,” Iacovella says. “I look at where I am today and I couldn’t have done it without the help of my partners. The foundation of that partnership was the executive MBA program.”

The trio run Wildfire, a fire-control equipment company they snapped up in a management buy-out in 2010.

“We met at the summer tutorial and hit it off,” Iacovella recalls. “The chemistry was good.”

Wildfire’s vice-president and general manager Gerbasi spotted a kindred spirit in Iacovella. “One of the fundamental reasons why we clicked was good core values and shared beliefs,” he says.

Lefrançois, a native of Saguenay, came into the portrait days after Gerbasi and Iacovella had met on a business refresher course.

“Basically we were wired the same way,” recalls Lefrançois, Wildfire’s vice-president of product development. “We were very ambitious people who liked to work hard and play hard.”

Iacovella is a Wildfire veteran. He joined the outfit in 1995, the year Montreal-based Wajax sold its North American fire-control business to newly formed Wildfire Fire Equipment.

As a 19-year-old, Iacovella split his time between sales and earning his BComm in international business at JMSB.

Today, he is president and CEO of Wildfire, which has operations across Canada and in the U.S. Yet in 2006, Europe beckoned with prospects of a job that - had it manifested - would have scuppered his study plans and embryonic relationship with Lefrançois and Gerbasi.

“Marcello was not sure because he was expecting a job offer in Scandinavia,” recalls Lefrançois, who left game giant Ubisoft to join Wildfire.

The job didn’t pan out. To the delight of Lefrançois of Gerbasi, Iacovella’s presence sealed their friendship, partnership and fate.

Towards the end of their EMBAs, the three began targeting companies to acquire. “We prefer looking for the fixer-uppers,” jokes Gerbasi, who has a pedigree of beefing up technology companies. A deal emerged in 2008 but fell through. “So we sat it out and stayed in touch,” Gerbasi recalls. “Then in 2009, Marcello called me and said ‘I think Wildfire is on the block, would you be interested in looking at this together?’”

He was. By then Gerbasi and Lefrançois had intimate knowledge of Wildfire - Iacovella had frequently made it a focus of his case studies. “They grasped the concept of the business model, customer base and different obstacles the company faced,” Iacovella says. “We always said what a waste of talent it would be not to get together and form a company one day.”

They have not looked back. “It is because of JMSB that we met,” Lefrançois says. “The donation is our way to say thank you for a great opportunity.”

Gerbasi, the eldest and mentor, reckons his and his partners’ generosity boils down to simple gratitude. “We’re not expecting anything in return,” he says. We’re big cheerleaders for JMSB.”

Posted March 6, 2013