Inside Track: Boileau foresees dynamic growth ahead
A short-lived career in journalism after college led Randy Boileau into the finance industry and the field of communications.
A couple of key words that come up repeatedly when Randy Boileau speaks about his past and future are “storytelling” and “interesting,” both of which are also good words to describe Boileau.
A natural storyteller whose career trajectory has followed a path of interesting opportunities, Boileau amassed more than 20 years of experience in journalism, marketing communications and strategic public relations before launching his own business in 2004.
The company, Boileau Communications,celebrated its 10-year anniversary in 2014 and is poised for growth this year, according to Boileau.
Boileau didn’t set out to become a business owner or a communications expert. He said had a couple of things gone differently, he might be working at the Macon Daily Telegraph in Georgia today.
Born and raised in Wyandotte, Mich., he joined the U.S. Coast Guard after graduating from Roosevelt High School in Wyandotte and then decided he was interested in a career in journalism.
Boileau had a friend whose father worked for the Detroit Free Press, and he recommended Boileau pay a visit to the paper’s managing editor, Neal Shine.
Boileau had no idea what he was in for as he sat waiting in Shine’s office. He said he got no further than a couple of sentences by way of introduction, when Shine told him he was a “busy man” and asked, “What the hell do you want?”
“I’d like to get a job in the newspaper business,” Boileau responded.
“What can you do?” Shine asked.
“Well, I can write,” Boileau told him.
“He pointed out to the newsroom and said, ‘Everybody out there can write,’” Boileau said.
Shine advised him to enroll in college and to stay in touch.
Boileau graduated from Oakland University in Rochester with a degree in journalism and political science. He’d stayed in touch with Shine, who taught a number of classes at Oakland as an adjunct professor in the journalism department.
“When I was ready to graduate, Neal put in a good word for me, and Knight Ridder newspapers hired me and moved me down to Miami, Florida.”
Boileau’s journalism career was short-lived, however, due to new technology that was a precursor to the Internet.
“Knight Ridder was a predecessor to web-based news — it was called videotext. … Knight Ridder had paired up with AT&T to deliver, through a set-top box, scripted news to your TV,” Boileau explained. “The writing was on the wall for videotext, so Knight Ridder said to all of us, ‘This isn’t going to last.’”
Boileau found he had two options on the table. He had applied to the Macon Daily Telegraph for a journalism job and to Bank of America for a communications job in its Latin America Caribbean Division.
“If the (Bank of America) job hadn’t popped up, I probably would have gone to work at the Macon Daily Telegraph and I might still be there,” he said.
What appealed to Boileau about the Bank of America job was an opportunity to learn about business and be in the midst of a historic moment in the finance industry.
“It was interesting times — the mid-80s; it was during the Latin debt crisis. You had all these countries throughout Central and South America that were deeply indebted, and all the big U.S. and European banks extended in a big way to these countries.
“It was becoming clear these countries were never going to be able to repay this money, but nobody wanted to do the accounting around that reality. There were these constant rounds of debt restructuring and renegotiations to try to keep interest on the debt current and to forgive some level of it just so those banks wouldn’t have to default to the tune of billions of dollars.”
The job took Boileau all over Latin and South America, where Bank of America was busily selling and closing branches.
“I had to handle the communication with all the stakeholders, employees being a big part of that,” he said. “This was the best job these folks were ever going to have, and all of a sudden one day it wasn’t there anymore. I was part of the team that was carrying that sad news.”
He said he learned a lot about the world of international finance and racked up some unique experiences.
“One of the most interesting experiences I ever had, there were a couple of guys who were hard-core loan workout specialists and they asked if I wanted to ride along one night in Panama, and we went in the dark of night and repossessed a jet engine — took it right off the jet. I was along for the ride.”
From international banking, Boileau moved into the world of domestic banking, taking a media relations job with Comerica Bank at the company’s Detroit headquarters.
“In those days, Comerica was a very aggressive organization in terms of acquiring other banks or finance companies, looking to build more of a national footprint in Texas and California,” he said.
“It was another phase and another opportunity to really be a part of interesting times and a part of interesting stories — trying to bring a little bit of understanding to some very complex things.”
In the 1990s and early 2000s, Boileau held communications jobs with public relations firm Hill & Knowlton, primarily working with Mazda and Donnelly (now Magna), and with Varnum where he served as marketing director.
All of this experience served to provide him with interesting learning opportunities and prepared him to strike out on his own.
It took Boileau two tries to launch his own communications firm. He made his first attempt in 2000.
“I had always wanted to go and start my own business and I’d reach the point where I felt like it was the time to do it,” he said of his first attempt to go it alone. “It wasn’t. … I began to understand how much I really didn’t know yet.”
Four years later, he tried again, and this time there was no going back.
Boileau said what he likes most about communications is getting to tackle and learn something new every day.
“It was apparent to me soon after I came out on my own that things were changing around me. The Internet was changing the communications equation every day,” he said. “I really had to move quickly — and that is one thing that hasn’t changed — to understand what the communication dynamics are in society and in business and be able to bring the tools to be effective.”
To help him stay on top of the changes, Boileau has brought both of his sons, Vince and Erich, into the company. Vince is experienced in video production and today works for the company full time, poised to eventually take over. Erich, who is based in Osaka, Japan, provides project-based web development services.
Boileau thinks the current communications environment, particularly with its demand for video and micro-sites, will support a lot of growth for the company in the next couple of years.
“(We are) seeing growth in our video business that encourages us to feel good about 2015, and that is being driven by the fact the Internet loves video,” he said. “It is a tremendous pool for communicating and storytelling, and the combination of the two is unbeatable. Clients are really starting to recognize that.”
Boileau said West Michigan organizations have come to learn that reputations can be made or destroyed in 24 hours.
“When you have news, you have to manage it — good or bad,” he said.