Celebrity jewel-maker, for­mer ‘Dragon’ de­throned in Que­bec

The London Free Press - - FP LONDON - GIUSEPPE VALIANTE

MON­TREAL — News that celebrity Que­bec jew­elry-maker Caro­line Neron filed for bankruptcy pro­tec­tion Thurs­day is shin­ing a harsh light on the qual­i­fi­ca­tions of stars cho­sen for the prov­ince’s French-lan­guage ver­sion of the deal-mak­ing show Dragon’s Den.

De­scribed by news me­dia as a “thun­der­clap” in Que­bec’s re­tail in­dus­try, Neron’s fi­nan­cial trou­bles have called into ques­tion her ap­ti­tude for as­sess­ing en­tre­pre­neur­ial tal­ent on Ra­dio-Canada’s Dans l’oeil du dragon. The show fea­tures prom­i­nent busi­ness­peo­ple de­cid­ing whether to in­vest in the pitches of bud­ding en­trepreneurs.

François Lam­bert, a for­mer pan­el­list on the show, said the French CBC does not ask its prospec­tive stars to re­veal their riches or demon­strate they have the time and liq­uid­ity to prop­erly in­vest in star­tups. “They never asked to see my num­bers,” Lam­bert said. “They can say that they ask to see peo­ple’s num­bers, but they don’t, be­cause they never did it with me. And this week it ex­ploded in their faces.”

Other em­bar­rass­ing choices to play the role of dragon in­clude Gil­bert Ro­zon, the dis­graced founder of Just for Laughs fac­ing sex­crimes charges, and Martin-Luc Ar­cham­bault, who quit the show in Septem­ber un­der a cloud. An in­ves­ti­ga­tion by the pri­vacy com­mis­sioner of Canada re­vealed his IT com­pany vi­o­lated pro­vi­sions in the Per­sonal In­for­ma­tion Pro­tec­tion and Elec­tronic Doc­u­ments Act.

Lam­bert co-founded Aheeva Tech­nol­ogy Inc., a soft­ware for call cen­tres in 75 coun­tries, and says he has in­vest­ments in 10 firms, in­clud­ing a three-year-old start-up called Boostmi — an on-de­mand road­side as­sis­tance ap­pli­ca­tion.

The en­tre­pre­neur said other peo­ple with whom he ap­peared did not be­long on the show. Ra­dio-Canada should seek out can­di­dates who have money, and who have sold a busi­ness, he ar­gued.

“We make money with a com­pany, in re­al­ity, when we sell it,” Lam­bert said. “I had just sold my busi­ness when they asked me to be on the show ... I wasn’t an im­poster and I had my place there. You be­come a dragon when you have fin­ished your com­pany, and you have the time to in­vest and ap­ply your recipe of suc­cess with oth­ers.”

Marc Pichette, spokesman for Ra­dio-Canada, said the pub­lic broad­caster and the show’s pro­duc­ers “con­duct a ba­sic re­view of (the) ap­pli­ca­tion based on in­for­ma­tion given in good faith by the po­ten­tial dragon.”

He added that when Ro­zon was on the show in 2016, he was an in­ter­na­tion­ally cel­e­brated fig­ure who had also been cho­sen by the City of Mon­treal as com­mis­sioner for its 375th an­niver­sary, held in 2017.

Mon­treal’s La Presse re­ported Fri­day it con­tacted all eight of the en­trepreneurs with whom Neron made deals on the lat­est sea­son of the show, which ended in June 2018. Not one of them had re­ceived any money from the jew­elry maker. Neron left the show in De­cem­ber.

Dur­ing an in­ter­view with the TVA tele­vi­sion net­work on Thurs­day, Neron said she is clos­ing nine of 14 bou­tiques in the prov­ince and lay­ing off 64 of 152 em­ploy­ees.

Michel Nadeau, head of a think tank on gov­er­nance of pub­lic and pri­vate com­pa­nies, said Neron’s brand was strong in Que­bec, and she was one of the few peo­ple to make a name in the jew­elry mar­ket. “It was one of the rare com­pa­nies, in the jew­elry and craft and ar­ti­sanal in­dus­try that suc­ceeded ...,” said Nadeau. The prob­lem was that she grew the busi­ness too quickly, he said, by in­vest­ing too much in re­tail and bou­tiques in com­mer­cial cen­tres with ex­tremely high rents.

Caro­line Neron

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