May 19, 2024
An autopsy on the death of the Bombardier dream
How the company’s ambitions for global domination fell apart, as told through five decades of annual reports.
How the company’s ambitions for global domination fell apart, as told through five decades of annual reports.

When Bombardier launched its first Ski-Doo snowmobile in 1959, it was initially targeted at trappers, prospectors and anyone else isolated by snow and ice. But the bright-yellow machines soon became a hot toy for affluent sports enthusiasts across North America and Europe, and by the time the company went public on the Toronto Stock Exchange a decade later, Ski-Doo sales were exploding. Bombardier’s revenues in 1970 came in at nearly $1 billion, when measured in today’s dollars, up a whopping 60 per cent in just one year.

So you can forgive Bombardier’s president, Laurent Beaudoin, for his swagger in the company’s first annual report that year. Bombardier “has proved itself to be one of the most important industrial and commercial organizations in Canada,” he crowed, while the report said the snowmobile industry was “riding the crest of the leisure market [and] the wave shows no sign of cresting . . . All forecasts point to a positive and continuing upsweep of the trend well into the 21st century.”

Instead, within three years Bombardier was in serious trouble, caught out by the 1970s oil crisis hit and a glut of snowmobiles on the market from more than 100 rival companies, which caused its revenues to plunge.

It would not be the last time Beaudoin miscalculated the market or allowed his optimism to blind the company to impending turmoil in the decades to come. But that early moment in Bombardier’s eventual rise to global industrial giant seems suddenly relevant again, now that the company has decided to cast off its vast commercial plane and train divisions to focus exclusively on the much smaller business of building and selling private jets to the ultimate leisure and luxury class—corporate executives and other super-rich elites.

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