Michael Pihach is an award-winning journalist with a keen interest in digital storytelling. In addition to PAX, Michael has also written for CBC Life, Ryerson University Magazine, IN Magazine, and DailyXtra.ca. Michael joins PAX after years of working at popular Canadian television shows, such as Steven and Chris, The Goods and The Marilyn Denis Show.
“Leaving this industry is the toughest thing to do,” said Jacques Gilbert, associate vice-president of client relationships at Manulife, speaking to PAX about his decision to retire after nearly 50 years in the travel industry.
Gilbert’s last day on the job is April 28, and as someone whose career dates back to the 1970s, it will be bittersweet saying goodbye to a sector that, in many ways, has become his second family.
“What I’m going to miss the most is the people,” said Gilbert, who has worked in various corners of the biz, from insurance to tour operators to airlines, in different provinces. “I’ve built so many great relationships over the years. I’m a very lucky guy.”
“People are what made my job not really a job. It was fun to go to work.”
On-the-road conferences – though gruelling at times – are one aspect he’ll particularly miss about the industry.
As such events bring together clients, travel advisors, colleagues and “my family” of suppliers, “we’ve all become good friends,” he said.
“It’s been a lot of work, I’ve missed birthdays. That was the tough part,” he said. “But the good part was the people…my family away from home. We’re an amazing industry.”
One incredible career
Gilbert’s entry into travel dates back to 1975 when he was a ticket counter at Quebec Air. A couple of years later, he moved to Newfoundland, where he worked at Eastern Provincial Airways.
This job, he said, first introduced him to the world of travel agents.
Then, in 1981, he moved to Voyager Insurance as a rep for the Quebec market. This position eventually transferred him to Alberta in 1985, where he worked as a director of sales.
In 1989, he moved to Ontario to become vice-president of sales and chief operating officer at Voyager.
The mid-’90s saw Gilbert transition to Transat Holidays, also in Ontario, where he was vice-president of national sales. Then, in 2002, he became a partner at travel insurance broker Pottruff & Smith, which Gilbert described as “an opportunity of a lifetime”
That firm was acquired by Manulife in 2009 and Gilbert has been at the insurance company ever since.
“If you’ve worked in the travel industry for a while, you know his name. You may have been a client or colleague of his at one point. Or even more likely, you’ve bumped into Jacques on the dance floor at an event or conference, where he was known to dance the night away. Whatever the occasion or circumstance, you were always met with unparalleled enthusiasm,” wrote Manulife in a company memo announcing Gilbert’s retirement.
In recent years, Gilbert had been reducing his workload and transitioning his accounts to others on the Manulife Travel Team.
While his last day is coming up, the travel pro will still be attending some events in May and June, so colleagues will have a chance to wish him well – although, “I’m sure we’ll all stay in touch,” Gilbert said.
Time for family & travel
What will Gilbert do on his first day of freedom? He’s not exactly sure, yet, but it will likely involve his family.
May will be busy month for Gilbert and his wife, Marguerite, as their son is due to welcome his second children, which will bring their total number of grandchildren to five.
“That will be the light going forward, for sure,” said Gilbert, who is expecting “lots of weeks with the kids” at the family cottage, north of Kingston, ON, this summer.
And, besides visiting friends in Montreal, there will be lots of time for travel. “We’re planning a few trips,” he said.
Gilbert is living proof that if you choose a job you love, you will never work a day in your life, as the famous saying goes.
“My first year of working was as a roofer with my Dad. That was work. It was tough,” he said. “But then I got into travel and it was a charm all the way. It just got better and better.”
“It has been a good run.”
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