Canadian business tycoon Paul Desmarais Sr. has died at the age of 86, Montreal-based Power Corp. of Canada (TSX:POW) says.

Desmarais led the company as its chairman and chief executive from 1968 to 1996 before passing the reins to his sons.

Power’s financial services subsidiaries, controlled by Power Financial Corp. (TSX:PWF) include Great-West Lifeco Inc. (TSX:GWO) and its subsidiaries Great-West Life, Canada Life and London Life, and IGM Financial Inc. (TSX:IGM) and its subsidiaries Investors Group and Mackenzie Financial Corp.

Born in Sudbury, Ont., in 1927, Desmarais was one of Canada’s most powerful figures, straddling the worlds of business and politics.

Not only did he build Power Corp. into one of the country’s largest conglomerates, Desmarais was also a staunch defender of national unity.

A private family funeral is planned, followed by a memorial service to be announced by the Desmarais family.