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Celebrating Thomas Pigeon’s 46 Years of Brand Building Excellence

For 46 remarkable years, Thomas Pigeon has been at the helm of Pigeon, one of Canada’s most esteemed brand building agencies, and leaving a mark on the industry and countless lives of those who have worked for and with Pigeon. Pigeon, initially born out of Montréal as Criterion Art, underwent a transformative journey under Thomas’ leadership & ownership. His philosophy, rooted in the belief that innovation thrives when coupled with unwavering dedication and a pioneering spirit, propelled Pigeon to unexpected heights. From its humble beginnings to becoming Canada’s longest standing, independently owned brand design agency, Thomas’ journey is one of resilience, creativity, and relentless pursuit of excellence. 


In the late 1970s, Thomas embarked on a journey to redefine brand design in Montreal. Observing a void in the local market for exceptional package design, he seized the opportunity to carve a niche for Pigeon. With a keen eye for strategic brand solutions and a commitment to excellence, Thomas transformed the agency into a powerhouse, forging partnerships with prestigious brands like Catelli, McCain, Kraft and Tim Hortons. His foresight and determination laid the foundation for Pigeon’s reputation as a trailblazer in the industry, setting new standards for creativity and effectiveness in package design.  

With his vision of creating brands that should travel through communications eco systems, Pigeon created the notion of “brand travelling”, ultimately starting to create integrated campaigns for some ofNorth America’s leading marketers. Throughout the decades, Thomas drove Pigeon to expand its footprint across Canada and beyond. From Montreal to Toronto and eventually Mexico City, servicing markets across North America, Latin America, Europe, and Southeast Asia, Pigeon’s influence transcended borders, influencing household brands across the globe. Pigeon played a pivotal role in the success stories of iconic brands like Tim Horton’s, Pfizer’s Viagra, and Kraft’s peanut butter, cementing its status as a global leader in brand building and design. 

As we say ciao to Thomas (which fittingly means “see you again”, not “goodbye” in the language of his beloved Italian culture), we wanted to share his highs, lows, and lessons of building our great company. 

Q: What inspired you to pursue a career in brand design, and what kept you motivated throughout your journey with PIGEON? 

Thomas: “I grew up in the publishing industry. I had the benefit of working as a young boy in the presence of great editorial illustrators, impressive photographers, and writers from all walks of life. I got excited watching white paper turn into compelling stories that rivetted readers. I realized quickly that there was not an art in storytelling. As my life progressed my career was cobbled together by amazing mentors that constantly showed me doors to go through. I was never nervous about going through those doors to see what was on the other side. In our early days in “package design” brands were utilitarian in their style and communication: big logo, big photo, then call it a day. I knew there was more and there is more. Brands are stories and consumers are emotional in many of their brand choices. I knew if we developed a skill in emotional brand storytelling, we could do something that hadn’t been done before. I’ve had the privilege of working with some of the most creative people on the planet. The design, production, and client service team, even the admin team had a unique zest for life that got me fired up every time I’d walk into the office. Clients who became believers entrusted me and my team with incredible mandates with incredible responsibility, and the best of the best let us do what they paid us to do… tell brand stories and drive sales through the roof.” 

Q: How do you envision the future of brand building and design, and what advice would you offer to aspiring entrepreneurs in the field?

Thomas: “Technology risks dominating the scene. Bigger, better faster, cheaper has become the mantra of many contemporary businesses. AI and AR are exciting tools. But tools they are. Speed to market and pandering to a board of directors versus focussing on consumers’ needs and wants risks diluting the magic that the great entrepreneurs who created these brands brought to the table – powerful risk takers like Harrison & Wallace McCain, the Irving brothers, Ron Joyce, Daniel Servitje... I had the pleasure working alongside or for all of them. New entrants into the marketplace need to listen to the wisdom of the past. Data is important, it’s become essential today, but the magic comes from a mix of data and gut instinct. The magic is in your heart and spreads through your soul. Undying belief in brands and vision is what made the innovators successful, fuelled by unbridled passion.”

Thomas with Daniel Servitje, CEO Grupo Bimbo, in Acapulco Mexico for the Grupo Bimbo Global Business Forum

Q: What was the single biggest challenge you faced when leading PIGEON 

Thomas: “Believing in myself. When I moved to Toronto from Montreal, it was quickly apparent the game had changed. We were the big guys in the block in Montreal, but upon arrival in Toronto in 1991 it was immediately apparent we were at the bottom of the pile. I decided to invite the heads of every major branding firm to our office on King Street East. Surprisingly, everyone showed up. They were curious to see what this kid from Montreal had to say. I advocated to the group to stop this nonsense of “speculative design” (no fee pitch work), everyone with a glass of wine in their hands nodded and said of course, we’ll stand together. One by one they all broke rank. Of those twenty firms only two are standing todayPigeon is one of those.”

Q: What lessons did you learn from that challenge?

Thomas: “I realized that we were renegades. I realized that we didn’t have to just be better than the local gangwe had to be exponentially better… and we were. And we are and to this day are still one of Canada’s most prestigious and award-winning branding firm even while we aggressively expand our footprint deeper into integrated marketing.”

Q: How did you evolve from the traditional creative model where the head of the firm has his hand in every decision? 

Thomas: “September, Friday the 13th, 1991, one year after I moved to Toronto… I was on a fishing trip with my dear friend Hans Brands, when the small plane he was piloting crashed in the frigid waters of Northern Quebec. Hans died upon impact. I was left broken in pieces, but alive. As I lay on the pontoons of the inverted plane in near zero temperatures, I had an epiphany. This business was about me, I was the head of client service, the head of admin, the head of creative. If I died, my staff would all be looking for jobs, my children would be unprovided for. As I kissed the foreheads of my toddlers after I was released from the ER unit of the hospital, I vowed to make sure the businesses were much bigger than me and must survive me. I set to build a strong management team where I might direct, but I surely would not control every decision. That mantra exists to this very day as I leave the business in the very capable hands of Elyse Boulet. There is no one better positioned than Elyse and the PIGEON management team to continue growing the company and playing a leading role in transforming our industry. Her clients trust her. Her team trusts her. With Kairos Capital alongside her, they possess the solidity, the expertise and all the qualities required to take PIGEON to the next level and continue the legacy.It’s a comforting feeling.”

Q: Looking back on your remarkable journey with Pigeon, what are you most proud of, and what legacy do you hope to leave behind? 

Thomas: “Coming from nothing and building something always made me proud. My mom and dad were simple but loving people. They made me feel safe, loved, valued and respected and intelligent. I realized how important it is to have someone in your corner. No matter how bad things get. hard work, perseverance, belief, and good people around you will get you through. I love the people who work for me and cherish their contributions. I would be absolutely nothing without the amazing talent that was around me to the day I left my office of 46 years. I’ve seen their kids grow up from toddlers to wonderful adult human beings, I’ve had the privilege of working side by side with my younger brother Peter and my ever-talented daughter Amy in building this dream. I take great pride that I permitted by ego to take a back seat to the amazing talented men and women who have made Pigeon the icon that it has become.   

I also take great pride in our employee tenure. Our two amazing creative directors, Olivier Chevillot and Bob Boutilier, supporting PIGEON for over twenty years; our IT lead, Mark Romero-Marshall, for over 25; Steve Trutschel, for over 20 years; my first employee, Michael Paititch, for over 40 years—all unheard career commitments today. And we have that kind of tenure with clients, too. The “out with the old, in with the new” attitude of many contemporary branding firms leaves them soulless. Our infusion of new young talent is off the charts exciting, but our older warriors deserve respect, as they’ve surely earned their stripes.”

Q: Tell us about your favourite client memory or story

Thomas: “There are so many! But flying to Fox Harbour Resort, in Nova Scotia, with the legendary Ron Joyce in his private plane stands out magically. I asked Ron what his proudest moment as the owner of Tim Hortons coffee was. I assumed he’d tell me about opening restaurant number 2000 or something of that nature, but nope… he said “Kandahar! When I arrived in Afghanistan for the opening of our Tim Hortons restaurant, the base Commander introduced me as the co-founder of Tim Hortons Coffee. One thousand men and women erupted in a standing ovation. I thought we sold coffee and donuts, but to these boys and girls in harm’s way defending our freedom, we brought them hope. It wasn’t about black stuff in a cup, it was about the comfort of home as a Canadian and knowing and believing you soon would be home to your loved ones.” A tear rolled down Ron’s cheek. Equally, I realized that our ideas fuelled by typography, colour, and imagery had in fact contributed to making this iconic brand what it was in the minds and hearts of consumers and had meaningfully contributed to that special moment in Kandahar.”

Enjoying a coffee celebrating longstanding client, Tim Hortons, and its opening of its first location in Dubai

Q: What’s next for Thomas?

Thomas: “Life is an exciting journey. I always hate paved roads and bureaucratic road signs. I like getting off the beaten path and carving my own trail. Italy is in my heart and soul and will surely be part of the journey. Sitting on a deck getting old is 100% not the path. New mandates, travel, writing and business adventures will continue to fuel my spirit. I’ll let the winds of time decide! Wherever my travels take me, I’ll forever be an ambassador for Pigeon and the wondrous talent that will continue to make it one of North America’s most respected and trusted creative forces in the branding world. 

As we bid farewell to Thomas Pigeon, we extend our deepest gratitude for his inspired leadership, unwavering dedication, and pioneering contributions to the field of brand building and design. His legacy will continue to inspire generations of entrepreneurs and creative minds, shaping the future of the industry for years to come. We wish him the very best in his future adventures, confident that his voracious passion for life, creativity and entrepreneurship will no doubt continue, from the maple bush in Canada, or the olive groves in Italia.


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