MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (January, 2024)

Pleased to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Mark Warner and Marianne Dimain, talking the CEBA repayment deadline, Hertz selling one-third of its EV fleet, and the SEC’s bitcoin decision; you can watch our segment here.

New year, new approach!  Going forward, my blog posts on media appearances will feature one “business advisor highlight” related to our discussion.  For this segment, the highlight is something that is straightforward, but very important:

If you’ve never run a small business or been in business for yourself, chances are, it is much more difficult than you realize.  Although some might be wondering why some small businesses are not currently in a position to repay their CEBA loan, it is important to recognize that many are facing a “snowball” effect of inflation, high interest rates, supply problems, and an ongoing tight labour market.  These factors combine to make generating revenue (and cashflow) much more difficult, which means that money simply doesn’t go as far as it used to.  When small businesses can no longer afford to operate, jobs are lost, which has a tangible impact to the local community.  When closures accumulate, the economic and employment impacts can be very significant.

Thanks for watching!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (November, 2023)

Pleased to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel from sunny Nova Scotia (yes, it’s bright!), alongside Mark Warner, Cristian Bravo, and Stephanie Skenderis, talking Alberta’s musings to leave the CPP, FTX’s Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud conviction, and changes at the helm at Blackberry; you can watch our segment here.  Some thoughts on our discussion.

Alberta’s Premier has gotten some attention with talk about Alberta leaving the Canada Pension Plan (CPP), however, the practical reality of this occurring is uncertain for a number of reasons.  The most obvious is the uncertainty around the portion of CPP assets that would apply to Alberta, as well as the practical mechanics of how a departure would happen.  In general terms, risk is mitigated through size, as smaller pools can be subject to increased volatility; there is also a lot riding on the expertise and strength of senior management and governance.  Fund results indicate that the CPP has performed very well, in comparison to other pools, while the majority of surveyed Albertans view leaving the CPP as either a “bad” or “very bad” idea.  Time will tell, as to whether this is simply more of the same narrative from the current party in charge, but don’t expect any big decisions anytime soon.

Sam Bankman-Fried’s fraud conviction is a reminder of a couple of things, with the most notable being “if something is too good to be true, it probably is”.  It is also notable that new or emerging industries tend to be associated with an “anything goes” rationale, which couldn’t be further from the truth.  Just because an industry or product is new does not mean that laws and basic business guidelines don’t apply (they do), and those who are regarded as “wunderkinds” or “geniuses” are probably in over their head.  One of the most important aspects of business is experience, and a new or creative idea alone does not equate with the necessary skill to build a sustainable business, and to fully appreciate the risks and guardrails associated with doing so.  In my experience, as a business advisor and former venture capitalist, those who ignore these realities also tend to be poorly advised, as anyone with expertise has probably also been ignored (and has long since moved on, as a result).

And, finally, as Blackberry’s CEO retires, there are questions around what the Company’s future could look like.  From my perspective, the next CEO needs to be strong in the finance chair, as results haven’t been great, and also needs to understand how to tap into the right markets in order to build a sustainable business.  Doing this requires a different skillset than that of “product” or “development” people, and who is next at the helm will be crucial for Blackberry’s future.  It is also high time that there is gender diversity in this role, as all qualified candidates should be fully considered.

Thanks for watching and see you again soon!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (September, 2023)

Pleased to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Jeanhy Shim, Michael Hyatt, and Natalie Kalata, talking all things interest rates and inflation; you can watch our segment here.

Some brief thoughts on our discussion, from a small business perspective:

  • Although the impact of interest rate increases takes a while to work through the economy on an overall level, small businesses can feel the impact in the short term, if not immediately.  Examples include the rising cost of money, as interest rates increase on outstanding loans/lines of credit and become a disincentive to pursue expansion plans, such as additional premises and equipment.
  • Remember that many small business leaders contributed cash or took out financing to secure the operations of their company during the pandemic years; recent studies have shown that approximately one-half of companies have not yet returned to their pre-pandemic financial performance level.
  • When small businesses reach the point where they are no longer viable, or where the owner does not want to carry to risk of operating any longer, the result is often closure.  Sometimes, the last straw can be a major cost increase, such as rising rates in terms of loan or mortgage interest.  The inability to find or afford staff members can also be particularly draining.
  • As an example, when a small business closes, it could put 20 people out of work.  This might seem insignificant, but as business closures increase, it may not be long before the numbers become quite concerning.  Consider businesses in your community that are no longer operating, keeping in mind that restaurants, services, and small retail can be particularly vulnerable.

Although it is important to continue to combat inflation, it is equally critical to not reach a point where “you can’t see the forest for the trees”.  Understanding the practical realities and challenges that Canada’s small business sector faces on a daily basis is essential for bringing the right balance to considering interest rates, and the current pause is understandably a welcome relief to many.  Going forward, as previous rate increases continue to work through the system, it wouldn’t be surprising to see continued pause for some period of time.

As always, thanks for watching!

Celebrating 6 Years on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (August, 2023)

Incredibly grateful to celebrate six years on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel; enjoying all that live TV brings!  It began with two and a half years of appearances in CBC’s flagship studio, followed by almost four years of remote work, covering a wide range of business stories.  Below is a sample of topics upon which I’ve provided commentary over the past six years (over 100 rows and counting!), all of it live:

Quite a list, if I do say so myself!  As always, thanks for watching; it is a privilege to bring the news to you, whatever the business world has in store.

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (August, 2023)

Joining the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel during difficult times for many, as forest fires burn in the Yellowknife and Kelowna areas, among others, alongside Rubina Ahmed-Haq and Natalie Katalata.  Our discussion focused on what households and businesses can do when a crisis such as a forest fire, flood, or storm is on the horizon, as well as in times of direct impact; you can watch our segment here.

Below are some thoughts on what small businesses can do when planning for and encountering a disaster.

Insurance

  • Business owners/leaders should ask themselves “when was the last time I had an in-depth conversation with my insurance broker?” and take the time to have this discussion.
  • Take note of areas where the business may have changed, such as renovations/new premises, equipment purchases/disposals, new/discontinued lines of business, and geographic regions of operations, as all of these may impact coverage needs.
  • Ask your insurance broker to explain any recent changes in your insurance policy, as well as new types of coverage that may be beneficial.  Areas such as business continuity can be of particular interest.
  • Pay careful attention to coverage that relates to technology and cyber considerations, as these areas are of both increased risk and importance, given the need to work and access information remotely.
  • Discuss the steps that should be taken in the event that it is necessary to access assistance during a disaster and/or file a claim.  It is helpful to have contact information on hand, as well as download any insurer apps.
  • Take photos and videos of the premises for documentation purposes, both before and after any damage occurs; this only takes a few minutes and can be done using a smartphone.
  • Be sure to get copies of detailed expenditure receipts, in the event of an evacuation or loss event; this is not the time to be part of the “no receipt crowd” or simply rely on a credit card statement.

Risk Management Planning

  • All businesses should have a formal, written plan as to what steps would be taken, in the event of a disaster.  This should not only address the actions to be taken, but also who is responsible for doing so.
  • This type of plan should be updated at least annually and also reviewed with staff members, especially those who have a role to play.
  • Although the ability to continue to operate can vary with the type of business at hand, processes should be in place for staff members to be able to access information and work remotely, wherever possible.  Achieving this requires much more effort than simply instructing staff to “work remotely”.
  • Ensure that key information is available remotely in the event of an emergency (and not simply stored in a binder at the office). Take special care with information that relates to areas such as banking (fobs, account numbers, key contacts, etc) and ensure that important contact information for suppliers, customers, staff members, and others is also close at hand.
  • Have communication plans in place that can be quickly distributed, for both internal and external stakeholders.

Now is a good time to have a fresh look at resources, such as your smartphone and any lists that are kept, to ensure that all of the key information that would be needed during a crisis is at hand.  In terms of technology, useful resources include apps for banking, credit cards, insurers, credible news sources, community governments, weather, highways/transportation, and emergency management organizations.  Be sure to sign up (and watch for) emergency alerts in your area and have charged power banks for technology devices.  These might sound like basic reminders, but the best time to have them in place is well in advance of a crisis.  Speaking from some experience, advance preparation helps to reduce the to do list in times of crisis, as nature tends to have its own plans.

Thank you for watching, and here’s hoping that all of our communities stay safe.

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (July 29, 2023)

Great day to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Mark Warner, Elmer Kim, and Natalie Kalata, talking the status of Canada’s immigration boom, big grocery profits, and Twitter becoming X; you can watch our segment here.  A few thoughts on our discussion.

It’s been noted on the Business Panel numerous times that almost every type of company seems to be hiring these days.  Common themes as to why this is the case include demographics (i.e., older workers retiring), fewer students taking on part-time or Summer jobs, and the employment shift that became evident during COVID19, as people moved away from traditional front line roles.  A lack of staff impacts a company’s capacity and ability to generate revenues, which makes immigration to fill employment roles of increasing importance for Canada.  The challenge is that doing this successfully requires far more than just “the job”, as new Canadians and their families require a host of essentials, including housing, healthcare, and social resources; Canada also needs sufficient infrastructure to support an increasing population.

Meeting this challenge requires ongoing, skilled management and oversight, as much of this is implementation.  Ideas and policies can come relatively easily, however, the “getting it done” is often much more difficult, as practical realities can uncover unexpected problems, such as a lack of materials and labour to build necessary housing.  Successful results require a balance, to ensure that new Canadians are not only accessing jobs that need to be filled, but are also finding all other aspects that are integral to establishing a life for themselves and their families.

The lack of grocery competition in Canada was a topic on the Business Panel just a few weeks ago, and the news of significant grocery profits at Loblaws reinforces some of that discussion.  Although the reported 31% increase in profits includes “a one-time charge of $111 million related to a PC Bank commodity tax matter” (which would typically be factored out of comparison to other periods, from an accounting perspective), performance levels are significant, nonetheless.  An increase in shopping traffic at discount retail chains was also reported, continuing the trend of Canadians seeking lower price options.  This story is not only a reminder of the importance of traditional good shopping tactics, such as making a list and comparing prices, but also the opportunity for Canada to improve competition at both producer and retailer levels (not a quick fix, by any means).

And, finally, as Twitter’s new owner announces a decision to re-brand the platform as X, most notable is the disposal of significant brand recognition and value, including common use of the word “tweet” in reference to a short message.  This is the type of brand recognition that most can only dream of, such as common use of the word “Kleenex” to refer to a tissue.  Couple this with the cute, easily recognizable and approachable bird logo, in comparison to a new X logo that comes across as dark, ominous, and suspect, at best.  Twitter was once a useful platform for quality and timely information, and although its usefulness declined prior to sale, it has become even more dismal since then.  Time will tell if this latest “strategy” will amount to anything more than a tax write-off in the not too distant future.

Thanks for watching, and enjoy the rest of the Summer!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (July, 2023)

Extremely busy news week on the Canada Day edition of the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Mark Warner, Elmer Kim, and Hillary Johnstone, talking the lack of grocery competition in Canada, cyber attacks, and the latest economic numbers; you can watch our segment here.

Some thoughts on our discussion.  Canadians might think they have a range of grocery shopping alternatives, but a closer look indicates that most familiar brands are owned by a few large players (think Loblaw, Sobeys, and Metro).  The latest Competition Bureau report addresses this situation, with a number of important considerations for improvement, as well as some thoughts on the challenges of increasing the number of players.  Shining a light on the lack of competition comes at a time when Canadians may well be feeling sour on this topic, with reports of record profits and executives seeking compensation package increases.  In addition, consumers are undoubtedly already experiencing budgetary challenges, as inflation and interest rates have risen over the past year.  Although mandatory unit prices and better transparency at the consumer level can be helpful, the challenges of attracting foreign players are of note; these may include addressing bilingual and metric packaging requirements, as well as identifying the right business model.  Numerous retailers from other countries have found out the hard way that the Canadian marketplace has specific requirements (Target and Nordstrom come to mind) and it can also be difficult for smaller players to make an impact.  What happens next in this respect is anyone’s guess; a closer eye from regulators/consumer protection agencies could be an opportunity for a meaningful step, especially when it comes to addressing any bad behavior.

Many established companies and organizations have been impacted by cyber attacks, with Indigo and Petro Canada being a couple of the latest.  Businesses of all sizes need to consider the impact of this unpredictable and damaging situation, as the ramifications can be significant, including lengthy downtimes and expensive resolution paths.  Business leaders should be asking themselves a number of questions in terms of their company’s level of preparedness, including:

  • Has the company engaged a qualified information technology advisor to address this issue?
  • Is a comprehensive security plan in place?
  • Are staff members sufficiently trained?
  • Has the company explored and obtained cyber event/business continuity insurance coverage?
  • Does the company’s leadership understand what is covered by insurance and what the risks are?
  • Is the company’s security plan reviewed on a regular basis?
  • What business continuity plans are in place, in the event of a cyber attack, including in terms of customer communications?

The reality is that many companies are not well prepared in this regard, be it due to a lack of understanding of this complex issue or qualified advice, as well as the fast pace at which risks emerge.

In terms of recent economic news, modest growth over the past couple of months has Canada moving in the right direction.  As indicated on previous Business Panels, progress will not happen in a straight line, but points in time should be taken as information, paying close attention to any trends that may become apparent.  In my view, this is a good time for the Bank of Canada to pause on interest rate increases, so as to not “oversteer” on the road to recovery.  Business leaders continue to deal with many front line challenges, and a balanced approach is better than upheaval (even when unintended).

A Happy Canada Day to all of our viewers, and thank you for watching!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (June, 2023)

Another busy week on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Mark Warner, Michael Hyatt, and Natalie Kalata, talking concerns about artificial intelligence, Air Canada pilots taking early steps to negotiate their next labour agreement, and BMO’s acquisition of Air Miles.  You can watch our segment here.  Some thoughts on our discussion.

Various science, academic, and technology leaders issued a warning about artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to harm humankind with the following statement: “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war”.  This has resulted in discussion about how AI could harm the public (such as through disinformation and privacy issues) and has raised questions about what should be done.  In general terms, it stands to reason that since parties/companies that develop and commercialize products (including technologies) tend to benefit financially (sometimes, quite significantly), they should also play a role in addressing any negative impacts.  This is analogous to issues such as pollution and the downside of social media, for example, something that has been unaddressed for too long.  It is not sufficient to engage solely in “finger pointing”, typically at government, for an ineffective regulatory environment (or none at all); rather, industry has a key role to play in identifying, assessing, managing, and mitigating risks, given that they have the expertise to do so.  Further, no one benefits from an industry that causes significant harm and there is a responsibility to ensure that this doesn’t occur.

As Air Canada’s pilots opt to pull out of the existing labour agreement early to commence the bargaining process (perhaps, in the Summer of 2023, with the current contract set to expire this September), travelers are likely on edge, particularly given the fallout from the recent near-strike at Westjet.  The unfortunate truth is that Canadian travelers are in a less than ideal position, given the very limited airline options in this country.  Speaking as one of the many travelers impacted by the Westjet strike, despite being told that the flight would not be cancelled due to the labour dispute (false), there is no sufficient compensation when life events are missed, often accompanied by significant frustration and disappointment.  Reviewing the communications by the company, the lack of customer focus is obvious, with commentary priorities being primarily Westjet and its pilots.  At its core, these situations are internal human resource matters, and in a typical competitive marketplace, companies don’t survive for long if customers are not their top priority.  Customers simply want to receive what they purchased, with reasonable quality and in a reliable manner; this is not too much to ask.

BMO Financial Group announced its acquisition of the defunct Air Miles rewards program, indicating that improvements are on the way.  Given the many rewards program options available to consumers, it is likely that people select the ones that best meet their needs and bypass the rest, setting the stage for an uphill battle to reinvent Air Miles.  There is also a need to attract more vendors to participate, and companies are only likely to do so if they see a meaningful opportunity to increase business.  Will have to wait and see what BMO has in store and whether or not consumers and vendors will engage.

And, finally, it was my pleasure to join the Biz Panel from beautiful Nova Scotia once again, albeit in the face of difficult times for many, given the devastating forest fires.  Being in proximity to two forest fires has certainly been concerning, and I have been thinking about those who have been impacted over the past week.  Sincere thanks to all those who have been working so hard to keep our communities safe.

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (May, 2023)

Pleased to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Rubina Ahmed-Haq, Elmer Kim, and Natalie Kalata, talking pushing back the CEBA repayment deadline, new ownership possibilities for the NHL’s Ottawa Senators, and the WNBA’s first game in Canada.  You can watch our segment here.  Some thoughts on our discussion.

Small businesses continue to be challenged by a number of factors, including high inflation and interest rates, a tight labour market, supply chain delays, and consumer factors.  It is no surprise that the recent CFIB survey indicates that 49% of small businesses are still below normal revenues and the majority are in favour of CEBA repayment rules being extended.  The result of the ongoing challenges facing small businesses is that cash is increasingly precious; this is felt on both the sales and investment side, as supply chain and labour factors slow a company’s ability to meet customer needs, and capital is impacted by rising interest rates.  As business failures continue to increase, serious consideration should be given to what the impact would be if more companies were unable to continue, in terms of factors such as employment, economic contribution, and tax revenue.

The NHL’s Ottawa Senators have been up for sale for some time, and there has been lots of discussion about who might take the team forward.  At a price tag approaching $1 billion, the involvement of “celebrities” might create some initial interest; however, the bottom line is that a sports team is a business.  Sports franchises have become increasingly complex, a long way from the old days of selling tickets and hotdogs.  Instead, there are a range of revenue lines to manage, including events, gear, licensing, broadcasting, partnerships, and the recent addition of mainstream sports gambling; these are issues at both a league and franchise level.  For these reasons, it is more important to engage with an ownership group that brings the necessary skills and experience to lead the business for the long term, including recognizing the importance of putting in place a senior management team that can fulfill this difficult mandate.  Further, owners should recognize that, although a franchise can certainly be successful, there is an important investment role that they will have to fulfill, especially when the team isn’t performing particularly well in the standings.

And, finally, it’s good to see women’s sports finally starting to get a higher profile.  The sellout of this first WNBA game in Canada, however, does not mean that expansion here would be a certain success; rather, this type of initiative should be considered strategically.  It is critcal that the necessary feasibility and business planning work be done to get a better sense of whether or not a franchise could be supported in Canada; these should also be treated as long term decisions.  When sports franchises fail, it hurts both the league and local area, which is why the strategic nature of expansion is so important.

Thank you for watching, and see you again soon, CBC!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (April, 2023)

Pleased to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Mark Warner, Rubina Ahmed-Haq, and Hillary Johnstone, talking Federal Budget highlights and what’s next for the banking industry, in light of recent failures (also a good opportunity for common sense governance reminders).  You can watch our segment here.  Some comments on our discussion.

From a corporate perspective, one of the important areas in the Federal budget that family businesses should be focusing on is the intergenerational transfer provisions, in terms of succession.  In short, this section addresses past tax related discrepancies that could make it more desirable for business owners to sell their shares to a third party, rather than intergenerational transfer, and identifies two transition approaches.

The issue of business succession is an important one, as many business owners have “overstayed” their time at the helm, with the pandemic resulting in additional delays.  The reality is that the majority of small businesses lack a formal succession plan and qualified successors with the necessary funds are difficult to find.  In addition, many small businesses have not kept up with marketplace competition and industry trends, which typically results in a declining customer base and value.  Business owners don’t only need transition options, they also need to have this important issue brought to the forefront in a constructive manner, otherwise, the likely outcome will be windup or closure.  The key message at this point is to get professional advice, in terms of business transition and preparation to do so, as this is best done years in advance.  Reading Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb can be helpful to moving this important process along, including identifying steps to take, decisions to make, and the basis of advisor conversations.

The recent collapse of Silicon Valley Bank and weaknesses in others have raised a lot of questions about the stability of this sector, and although the Canadian banking system is not directly comparable to institutions in other countries, the news of recent weeks is an indication of how a ripple effect of concern can travel.  A lot has been said about senior management and regulators, and although we do not know all of the details here, situations such as this are a good opportunity to be reminded of governance responsibilities, including the following:

  • Boards of Directors have an important role to play, beyond that of the basic governance responsibilities that include representing shareholders and providing oversight; these are givens.
  • Board members need to ask the difficult questions, including in terms of adherence to policies and key systems and practices that should be in place.
  • Risk management is a critical issue, especially in challenging times; the recent pronounced environmental shift in areas such as inflation, interest rates, and the capital markets are good examples.  Communication with the Board should be enhanced during difficult times.
  • Board members with a significant level of experience and skill have the ability to add considerable value, especially in the face of challenge.  In order for this to occur:
    • Board members have to make the effort to do so, in a tangible and practical manner; and
    • Management has to “park its ego” and be receptive to this type of advice.  CEO’s who surround themselves with weak senior team and Board members are a red flag, to say the least.
  • Finally, Board members are not there to be friends with Management, to cheerlead, or provide only the sunny side of input; this does not fulfill the governance role, at its core, nor is it helpful, particularly in times of trouble.  Board members who “look good on paper”, but prove to be ineffective in raising the tough questions when needed do little to fulfill their role.

When a prominent business fails, there are many questions to be asked.  It is important to remember that the accountability conversation is not just one that involves Management and industry rules and regulations; governance also has a seat at the table.

Thank you for watching and see you again soon.