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

Pleased to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel alongside Mark Warner and Linda Ward, talking the Loblaws grocery boycott, London Drugs cyberattack, and ride-hailing startup, Hovr; you can watch our segment here.

This week’s Business Advisor Highlight:

A key aspect of holding a senior executive role is solving problems, not only within the company, but also more broadly; this could include working with external parties, such as government, regulators, and competitors.  Consumers have faced high grocery prices for years and this story has been reported from a number of aspects.  This is coupled with reporting on significant grocery retailer profits and CEO compensation increase requests, as well as the impact of supply chain challenges and rising labour costs.

There is an opportunity to find solutions around high grocery costs and to communicate with consumers about strategies that are being undertaken, in a transparent and proactive manner.  Instead of reactive pushback and criticism of initiatives, such as a Grocery Code of Conduct, executives should be working collaboratively to develop what is possible; this requires leadership.

Thank you for watching!

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

Pleased to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel alongside Mark Warner and Linda Ward, talking The Body Shop’s store closures, the Wendy’s surge pricing controversy, and questions around the fairness of Cineplex online booking fees.  You can watch our segment here and the Weekend Business Panel on Saturday mornings at around 10:15 AM ET on CBC News Network.

This week’s Business Advisor Highlight (it’s a simple one):

CEO’s and senior executives need to remember to be very careful about what they say, especially in a public venue, as they are viewed to be speaking on behalf of the company.  In the case of Wendy’s CEO, comments and content on a presentation slide resulted in lots of media attention, in terms of the potential use of dynamic pricing to increase prices when restaurant traffic peaks.  Although this issue was clarified in a media release after the fact, being careful with wording and considering how it could be construed would have avoided this controversy.

I recall reading a study years ago that debunked the myth that CEO’s and business leaders can “do whatever they want”, by stating that research indicated the opposite; that business leaders typically exhibit lower levels of risky behaviour in relation to the decisions that they make, because there is more at stake.  This is analogous to the idea that behaviour becomes less risky, as the job held increases in seniority.  I have never forgotten this concept, and it is a good reminder, despite the fact that we see what can only be described as billionaire business leader bad behaviour on a fairly regular basis.

Thanks for watching!

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

It’s Super Bowl Weekend on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Jeanhy Shim, Christian Bravo, and Marianne Dimain talking another round of layoffs at Bell Media, Google’s AI chatbot, Gemini, coming to Canada, and, of course, those commercials that Canadians won’t be seeing during the big game on Sunday.  You can watch the Weekend Business Panel on Saturday mornings at around 10:15 AM ET on CBC News Network.

This week’s Business Advisor Highlight:

The importance of the female consumer demographic has long been known as highly lucrative, in that women have significant influence in a wide range of buying decisions, including in the areas of housing, vehicles, travel, consumer goods, groceries, anything and everything related to children, and more.  Not only do women have significant influence in this regard within a family unit, single women are also a very powerful demographic.  Over the years, numerous consumer research studies have reported these findings.

Which makes it more than a little ironic that it took a well known celebrity attending a handful of football games for some brands to decide to advertise during the Super Bowl (you guessed it), targeting women.  This, in concert with obvious efforts on the part of the NFL and its broadcast partners to utilize Taylor Swift’s attendance to increase viewership numbers (anyone who has watched sports for a long period of time will understand why this is so evident).

Millions of women have watched football for decades (myself included), however, it took the attendance of one popular female celebrity for this large audience to be of relevance.  Really?  And, yes, women do buy more than makeup!

Brands need to ensure that they understand their target market, in various respects, including size, trends, and the key aspects of decision making and influence in order to develop strategies to reach potential consumers.  From what we’ve seen here, it appears that the lucrative female football-viewing market has been poorly recognized until now.

Thanks for watching, and see you next time!

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!