MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (March, 2020)

Back in studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Elmer Kim and John Northcott.  Our segment was dedicated to the economic impact of coronavirus, including developments such as the interest rate cut that occurred during the week, the potential for widespread decline in the travel/tourism industry, and what the Federal government can do to help business.

Large companies might be relatively well prepared to shift gears when it comes to the need for staff reorganization and mobile/remote work strategies, however, small businesses can be much more challenged to do so.  The crux of the response to situations such as the coronavirus is risk management, with the objective of achieving business continuity during challenging times.

The first priority is to keep people safe and healthy, followed by the business reality of sustaining demand and coping in times of decline.  Here are some questions that business leaders should be asking themselves:

Keeping staff members and customers safe:

  • What are our obligations under legislation such as workplace health and safety?
  • Are there similar regulations or guidelines that must be adhered to, in terms of keeping staff members, customers, and products safe?
  • Do we have appropriate human resources policies in place to address situations of widespread illness or quarantine?
  • Are there particular safeguards that should be implemented, such as travel and similar limitations?
  • Where is the line between “business” and “personal”, in terms of imposing travel limitations?

Business continuity considerations:

  • Have we identified the key processes within our business and developed strategies for execution in challenging times?
  • Do we have systems, policies, and procedures to support a remote work environment?
  • Does our remote work strategy address risk points such as security, privacy, and information sharing considerations?
  • Do we have adequate depth in areas such as suppliers and service providers?
  • Does succession exist for all key positions in the company?
  • Does a labour market strategy exist to find skilled replacement staff quickly?
  • What would happen if sales declined significantly for a period of time; could the company survive?

These are examples of the many areas that must be addressed to ensure that a company can continue to operate in challenging times and it is important to remember that sufficient systems and processes should be in place before they are actually needed.  Doing so raises the likelihood that a company will survive in difficult times, as opposed to being swept away (remember that well managed competitors will have already completed this important work and will be focused on implementation, putting them several steps ahead of those who are less prepared).  Advisors can help to identify areas of priority and how to put them in place efficiently and more quickly.

Thanks for watching.  It will be interesting to see how coronavirus has evolved by the next time I am in studio; stay tuned.

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (February, 2020)

Great day to be in studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside John Northcott and Mark Warner, discussing two stories that have been significantly impacting companies: the rail blockades in in protest of the Coastal GasLink pipeline and coronavirus.  What’s interesting about these stories, from a business perspective, is that they are good examples of situations that companies would not have expected to occur, but which could bring significant impact.

Disruption to Canada’s rail service can impact logistics across the country and beyond.  Companies that rely on rail service to bring in raw materials and/or ship products to customers can be impacted at the very heart of their business: money.  The inability to receive materials to manufacture products (or deliver services) or an inability to fulfill orders means that sales are not generated.  As simplistic as this sounds, consider what business leaders are left to do in the absence of cashflow, including issuing delay notices to customers and layoffs to staff members.  These may be short term implications, however, long term impacts could include a loss of reputation, customers, employees, and competitive position, and when a company sits idle for any period of time, the lost capacity can never be recouped.

Coronavirus is impacting companies globally, across a wide range of industries, including transportation, hospitality/tourism, agriculture, retail, and essentially any company that is trying to advance its business within the geographic area(s) where the virus is most widespread: currently, China.  Whether a company is impacted due to cancellations and travel advisories or by virtue of decreased demand, it still translates into revenue loss, some of which may have been counted as “sold” before the sale actually occurred (something that tends to happen in the routine of business, or due to the enthusiasm of “counting chickens before they have hatched”).  Delays associated with shipments out of China can leave companies abroad scrambling for stock and materials that are integral to manufacturing products and generating sales.

In what can be characterized as a confusing, vicious circle, what are business leaders to do?  Companies that have planned for disruption in their supply chain and distribution channels may be much further ahead, in terms of identifying alternate suppliers and routes; these are not areas to be researched in times of crisis.  The need for business continuity is an example of why identifying various paths forward in advance is so critical, especially to the key aspects of a company’s operations.  Although doing so may not fully resolve every issue, it helps to mitigate the risk and damage that can occur, something that is particularly valuable in times of prolonged disruption.

Business leaders do not always have the time and skillset to work through this important contingency planning, so it is important to remember that advisors can help; it might just be one of the best investments that a company can make.

We will be monitoring these stories in the coming days and weeks.  Thanks for watching and see you again soon, CBC!

Creating Space for Life to Happen: We all have a role to play in changing the conversation

This article was published by the Canadian Venture Capital & Private Equity Association on January 29, 2020, Bell Let’s Talk Day, in support of mental health initiatives in Canada. We are grateful to have an opportunity to speak out on this important issue. If you need help, please call 911 or access resources here. Remember, you are not alone.


“How are you?”

Three simple words that we hear or read most days, so familiar that we don’t always consider the question.  We respond: “I’m fine”, “OK”, or “not bad”, with slight impatience, moving on to whatever is next.  There are times when we are the furthest thing from fine, but we say that we are, anyway.  Perhaps, we believe that how we are feeling is not relevant to the conversation, that others are not interested enough to care, or that it is a sign of weakness or embarrassment to admit to being anything other than top-shelf.  Maybe, it was that one time we were honest about our feelings, on a particularly bad day.  Watching another person’s face fall, then look away and awkwardly move to another topic was enough to make us vow that feelings are best kept inside (and certainly out of business talk).

So, every day, many of us tell others that we are fine when we are not, when the reality is “I am hurting”, “I am tired”, “I need help”, or “I am lost”.  These are feelings that we are reluctant to share and just because we keep them inside doesn’t mean that they go away.  Instead, we carry them and they become part of us, and doing so can be exhausting.

The ability to move forward through whatever ails us is a trait that is revered, one that tends to be associated with leaders and trailblazers who generate success and get things done.  Entrepreneurs and business leaders are prime examples; carrying the stress of both their role and the challenge of moving a company forward in an increasingly competitive world.  Add the needs of employees, customers, investors, and others into the mix and there is often no time to be anything other than “fine”; at least, on the outside.

But there is more to the business leader role than its exterior.  On the inside, it can be a very lonely place; sometimes, to a point that it hurts.  Entrepreneurs often say that they love their work, are passionate about it, and would not do anything else, given the choice.  They work around the clock, day, after week, after year, without fully realizing that they are running on empty.  It can take someone in a position of trust to give a business leader permission to step off the treadmill, before they fall.  Do we see the signs?  Do we make the effort often enough?

When it comes to building a successful company, sustainability is critical, as there is tremendous benefit to be realized when a business thrives over the long term.  Sustainability is equally important at the entrepreneur/business leader level, setting the stage to add significant value over time.  Financial partners and those in governance positions can play an impactful role in identifying and supporting strategies that create the foundation for a sustainable company.  Fundamental to this is making wellness a priority; here are some ways to help:

  • Listen.  Deeply, compassionately, and quietly.  Asking “how’s it going?” means being prepared for a variety of responses and taking the time to be understanding and supportive when difficulties arise.  This includes being fully present in the moment, comfortable in silence, and resisting the reflex to “fix” things.  Remember that the person across the table has a family and others who depend upon them; they could also be dealing with a challenging life situation that all of us encounter at some point.  Create space for life to happen.
  • Make depth a priority. Business leaders tend to carry the ball for much more than their share of the game; this is particularly true for young and high growth companies.  With sustainability in mind, ensure that corporate objectives and financial resources include a tangible plan for creating depth, starting with the CEO and other senior roles.  While entrepreneurs might claim “it’s easier if I do things myself”, this approach does not support growth, nor will it get the company to where it needs to go.  Pay careful attention to the CFO or senior finance role, as these tend to be overburdened positions.  Bottom line: a company cannot afford to have its key people become casualties of burnout (and they cannot afford it either).
  • Identify resources that can help. Young companies do not always have the financial resources or need for a full complement of senior level roles; however, this is not a reason to bypass doing so.  Experienced advisors have the ability to step into contract or part-time roles and make an immediate impact, taking on responsibilities from overwhelmed founders and bringing a level of expertise that the company might not be able to afford at its current stage of development (keep in mind that it is often the administrative and finance areas that get overlooked, becoming lagging problem areas). Financial and governance partners should have a deep network of resources that can fill these roles, be it on a short term or ongoing basis, providing options to help companies move forward more quickly and competently.
  • Check in often; mind, body, and spirit. Business meetings need not be solely about dollars and cents.  Successful implementation of a growth plan relies heavily on the quality of a company’s team, so it is important to recognize that strength comes from more than just the mind; the body and spirit also matter.  Encourage entrepreneurs and business leaders to spend time interacting where wellness is the priority; events on a regular basis can be particularly helpful.  Financial partners can play a leadership role, giving the all-important green light to take a more holistic and sustainable approach.

We all have people who have passed through our lives, who we would give any amount of time to see again.  To sit, talk, laugh, and savour the moment; to be generous with our time.  This perspective reminds us that life is fleeting and that the time that we spend together is more important than we know; not just to us, but to others as well.

We can change the conversation, and there is nothing but benefit in doing so.  Our dialogue might begin with “How are you?”, but it can continue with the power and presence of saying “I am here for you.  Let’s talk”.

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (December, 2019)

Closing out 2019 in studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Sherena Hussain and Natasha Fatah (aka The Women in Blue!).

Here’s what was on our Holiday Season menu:

  • New NAFTA Reaches the Finish Line:  As Canada, the US, and Mexico agree to some final revisions, what are the next steps for New NAFTA?  What does it mean for Canadian companies?
  • Compensation Rules for Flight Delays Kick In:  Air travel passengers in Canada will now have the potential for compensation in the event of some flight delays, but will it be meaningful?
  • More Ontario Cannabis Shops on the Way:  Removing the cap on the number of cannabis shops in Ontario might be an opportunity to better meet market demand, but are there other important considerations?

Negotiation of a new trade deal between Canada, the US, and Mexico has been unfolding over the past year and a half and has not been an easy task.  Given that Democrats control the House in the US, they were in a position to push for revision in order to support ratification and the countries were able to find agreement around clauses pertaining to dispute resolution, environmental, prescription drug, and labour provisions.  In particular, Mexico will have to take steps to improve the labour environment in that country, an area that has been contentious, given its ability to provide an inexpensive workforce and displace jobs.  Deals are one thing; it will be interesting, however, to see how well implementation occurs, once all countries have ratified what is effectively NAFTA 2.1.

Speaking from experience, we live in a world where air travelers tend to feel like they have no rights, especially in those moments when they are not treated particularly well (cue to the herding cattle analogy).  Air travelers are essentially at the mercy of airlines when delays happen, as there are limited alternative to get from one location to another.  Effective December 15, 2019, airlines will now have to compensate passengers in delay situations that are within their control, guidelines that likely have Canadians wondering if they are worth much, in practical terms.  It is important for passengers to know their rights when traveling, keep track of travel documentation, and ask airlines for clarification, when needed.  From a fairness perspective, good communication and transparency are important, however, too many of us know what it is like to be delayed in an airport with little in the way of information sharing.

As the cannabis industry continues to evolve, Ontario’s decision to remove the cap on retail shops is an area to watch.  Although studies indicate market demand, successfully operating a company is something that is quite different.  Business leaders too often make the mistake of thinking that a product alone makes a company, when nothing could be further from the truth.  We can all think of stores, restaurants, or coffee shops that opened too many locations, only to have to retrench to a more appropriate number; this type of downsizing can be onerous and expensive.  The same mistakes could be made here; this time, with a highly regulated product that requires special attention of its own.

As 2019 comes to a close, it’s a good time to be thankful for this past year.  It has been my pleasure to appear on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, work that is both fun and a privilege.  Thanks for watching and see you in 2020, a year that is sure to bring a host of interesting developments, to say the least; stay tuned!

 

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (November, 2019)

Great day to be in studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Mark Warner and John Northcott (for those who watched live, we had a bit of fun with a Coldplay walk on).

On tap for our discussion:

  • CN Rail Strike.  As the days tick by, this week’s CN Rail strike could have a considerable impact on the Canadian economy.  What should the next steps be to resolve the impasse?
  • Lowe’s Closes More Canadian Stores.  Posting disappointing financial results has led to Lowe’s closing more Canadian stores in an already competitive market.  Should we be surprised by this development and is more of the same on the way for the retail sector?
  • EasyJet Goes Carbon Neutral.  As interest in the environment continues to increase, airlines are considering how to offset their carbon footprint.  Will easyJet’s plan make a difference?

It’s no secret that Canada is a geographically vast country and logistics can be challenging, especially for some industries where there are limited options.  In an already uncertain global economic environment, delays in getting products to market or receiving essential supplies could start to snowball, financially impacting companies and our country.  Having said that, how long should the collective bargaining process have to reach a solution?  Both the company and its employees should be front and centre in situations like this, recognizing the essential nature of their service and the responsibility that goes along with it.

Consumers have lots of choice when procuring home improvement goods, be it online or in a host of retail options within their community.  A core aspect of this that doesn’t get as much time in the conversation as it should is service, as this is arguably a key driver in consumer behaviour.  A favourable retail experience, be it in a store or online, can directly impact whether or not a consumer makes future purchases, as well as the “story” that they share with others.  If stores are “under performing”  in a competitive environment, it is critical to understand why so that retailers can become more effective in these areas, in addition to right-sizing their offering.

In the category of the future is now, environment related stories continue to make news, the latest being easyJet’s plan to ensure that their flights are carbon neutral.  Although it’s difficult to argue with companies that adopt plans to help the environment (but, there are those who spend time doing so), it’s having a strategic approach that matters, including establishing tactics, milestones, and performance review guidelines.  It will be interesting to see of the aviation industry will work collaboratively to find industry solutions, thereby focusing more broadly than on individual companies; a world of opportunity awaits.

As 2019 moves into its final month, there are still many business stories to discuss.  I’ve made a prediction of what might be on the menu for my next studio visit; let’s see if I’m right.  Thanks for watching and see you in a few weeks, CBC!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (October, 2019)

The fun of live TV, combined with a busy news morning in advance of the Federal election, characterized this week’s CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel.  Standing by for Prime Minister Justin Trudeau’s press conference, Elmer Kim, John Northcott, and I chatted all things business, including what we didn’t see on the campaign trail.

Playbacks can make things interesting, and review of some of our commentary from September 14th, at the beginning of the campaign, puts areas where business concerns could have been better addressed into context.  Following the theory that politics and business “travel on parallel tracks”, it is often evident that governments and political parties do not fully appreciate the challenges of managing and growing a company (or just how much policies can negatively impact the real world).  One of the best things that governments can do is put business leaders in a position to focus on what matters, as opposed to on administrative burdens in areas such as taxation and regulatory matters; this approach provides the opportunity to fuel growth and progress.

How can this be achieved?  Although governments are likely of the view that they consult with business, the lack of focus on the issues that matter suggests that this isn’t done nearly enough.  Further, advisors and investors bring a wealth of knowledge and context, in terms of business strategies that work (and those that do not), as well as the trends and opportunities of the future.  It is this perspective that is integral to developing a long term strategy to build a greater number of companies that can be globally competitive, an opportunity of particular importance in our current world of economic and political uncertainty.

And a word about economic diversity, particularly in terms of Canadian regions where the focus has long since been on resources: diversity is a state of mind.  Regions that have a lengthy history of a business community and local economy that include a range of industries can appreciate how products, services, technologies, and human capital can reach across various applications, with a bit of tailoring.  Those who haven’t lived this experience might not see the opportunity or scoff at even looking for it (have seen this first hand), and it is in this reality where the state of mind that is diversity can take hold, for those who are willing to take the leap.  It will be interesting to see how this unfolds over the next couple of years, as it is progress that is already overdue.

In the meantime, business leaders need to have a range of plans for whatever the election results might be; this is simply good management.  Failure to do so puts a company at risk and in a reactive position, as opposed to the relative strength of being proactive.  In the event that the current predictions of a minority government come to pass, uncertainty might continue to unfold for a period of time; advisors can help companies to navigate forward in this type of environment.

Don’t forget to get out and vote on October 21st, as it is so important to do so.  Thanks for watching and see you again soon, CBC!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (September, 2019)

What an exciting weekend to be in studio alongside Elmer Kim and John Northcott, for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel. With this week’s Federal election call, we were on hand to discuss all things business; here’s a sample:

Business leader priorities and key challenges they face. Given the highly uncertain global trade and business environment, Canadian companies have faced additional challenges beyond day-to-day operations; this is an area for candidates to be mindful.

Labour and workforce related issues. As the global economy evolves at a rapid pace, Canadian companies are challenged to remain competitive like never before. A party’s workforce and retention strategies are of key interest, as companies cannot be successful without these resources.

Business grants and fee reductions. Thus far, some platforms include grants to support startups and reduce some of the charges that companies typically face. Companies can always benefit from expense reductions, but in the case of emerging ventures, a critical issue is the shortage of growth capital for high potential businesses that are past the startup stage; will platforms address this specialized issue?

Incentives for certain sectors. Areas of interest include auto manufacturing and oil production, and although platforms might include tactics to maintain jobs, the bigger question relates to the undeniable evolution of sectors such as these. What steps should be taken to remain competitive?

Importance of debt/deficit reduction. A key question is how do voters view this area; are they concerned about the deficit, and if so, to what degree? An aspect to consider is viewing spending in the context of an investment, as compared to an expense, as the situation warrants.

Canada’s economy, growth rate, and trade. Current times are characterized by relatively strong economic performance and buoyed exports; success in this area can be difficult to deny. It will be interesting to see what the future holds for New NAFTA, a topic that seems to be getting more interest in recent days from Republican leaning people in the US than here in Canada.

Consumer issues, including housing, taxes, rebate programs, and wages. The appeal of these programs can have a lot to do with who you are, where you live, and how you live. How do regional differences impact policies and do voters think they should?

We’ll be watching the election campaign to see how the various platforms approach and impact business. Check back for more commentary, as the campaign moves forward!

MEDIA: On G7 Watch

Great to be on Summit watch again, this time, for the G7 in Biarritz, France.  Thanks to my media work and inclusion in the Informed Opinions Expert Women Database, I have been on hand to provide media commentary to discuss this important global summit.

It was my pleasure to join CTV News Channel TV on a sunny Saturday morning to chat about G7 expectations and priorities for Canadian Prime Minister Justin Trudeau.  Although some have indicated that they view summits such as the G7 to not be of particular importance, our increasingly fragmented world needs these opportunities to connect on key issues, find common ground, and identify areas of collaboration.  Here’s just a few areas where strategies and action are needed:

  • The global economy, amid slowdown and recession concerns
  • Trade and related partnerships, including addressing tariffs and disputes
  • Relations and issues between the US, China, and others
  • Climate change and environmental issues, amid the Amazon fires and continued sea ice melting
  • Areas of conflict, including tensions with (and within) Hong Kong, China, Russia, North Korea, the Middle East, and Venezuela
  • Gender parity and diversity, an issue that impacts at least half of the world’s population

There are many more areas of concern to our world, requiring leadership with a range of skills and disciplines.  Summits like the G7 are really what a leader makes of it, recognizing that it is their responsibility to be stewards of not only of their role and country, but also of our planet.  I believe that addressing issues of global importance is something that citizens of the world have the right to reasonably expect from the leaders of their countries, remembering that people have the power to choose who holds these roles in many cases.

Closer to home, key issues of concern for Prime Minister Trudeau include trade considerations (with the US, China, and the UK, in particular), strategies to resolve China-specific conflicts, and demonstrating progress in advance of the Federal election; these are not easily achieved in what has become a world where resolution is difficult.  Regardless, a steady and rational path could set the stage for cooperation and strength in numbers for those who are willing to listen.  Remember also that 2020 will be an important year for the US; could the G7 be setting its sights on the likelihood of a more receptive participant being in the Oval Office in January, 2021?

Looking forward to my next Media Watch; it might be just around the corner, stay tuned!

Giving up on the 1-Yard Line: Finding triumph over mistakes that companies make

This article was published by CMC Canada in the Summer 2019 issue of Consult.

In my many years as a business advisor and venture capitalist, I have seen companies make a lot of mistakes.  There have certainly been successes, but mistakes, unfortunately, are a lot more common.  Some of the ones that are the most damaging are those that are analogous to “giving up on the 1-yard line”, where after a prolonged period of time of working, pushing forward, and focusing on their game, a company’s leadership throws up its collective hands and says, “I’m done”.  Why is this so harmful?

First, this situation tends to occur when facing challenging tasks that are integral to the success of a company; examples include areas such as properly conducted business planning, implementation of fundamental systems and processes, and successfully attracting financial and strategic partners.  Appropriately addressing these areas tends to take far more work than business leaders anticipate; they also represent initiatives that might be entirely new.  As a result, the keen enthusiasm that is apparent when a project begins tends to fade to an attitude of “we don’t need to work this hard”.

Second, companies sometimes have difficulty focusing on priorities, as key areas tend to be far less glamorous that the “fun” aspects of being in business, such as designing a new logo, touring office space options, or chatting up prospective partners that the company has little potential of actually attracting.  Days get filled with these activities, that are more about busy-ness and less about results, decreasing the amount of available time to focus on the real work that needs to get done.  This is a hard lesson that business leaders tend to discover far too late, and can be as damaging as losing key customers or running out of money.  Full stop.

A better approach is recognizing that advisors who have “been there” and “done that” are in a unique position to provide the important leverage that companies need, to ensure that they are focusing on the right things, conducting their work at a quality level, and not running out of steam.  How can this be achieved?

  • Priorities are not always obvious. Amazing, but true.  Business leaders can get so caught up in the challenges of running the company on a day-to-day basis, dealing with staff members, and responding to customer needs that they are unsure (or unaware) about the steps that should be taken to make meaningful progress on a corporate level and might lack the experience of what is required in order to do so.  Advisors can play a key role by identifying and prioritizing task items and keeping the implementation process on track.  All of these areas are common pitfalls and represent the difference between starting something and actually getting it done (activity does not equate to meaningful progress).
  • Experienced advisors are the “acid test”. Advisors with a strong experience and qualification base understand where important initiatives need to “get to”, such as what financial partners need to know in order to make a decision.  Companies tend to take the view that “what we provide to them will be good enough”, failing to understand the woeful inadequacy of this approach.  Using raising capital or financing as an example, experienced financial partners have typically reviewed more opportunities than they can count and operate in an environment of limited money and an investment mandate that guides selection.  They very quickly slot opportunities into a category, and chances are, it won’t be the “yes” file.  Experienced advisors have a skillset that is extremely valuable; one that can help a company put its best foot forward and anticipate what is required in order to get to a successful outcome.  Be sure to probe an advisor’s qualifications to ensure that they are the right fit for the particular initiative at hand.
  • Utilize skill to get there, faster and better. Teams who spend the whole game running around on the field, for the sake of running around, don’t win very many games.  Coaches of successful teams know how and when to utilize resources in a manner where they can make the best contribution, including recognizing that there are times when specialized help is needed.  This is where an experienced advisor can play an important role, providing the necessary expertise to quarterback complicated plays and get to the endzone more quickly.  Business leaders sometimes do not appreciate the value of resources with the right experience; this fact tends to get reinforced in times of poor advice, from those who are not qualified to help, or when receiving no assistance at all.  A company might not recognize the weaknesses that result, but the external party that they are trying to impress likely does.

These lessons might seem relatively straightforward, but reality reflects something quite different, as fumbles and mishaps in all of these areas, and numerous others, are quite common.  What can make a big difference is perspective; stepping back to see how far an initiative has come, the relatively short journey that remains, its level of priority, and what success requires.  If business leaders did this more often, there would be far fewer companies walking off the field with only one yard left to go.

MEDIA: Celebrating 2 Years on CBC News Network!

Pleased to be celebrating two years of regular appearances on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel!  Our panel reviews the week in business every Saturday morning after the 10 AM news (Eastern Time), discussing a diverse array of topics.  Here’s just a sample of topics upon which I’ve provided commentary:

Such a range of topics, and never knowing what the news cycle could bring at any moment, makes providing commentary on the Panel so much fun.  Thanks to everyone at CBC News Network, as well as those behind the scenes who make us look so good; we couldn’t do this without you!