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

Back in studio this past weekend for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Sherena Hussain and John Northcott, with a diverse array of topics:

Ontario Budget 2019.  With no new taxes on a personal or corporate level and ongoing deficits for the next while, what should we make of the budget?

Short Selling Canada’s Banks.  Short sellers have been betting that Canada’s banks will see declines, in light of ongoing consumer debt, a slower housing market, and decreased credit growth.  As bank earnings continue to increase, is this a good bet?

Bezos Minimum Wage HikeCEO Jeff Bezos has challenged competitors to meet or exceed the $15 per hour minimum wage level that is currently in place at Amazon.  What is behind his comments and what could it mean for competitors?

Here’s a few thoughts.  Given the uncertainty that we have seen in the business world and broader community over the past couple of years, in terms of trade, tariffs, and relationships between countries, some relative stability could be helpful.  In times of uncertainty, companies tend to delay longer term, investment oriented decisions, which could impact the economy in a host of ways, including employment, purchasing, and construction, to name a few.  When these sectors of the economy are not as robust as they could be, consumer confidence and consumption can start to wane.  It’s all connected, and important to try to keep all areas afloat in uncertain times.

Having said that, Canada’s banking system continues to find ways to make money; something that won’t surprise business owners and consumers.  There are significant differences between the US and Canadian banking sector, and although we’ve been on a favourable economic run for some time, the “short” opportunity might not be as imminent as speculators think.

And finally, online based businesses like Amazon have taken the opportunity to make an impact on the retail sector, with the demise of many traditional “bricks and mortar” companies that have fallen behind the times, unable to compete.  It’s important to remember the importance of a company’s business model, in terms of how they make money, what the cost structure is, and the extent to which expense escalations could be borne.  As social conscience continues to rise among the need for a living wage, companies that haven’t migrated to a place where they can provide one might just find themselves in difficult circumstances (and short of staff!).

When it comes to business, we can look at where we are, but the strength is in truly understanding what the future could bring and knowing what is needed to thrive there.  Business savvy leaders understand this; unfortunately, most either lack the ability or have not taken the time to focus on what’s important in this regard.

Thanks, CBC News Network, for the on-air mention of my new book, Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb, helping business leaders to address a range of challenges to achieve market relevance over the long term.  See you again soon!

MEDIA: Appearance on Moolala (Sirius XM)

Pleased to appear on Moolala (Sirius XM radio), joining host Bruce Sellery to talk about my new book, Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb.  You can listen to our chat here.

This discussion is a great reminder that what’s good for companies in general is also good for family businesses!  Too often, family businesses tend to have the view that catering to what’s best or most convenient for the family is an acceptable priority (and sometimes, the main priority!).  In our highly competitive, rapidly evolving, technology fueled world, this approach can be particularly dangerous.  Consider the following realities:

  • Consumers favour flexibility and convenience, in terms of how they procure goods and services.  With a world of options at their fingertips, consumers have never had more choices, and companies that do not perform well or fail to meet expectations are quickly replaced by more savvy competitors.  Getting a customer back once they have been lost is difficult, if not impossible, in many cases.
  • An abundance of things that used to be done “manually” are now driven by technology, think shopping, logistics, communications, manufacturing, and even depositing a cheque.  Companies who have not kept up with the technologies that impact their industry or have failed to invest in these areas are unlikely to have a future (they barely have a “present”).  Family business leaders who consider succession to be as simple as handing over the keys to the next generation need to think again.
  • A well managed company leads to good outcomes, including financial performance, customer loyalty, and longterm employees; these are some of the building blocks of establishing a brand.  When a company is guided by what is most convenient for itself, shuns the systems and processes that generate good performance, and fails to seek advice to bring valuable perspective and expertise, it is not in a position to establish a brand presence that represents meaningful value to a potential successor or acquirer down the road.

Think about what this means.  When family businesses fail to operate in a manner that is based on fundamental business practices and the needs of the marketplace, they put the future of everyone involved at risk; this reality has never been more true.  Business leaders must take action, now, to ensure viability over the longterm, to the benefit of the company and the family (and those in the Baby Boomer generation, who have led companies for a while and are now facing retirement are a particularly important group, when it comes to succession considerations).

Get started by reading Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb, helping business leaders face the most explosive challenge in a generation.  Your business and your family’s wealth generation should have a future, right?

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

Back in studio this past Saturday for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside John Northcott and Mark Warner; what a busy news week!  I find it especially fun to discuss a range of topics that can be linked together, a reminder that so much of our business, political, economic, and demographic world is connected and can sometimes impact us in unexpected ways.

Here’s an overview of the topics we discussed:

  • Huawei’s US Court Challenge. As trade talks and friction between the US and China continue, tech giant Huawei launched a challenge to being labelled as a “security risk” in US court.  What are the implications, and is the Company’s role in development of the global 5G network even more uncertain?
  • China Halts Canadian Canola Shipments. Relations between Canada and China are also tense, with the detainment of Huawei’s CFO and two Canadian men earlier this year.  Is the revoking of a major Canadian exporter’s registration to ship canola a business matter or a political one?  Is this a sign of more things to come?
  • Facebook’s New Vision. With the social media giant being under fire for years regarding privacy, content, and user protection challenges, founder Mark Zuckerberg outlined a future vision with a decidedly more private and secure environment.  Is this approach the way of the future or a means to move away from Facebook’s current challenges?

Over the past couple of years, “nation” oriented issues have risen in profile globally, with developments in the US, UK, China, and Venezuela representing a few examples.  In the case of China, there has long been the dichotomy of the potential to access a large market with the challenges of doing business with a country that doesn’t have the best reputation for “playing by the rules”.  The challenges associated with Huawei remind us that good products are not always enough, when it comes to choosing a business partner, and that we are judged by the company we keep.

The US has been firm in indicating its lack of comfort in terms of doing business with Huawei and has gone as far as encouraging other countries not to involve the Company in 5G network development.  As the saga continues, other developments have come to light, such as in the case of Canadian canola shipments being halted for “quality” issues, leaving many to suspect that the underlying rationale is more political in nature.  The lesson for Canadian companies is to remember that developments in faraway places can (and do) impact your business, as will be the case with canola farmers and everyone who counts them as customers.  Business leaders need to remember that the long term success of their company requires a strategy that hedges against reliance in one area and to always keeps a careful eye on what is occurring in the broader marketplace and industry.  This is also true for countries.

In recent years, we have seen Canada step up in a number of areas, and while the US is certainly its core trading partner, it has been interesting to watch developments in this relationship and others.  As referenced by former President Barack Obama at an event in Winnipeg a week ago, the level of US influence globally has declined from where it once was; this has brought both opportunities and risks.  Regardless, Canada has both an opportunity and a need to continue to build its global trade strategy.

In terms of Facebook, hopefully, it is finally taking to heart the need to strengthen its environment to effectively address the challenges of an increasingly complex world.  As I have said for some time, many of the challenges that Facebook has encountered are what I consider to be fundamental business practices: the need for the right systems and processes, protecting user data and rights, knowing who you are doing business with, and having appropriate contracts and documentation in place.  All companies need to address these areas, regardless of their size or type of business, and emerging technologies do not get a pass.  We will see if Facebook will take the necessary steps to address these areas and others in its existing platform, or whether future evolution to a more robust environment will be the case.

And finally, on the 10th anniversary of the “bottom” of the financial crisis market, have any lessons been learned?  Of particular interest is the need for companies to have the right strategies in place to support long term survival, a point that might seem out of place on this topic.  In fact, it is very much related to the strength of our business community and economy, in terms of the importance of having a core of companies that: offer the right products and services, in a manner that customers want, at a competitive price, by way of competent systems, processes, and people.  These companies also understand the trends in their industry and where they need to migrate to as a business, to ensure their longterm relevance to the marketplace; this also includes shuttering areas that simply do not work anymore.

Consider this in the context of the many companies that have ceased to exist over the past few years; these include giants of yesterday, who were lacking in most or all of the areas mentioned above.  The result impacts the economy as a whole, as well as jobs, household spending, and a range of other areas.  Let the need for strong, thoughtful, and nimble leadership at both governance and executive levels be the lesson on this 10th anniversary, and if any in these ranks do not understand the connection and urgent need for action, they are probably in the wrong job.

Thanks again, CBC News Network, for the on-air mention of my new book, Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb and see you next time!

MEDIA: Appearance on SET for Success (680 CJOB Radio)

Pleased to have appeared on SET for Success on 680 CJOB with Richard Lannon discussing my new book, Defusing the Family Business Time BombSince many business leaders expect that their company will be sold at some point in time, often to fund their retirement, it is critical to understand the many challenges that could stand in the way of this goal, some of which might be surprising.  Business leaders tend to not fully appreciate potential problem areas, failing to realize just how high the likelihood is that their company will be impacted, putting their future plans at significant risk in the process.  Some hold the view that they “have it all figured out” or “don’t need to address those issues”, bringing a false sense of security and trouble at the worst possible time.  These scenarios are, unfortunately, all too familiar in the case of family business.

While it is typical for many family businesses to experience the “aches and pains” that are associated with members of a company having longstanding, personal relationships with one another (think conflict, role uncertainty, and the strife that comes with life developments such as divorce, illness, and death), there are other challenges that are just as important.  The world in which we live includes a number of external factors that make these days like no other, including:

  • Demographic factors: aging Baby Boomer business owners have a limited number of potential successors.  Do they know it?
  • Disruption of key industries: new and complex business models and rapid digital/technological advancement could reduce expected valuations and make transition to new owners either irrelevant or much more costly.  Is the company of relevance to customers, now and in the future?
  • Dramatic change in the global economy: making strategic planning difficult, increasing competition, and escalating the cost of doing business, thereby shrinking profit margins.  Can the company compete on a profitable basis?
  • Uncertain tax rules: new and complex tax changes, restrictions to family income sprinkling, and a clawback of the small business deduction all impact profitability, investment opportunities, and access to capital. This challenge could be especially difficult for young entrepreneurs or successors who want to scale up the business for the future.  Is the company getting the right advice?

Take a moment and think about each of these significant developments.  Any of these areas is a lot to deal with on its own, but when combined, these factors have the potential to stop a company in its tracks, making succession or sale of the business unattainable.  Consider what the impact of this discovery could mean to a business leader, their retirement, the future of the company, and the family.

This book helps business leaders to understand the areas that need to be addressed, now, including practical guidelines for facilitating important conversations with key advisors.  Doing so not only helps to improve how a company operates today, but can also address the issues of tomorrow, including succession, sale of business, strategic partnerships, and seeking investment capital.  These areas are also of key relevance to entrepreneurs and potential successors, who face unique challenges of their own.

You can listen to our conversation hereContact us to learn more about how we can help; your company, family, and peace of mind will be better for it.

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

Starting off the New Year in studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside John Northcott and Elmer Kim.


As our world continues to experience economic, political, and technological change, our discussion reflected just that:

  • Turmoil in Venezuela.  In the face of leadership uncertainty and devastating economic and social challenges, potential US sanctions could significantly impact Venezuela’s oil industry.  What could this mean for Canada?
  • Ontario enhances autonomous vehicle pilot program.   Changes to an existing program will now allow some automated vehicles on public roads with just a passenger on board or a remote operator monitoring the vehicle.  When could we expect to see these vehicles on the road?

The Venezuela story is a reminder that developments in far away countries can impact us here in Canada, including in terms of business and the economy.  In the event that Venezuelan oil exports are sanctioned by the US, refineries in that country will be seeking supply to meet the needs of their operations.  Canadian crude oil could fill this gap, however, meeting such opportunities successfully requires more than just identifying solutions at a high level.  Logistical challenges and limitations have been in the news for some time and relate to the need for Canada to continue to focus on developing a global trade strategy for oil.  This approach raises the likelihood that opportunities could be successfully met as they arise; it is also simply good business.

The advancement of riderless cars, one step closer to being approved for regular road use, reminds us that the future is now.  Although there is still additional work to do in terms of testing and refinement, the practical use of autonomous vehicles represents tremendous change for many, including car manufacturers, insurers, companies that utilize vehicles and drivers, and consumers.  Are they ready?  I expect that many are facing the need to work quickly to keep up with the pace of these exciting developments.

And so, 2019 begins, with what should be an interesting year.  Special thanks to CBC News Network for the on-air mention of my new book, Defusing the Family Business Time BombI sincerely appreciate it!

 

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (December, 2018)

Closing out 2018 in studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Elmer Kim and John Northcott.  This week, we focused on the business implications of the ongoing Huawei saga, which became part of the news cycle earlier this month with the detaining of the company’s CFO, Meng Wanzhou.

China’s concern over Meng’s circumstances has been playing out through a range of potential threats to companies, such as Apple and Canada Goose.  Actions that could arise include boycotting iPhone purchases, while Canada Goose has already faced a falling share price and delays in opening its new store in China.

This situation could also bring complications to the current 90 day “quiet period” between China and the US, in an attempt to arrive at a trade agreement that could bring more favourable terms than the recent past of escalating tariffs and other troubles.  While the two largest economies in the world seem poised for an uncertain relationship, with Canada facing warring words of its own from China, the news isn’t all bad. In the event that China cannot come to a reasonable trade resolution with the US, it will have to continue to procure goods to support its own economy, with a need to look beyond its regular trading partners.

Here are some things that Canadian companies should think about, in terms of balancing the opportunity and risk associated with the Chinese (or any new) market:

  • Bring a balanced approach.  When seeking to do business in new markets, it is critical to fully understand the marketplace, in terms of potential opportunities, risks, regulations, and business practices.  Too often, the focus is primarily on the opportunity, which could result in significant challenges when inevitable difficulties surface.
  • Take a long term perspective.  Entering new markets should be viewed as an investment, not a whim.  Investments require the right research, strategy, and implementation plan, not only to generate success, but also to address challenges and mitigate risk.  Although this might sound obvious, companies tend to fall into the trap of focusing primarily on generating short term, positive results, an approach that puts an investment at risk once early days pass.
  • Conduct an integrity check.  Among the important issues of opportunity and risk is the manner in which business is done; call it values, basis of judgement, operating style.  The bottom line is that not everyone (or every place) has a style that is consistent with your own, which could lead to significant problems down the road.  Knowledge is key to determining whether or not the opportunity at hand is a place where you want to be, and finding this out after the fact could be too late.

Increase the likelihood of success by resisting the temptation to leap without looking, and instead, doing the necessary homework to make an informed decision and strategize accordingly.  There’s strength in recognizing that those who are first out of the gate aren’t always in the race for the long run; be sure to avoid this all too common pitfall.

Thanks for watching and see you in 2019!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (November, 2018)

Always enjoy my time on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, including this past Saturday, alongside Elmer Kim and John Northcott.  Here’s the topics we discussed, from the week that was in business:

  • Bombardier’s layoffs and selloffs:  The company has struggled in recent years and found itself in the news again this week; announcing 5,000 layoffs and a couple of selloffs as part of ongoing transition efforts.  With Canadian taxpayers having funded the company to the tune of over $1 billion, can any positive developments be expected?
  • Bowring and Bombay File for Creditor Protection:  Disruption in the retail space continues, this time, revisiting two longstanding Canadian brands.  Do they have a future?
  • Amazon’s Toy Catalogue:  Reminiscent of years past, Amazon has its own printed toy catalogue for the Holiday season; what’s behind this move?

Here’s a few thoughts:

Transition is never easy (or quick), but Canadian taxpayers have probably heard more than their share of less than stellar news about Bombardier.  The reality is that this large and diverse company didn’t find itself off the rails (pun intended) overnight, and unwinding a bad situation can take far more time, angst, and money than most would expect.  As is the case with any company, it’s critical to understand the core business, one where success can be generated on a competitive and financially favourable basis.  As manufacturing technology evolves, companies are challenged to be increasingly efficient and that often involves shedding or re-positioning jobs.  If Bombardier is to find success, it must have a well-designed plan that focuses in the right product and service areas in an efficient and competitive manner; time will tell if this can be achieved, or if the outcome will be of a more somber nature.

In an intensely competitive retail marketplace that has evolved significantly, many companies have found themselves left behind; Bowring and Bombay are the latest, having faced similar circumstances only a few years ago.  Retailers must understand their target market well and take the necessary steps to connect and engage with them in an effective manner.  These companies have not kept up with the rapid pace of evolution, which might spell the end for these Canadian brands.  Retrenching to fewer stores or trying to play online “catch up” with a customer that might not be receptive could be the age old story of finding and implementing a new strategy too late.

And, finally, Amazon’s printed toy catalogue is all about the memories and nostalgia of many childhoods, as well as reaching out to those who shop online less frequently.  Using an approach that makes online engagement easy just might be the most timely “pull” strategy we’ve seen in a while; kids just need to put down their tablets and iPhones long enough to flip through the pages!

Thanks for watching and see you again soon, CBC!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (October, 2018)

Interesting Business Panel on CBC News Network this past weekend, alongside Elmer Kim and John Northcott, talking cannabis and the workplace, as well as the week in markets.  Here’s some insight:

As Canada is set to legally permit recreational use of cannabis on October 17th, many employers are facing challenges as to how to address the issue.  With some organizations banning use entirely for “safety sensitive” jobs, others are taking a less restrictive approach, requiring employees to ensure that they are “ready to work” and leaving it at that.  Many of Canada’s small enterprises (representing 98% of employer businesses) lack the resources and expertise to address this complex issue, while some large organizations have indicated that their cannabis related policies are still being developed.  This represents a significant problem.

In general terms, employers must adequately manage risk in order to ensure the safety and viability of their company, the welfare of staff members, and that customers receive the products, services, and care that should be associated with their purchase.  This includes establishing standards for how work is done, of which the human resource aspect is a critical component.

It is recognized that substances that cause impairment could impact a person’s ability to perform a job; this is the first part of the challenge, with the second being related to measurement.  Although monitoring compliance with some standards is relatively easy, such as in the case of an employee being required to wear safety equipment, measuring impairment is much more difficult.  Those with expertise in this area have indicated that obtaining reliable and relevant results when measuring cannabis consumption and impairment is problematic, with the appropriate technology not currently available.

For business leaders who have not yet addressed this area, given the level of urgency of putting appropriate policies in place, an efficient path to answers is to contact a qualified human resources advisor or your legal counsel.  Since policies should typically be researched, drafted, vetted, approved, and communicated in advance of when they are needed, it is critical to take action now.  Failing to do so could result in uncertainty, poor decision making, and what could be costly mistakes.

In terms of the markets, some of last week’s volatility relates to global trade uncertainty and conflict, such as in the case of the US and China.  Economies, however, have many components, including the potential impact of tariff, purchasing, investment, and employment levels, among others (current factor of interest at the White House: interest rates).  With some considering this sell off as one that has been in the works for a while, it’s important to keep these fluctuations in perspective and recognize that performance is still positive over the past year.  Lots to think about and monitor over the coming months.

Thanks, CBC, and see you again soon!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (September, 2018)

Fun to be back in the studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business panel, alongside Jeanhy Shim and John Northcott.  In a business week where stories ebbed and flowed, we landed on two stories that are well suited for looking forward and back:

  • The 10th Anniversary of the Global Financial Crisis.  Ten years after the stunning failure of Lehman Brothers, marking the start of the global financial crisis, what lessons have been learned?  Could another crisis be on the horizon?
  • NIKE’S New Ad Campaign.  Despite an initial backlash to NIKE’s new endorsement deal with Colin Kaepernick, online sales quickly re-bounded, tracking an increase in excess of 30%.  Is this trend here to stay?  What could this endorsement mean for other brands?

There is so much that could be said on each of these stories, but here’s my quick take:

I remember the start of the global financial crisis like it was yesterday, characterized by the stock market falling and bleak corporate stories rising for days on end.  As past crises have taught us, the business world is one where a relatively small segment of players find ways to make significant amounts of money on the fringe; residing out on the edge of acceptable conduct, finding gaps in the regulatory environment and acceptable norms.  Too often, these people make their money by putting their own position ahead of others, resulting in considerable detriment to many, such as in the case of failures in the housing and corporate markets.  This “rogue factor” makes the case for the importance of smart, focused regulation, enacted by those who have a good understanding of where the gaps are.  Well intentioned guidelines too often miss the mark, and it’s important to recognize that more is not always better.

Having said that, what could the challenges of the future look like?  As much as companies will continue to fail (a trend that isn’t going anywhere), expect the next crises to include some new factors, such as the impact of technology, demographics, trade issues, shifts in alliances, and uncertainties associated with areas such as cryptocurrency.  With technologies such as artificial intelligence, robotics, self-driving vehicles, and a greater level of control at the consumer level, what will the impact of inevitable job losses have on the economy?  What will be the first domino to fall and where will the chain of events that is triggered end?  Recognize that the crisis that comes next could look very different than what we have seen in the past, a mere 10 years ago, which, in reality, represents a much longer developmental timeframe.

In the case of NIKE, many of us can recall when a little known NFL quarterback made headlines when he “took a knee” in protest of racial injustice.  Whether in agreement or disagreement with Kaepernick’s actions, he clearly took a risk in expressing his point of view.  This concept of risk is consistent with what NIKE did when launching its newest campaign, an interesting parallel to what inspired it all.  Risk creates uncertainty, something that stock markets are known not to like; however, it also requires courage, faith, and knowing that much could be lost.  While Kaepernick remains an unsigned free agent, NIKE’s initial losses have been replaced with gains, at least in the short term, with the future yet to be seen.

What could be fueling this response?  Over the last couple of years, numerous people and groups have been standing up (or, perhaps, taking a knee) for causes they believe in, such as gender inequality, gun control, abuse, and yes, racial injustice.  With what seems to be no end to the distasteful rhetoric coming from a range of extremist groups and even the White House, many people seem to have found their own voice, recognizing that this type of world isn’t what they want for themselves, their children, or their community.  As it has been said, “If you don’t stand for something, you’ll fall for anything”, it seems that many have been displaying this sentiment through their actions.  Perhaps, this is what is fueling both understanding and support for those who are willing to go out on a limb for their beliefs and risk it all, in response to what is wrong, unjust, or unseemly.

Personally, I couldn’t agree more.  If we are not willing to speak up when the chips are down, what are we left with as a society?  Thanks for watching and see you next time!

MEDIA: Appearance on SET for Success (680 CJOB Radio)

Pleased to have appeared on SET for Success on 680 CJOB with Richard Lannon to discuss some important areas that business leaders need to address to successfully grow and develop their companies.  Being a market leader is a goal for many, but in order to realize a company’s full potential, it’s critical to identify what that means for your business and then develop and successfully implement the plan.  This process is one that is fraught with challenges, but having the right assistance could made success much more likely, to the benefit of your company.

As a business advisor, my approach is to bring a holistic perspective, recognizing that all functional areas within a company are related and impact one another.  For a company to grow on a sustainable basis, all functional areas must be operating well, to provide the foundation for building capacity and sound operations.  Those who do this well are in a position to become market leaders, representing the choice of investors, strategic partners, high calibre employees, and customers.  Those who take a piecemeal approach tend to end up frustrated, wondering why their results are not better.

When companies are growing (or planning to do so), they must also recognize that capital is an important component; this is something that business leaders tend to discover too late.  As a former venture capitalist still active in the industry, the vast majority of business plans that I see are not investor ready; this is the case at least 95% of the time.  Investor readiness involves understanding the expectations of financial partners and investors, which differ significantly from where business leaders tend to focus their efforts.

Advisors could be helpful in a range of areas, including assisting companies with investor readiness and developing strategies for growth and implementation.  As important as planning is, the most significant failures could occur during the implementation process, which is another lesson that business leaders tend to learn too late.  If the objective is to generate sustainable growth and build value in a company so it could be transitioned to someone else in the future, market leaders would not attempt to do so without sound advice.

You can listen to our conversation hereContact us to learn more about taking the next steps in growth for your company.