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

The Labour Day Long Weekend is a great time to be in my home studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Elmer Kim and Jennifer Hall, talking consumer debt levels, Walmart taking on Amazon, and flying cars (yes, you read that right!).

Here are some quick thoughts on our discussion.

As Canadians combat the challenges of a global pandemic, we’ve seen consumer debt levels increase, mostly due to mortgages: payment deferrals, refinancings, and rising house prices can all play into this.  Of note, there’s been a fair amount of renovation activity taking place over the “pandemic months”, which could contribute to higher housing prices, and perhaps, some enthusiasm to say yes to a new home.  Conversely, decreased mobility means less spending in areas such as travel, dining, and retail, offset by what was evidently a fair amount of online shopping.  Let’s see what the trends show over the Fall months.

Walmart is a familiar retailer in many communities, with millions of people living within a short drive of their local store.  The launch of Walmart Plus (occurring on September 15th in the US) could represent interesting competition for Amazon Prime.  Although slightly more expensive and with a free shipping threshold of over $35 dollars, Walmart Plus will include some perks of its own, such as in-store item scanning via the Walmart app and gas discounts.  This program should be part of a larger strategic plan to attract customers, with the potential Tik Tok acquisition providing a connection point to an important demographic.  On a personal note, the Walmart store in my area has provided a good quality shopping experience during times of COVID19 and the mask mandate has made safety considerations less of an issue.  We will have to stay tuned to see when this program will launch in Canada.

And finally, the successful launch of a flying car could bring some interesting applications to transportation and logistics (I have wanted a flying car, Jetsons’ style, since elementary school!).  Commercialization details will be important, including reliability, price, training, and applications, but in the meantime, let’s enjoy the fun of this story, as it’s been a while since we’ve been able to consider technology for the sheer accomplishment of what is possible (doing so almost seems like a return to normal).

Thanks for sharing your Long Weekend with us, and see you again soon!

MEDIA: As the Canadian Emergency Business Account is Extended, What About the Rent?

Pleased to chat with the Canadian Press about today’s news of some of Canada’s COVID-19 business benefits programs being extended.  Although the Canadian Emergency Business Account (CEBA) loan program has been extended until October 31, 2020, the lack of movement on the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program may have many small businesses wondering how they will meet their obligations of September 1st and beyond.

It shouldn’t be surprising that expenses pertaining to a company’s premises are among the most significant, with, perhaps, only payroll representing a larger monthly obligation.  COVID-19 has been a difficult period for companies of all sizes, and when CECRA was announced, the initial response was one of relief.  Part of the challenge with this program is that landlords must apply to participate, leaving tenants in difficult circumstances if this did not occur.  As at the end of July, 2020, just over $600 million in rent support had been provided, which is regarded as being well below the estimated program budget, expected to be in the billions of dollars.  It is a reasonable expectation that many in the small business community are working overtime, in terms of considering their future and just what steps should be taken.

As Summer, 2020 comes to a close, Canada is facing a lot of unknowns, as it relates to COVID-19.  With schools re-opening and the weather cooling, resulting in a movement indoors, a second, or even third wave of COVID-19 could occur.  Many communities across Canada have recently experienced an increase in COVID-19 rates, even after periods of relative calm.  How will small businesses chart this challenging territory in the months ahead?

We have already seen companies closing, unable to reach viability, or perhaps, simply not being up for operating in the new world of COVID-19.  As leases end, companies may choose not to renew, and large businesses will undoubtedly be reconsidering their future office needs, as a remote workforce may become the new reality in many cases.  Remember also that traffic at businesses such as retailers, restaurants, fitness centres, and personal services (spas, hairstylists, massage therapy, etc.) correlates with the level of consumer confidence: if people do not feel safe, they will stay home.  As we approach what could be the brink of a significant increase in commercial vacancies, will governments and the business community be left to wonder if enough was done in this regard, to help companies remain viable during the unprecedented days of 2020?  Stay tuned.

In the meantime, remember that advisors can help, not only through challenging times, but also to develop important strategies for your company’s future.

MEDIA: Celebrating 3 Years on CBC News Network!

Pleased to be celebrating three 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 where I’ve provided commentary on air over the past three years:

What I love about this format is the significant range of topics that impact every aspect of our lives and world, as we follow the news cycle.  My favourite stories?  Those that can be tied to a broad range of factors: politics, global trends, how we live, and the future.  This brings valuable context, and yes, it’s critical to be able to view through a strategic lens in order to see the connection points.

2020 has brought its own unique twist, as COVID-19 has resulted in those in the media reporting from their home studios, a new way to connect on air.  CBC News Network has also been streaming globally, bringing our work to a new and broader range of viewers.

Sincere thanks to everyone at CBC News Network and our audience for watching.  It is my privilege to bring business news to you in a time that is still very much unfolding and one that I expect we will not soon forget.  Stay well, everyone!

 

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

Back in the home studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, talking NAFTA 2.0, the Atlantic travel bubble, and Facebook advertisers, all hitting the streets in their own way.

Here’s a few thoughts on our discussion.

In a long overdue move, a number of large corporations are boycotting advertising on Facebook for the month of July, in protest of a lack of action against inaccurate, racist, and hateful content; Canada’s banks have joined this initiative.  Facebook appears to be defending its position, however, many are of the view that the Company hasn’t done enough to address longstanding content problems.  Dismissing concerns raised by citizens, corporations, and other groups may well land Facebook in a greater regulatory environment, and it’s fair to say that reasonable people can tell the difference between free speech and hate.  As the US election nears and the temperature continues to rise on a number of diversity issues, there is an opportunity to ask ourselves: what kind of world do we want to live in?  Let’s hope that this boycott is the beginning of a move towards much needed change.

In the category of “what a difference a year makes”, NAFTA 2.0 (or 2.1, depending how you look at it) quietly came into force on July 1st, reminding us that this was a high profile topic in 2019.  While companies continue to focus on COVID-19, industries that will be significantly impacted by new NAFTA provisions should have been actively planning for months, if not longer.  With just four months to the US election, it will be interesting to see what actions Donald Trump might take in an attempt to strengthen his position, given that his voters tend to respond well to a tone of putting other countries in their place.  Might we see tariffs or similar actions on the horizon?

And finally, the launch of the Atlantic travel bubble was met with long lineups and who can blame them?  In what is one of Canada’s most beautiful regions, this approach provides an opportunity for some much needed relief for local travel and tourism industries.  I am fortunate to spend time in Nova Scotia on a regular basis and can attest to the many things to see and do in Atlantic Canada; I hope that I will be able to travel to the Coast again soon!  In the meantime, I hope that local residents have a chance to visit friends and relatives or a place that they’ve been wanting to see or revisit for years.  These are the days to do just that; let’s make them good!

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Thanks for watching and see you again soon, CBC!

MEDIA: So Many Questions, As the COVID-19 Commercial Rent Program is Extended

Pleased to chat with the Ottawa Bureau of The Canadian Press about the extension of the Canada Emergency Commercial Rent Assistance (CECRA) program.  Next to payroll, the most significant item for a company to fund is often its premises, be it by way of rent or a mortgage.  Whatever the structure, both of these represent cash outlays for a business.

COVID-19 has resulted in significant revenue declines for many, if not most companies; some have lost a relatively moderate percentage of income (say, 25%), while others have faced declines of 50% to 100%, in some cases.  Although wage subsidy programs have helped to retain staff, fixed expenses (including rent) represent a steep funding challenge for many small businesses.

CECRA’s structure requires landlords to apply, leaving many tenants in a tenuous and uncertain situation.  In the event that their landlord does not apply, for whatever reason, tenants may be left with some very difficult decisions to make about the future feasibility of their company.

An important question to consider is this: Who benefits when businesses are forced to close, simply because they are unable to cover all of their expenses due to the impact of a global pandemic?  Recognize that these unusual days will not last forever, and in the context of a company’s existence, may represent a short period of time.

When businesses fail, jobs and economic wealth are lost and their leased premises are left empty; this leaves landlords with rental spaces to fill, at the worst of times.  Financial partners who hold a mortgage on these properties might find their borrowers in a weakened financial position or in default, at which point, another important question comes to mind: Now what?

This is why the structure of these programs, in practical terms, is so important.  With what seems to be relatively low uptake of the CECRA program thus far, did the Federal government get it right?  Are landlords thinking carefully about the implications of not applying to the Program?  And where will the future of Canada’s small business community, the backbone of our economy, be left in all of this?

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

How fortunate am I to enjoy another Saturday morning, live, on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel; this time, alongside Elmer Kim, Dennis Mitchell, and John Northcott.

On a busy news week, as we approach the mid-point of 2020, here’s some of what we discussed:

  • Travel bubbles and opening up the economy As Atlantic Canada launches its new travel bubble and provinces take their next steps to open up their economies, what can we expect to see and experience?  Will tourism and hospitality finally catch a much needed break (as in, some good news)?
  • Airlines bring back the middle seat.  It’s no secret that airlines have been highly impacted by COVID19, with travel down almost 100% in some cases.  As Canada’s airlines seek to increase capacity, will travelers be on board?
  • A new fund promoting diversity.  A group of Black executives is launching a new fund to invest in Black-led companies.  As we take a first look, how can this approach impact diversity going forward?

Canadians are certainly feeling restless, with much of our communities and local economies having been locked down for months.  As COVID19 rates stabilize, an opportunity exists to re-open parts of Canada; a new example being the travel bubble in Atlantic Canada (count me in!).  As tourism and hospitality have suffered immensely, locales with well managed COVID19 rates represent an opportunity to bring much needed traffic to these industries, in a manner in which travelers feel comfortable; this is key.  I will be watching this coastal bubble very closely, with fingers crossed for good news and results, in terms of both business recovery and COVID19 rates that stay under control.

Speaking of travel, Westjet and Air Canada recently announced that they will be ending the middle seat moratorium in order to increase capacity on flights (I’m sure that a lot of travelers were hoping that these seats would be permanently removed, but that’s another discussion).  Part of the rationale relates to travelers being subject to temperature checks and masks, as well as the enhanced aircraft cleaning and reduced food service on board.  Everything I have seen or read in recent months indicates that air travel levels are down by as much as 98%, year over year, with current activity remaining slow.  I can’t help but wonder why this move is desirable for all flights, as an absence of consumer confidence will not fill airplanes.  Couple this with the nostalgia of Summer road trips, RV’s, and drive ins, suggesting that Canadians have an interest in trying something new (old, actually) over the next couple of months; it’s back to the future, for some of us!

Diversity has made news on a global level in recent months, particularly in terms of the stories coming out of the United States involving racism against members of the Black community.  The launch of the Black Opportunity Fund, investing in Black-led companies, is an important development for Canada and has the potential to help grow a sector of the economy that has been relatively overlooked.  Diversity is an issue of importance across many groups, and we all have a role to play in combating systemic bias; are you doing your part?

It’s a privilege to bring the week in business news to our audience across Canada and streaming globally.  Thanks for watching and see you again, soon, CBC!

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

Pleased to join John Northcott and Elmer Kim for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, talking business in times of COVID19.

 

Our world has been living with COVID19 for much of 2020; here in Canada, the impact has been felt for months, as our communities and businesses have been essentially closed.  Here are some impacts:

  • Ongoing retail woes, with store closures, layoffs, and bankruptcy or creditor protection filings from various companies, including Victoria’s Secret, Bath and Body Works, Reitmans, J Crew, Hertz, and Neiman Marcus.  Although some retailers have been in a weak market position prior to COVID19, the closures in this sector only reinforce how difficult it is to remain connected with customers and the extent to which online shopping and service (or lack thereof) can impact a company’s market presence.  The significant decline in sales foreshadows what we can expect to see in the coming months, as the most recent numbers pertain to March (a decline of about 10%), which only reflects a portion of the true impact.
  • Support for big business, with the announcement of the Large Employer Emergency Financing Facility (LEEFF), companies in need can apply to this “lender of last resort” program.  Although interest rates are relatively low, companies will have to comply with additional provisions, such as issuing warrants to purchase shares, adhering to executive pay caps, and providing the Government with observer status on the board of directors.  Although some might complain, in context, these provisions are not that unusual, given the level of risk.  It will be interesting to see the extent to which large companies (who are also large employers) access this program.
  • Re-opening with green in mind, as in excess of 150 companies have signed a statement supporting the future of business being in alignment with climate action.  Given the positive environmental impact that has been observed in recent months, as much of our world has been shut down for a period of time, it’s easy to understand the desire to capitalize on this situation.  Not sure there’s been much of a difference?  Have a look.  What new ideas and business practices might emerge from this movement and how sustainable will they be?

In the weeks ahead, I will be watching the level of progress that is made as communities re-open.  What will happen to COVID19 rates?  Will communities be able to move forward with the next stages of reopening or will they be forced to backtrack?  What changes will companies make to their business models?  How will consumer confidence levels be impacted?  How many companies will find that they do not have a way forward?

Thank you for watching and a special thanks to everyone who has been in touch to share their thoughts about the challenges that the business world is facing, their ideas and experiences, and support of our work.  It matters a great deal that you are thinking about your community and asking: what is working well, where are there challenges, and where do we need to know more in order to make good decisions.  In these days like no other, we can collaborate, we can care about companies in our community, as well as our families and friends, and, yes, we can be kind.

MEDIA: Will There Ever be a Right Time to Re-Open the Economy? (CJAD 800 AM)

As communities begin to consider relaxing some of the physical distancing and related COVID-19 provisions, it was my pleasure to discuss this area on The Natasha Hall Show on CJAD 800 AM Radio (Montreal). These decisions are certainly difficult for governments, but also bring some significant challenges for businesses:

  • Safety first.  At a baseline, work and customer spaces must be safe and clean for everyone, to a level that generally exceeds anything we have seen in the past.  Business leaders already have a considerable amount of work to do in order to manage their company; now, a complex health and cleanliness regime must be developed, implemented, and maintained.
  • Ducks in line.  Companies may have utilized a given organizational structure for years; think manufacturing environments, comprised of people, equipment, and materials, all in limited space.  This is brought to life through operating systems, processes, and tactics, resulting in a workflow that should generate consistent results.  In times of COVID-19, many things may have to change in this regard, requiring business leaders to re-organize plant layouts and get the job done with limited staff.
  • Tell all.  If most misunderstandings can be tied to poor communication, these days require information sharing in abundance; with clarity, confidence, and full consideration of the challenge at hand.  This isn’t just the case for orienting staff members, but also for customers (think about the last time you went to the grocery store; how many new logistical rules did you have to learn?).  Effective communication in challenging times requires a significant amount of thought and effort to get to the necessary level of clarity (think about all of the new rules that didn’t make sense to you).
  • Money matters.  Much could be said on this topic; here’s one thought: consider the financial impact that all of these changes might have on a company’s pricing strategy.  Factories operating at half of their regular staffing level might take longer to produce items.  Stores or services with reduced customer traffic might sell less.  Manufacturers that have difficulty procuring raw materials might see their costs rise, resulting in price increases.  In times of rising prices, customers may shop less frequently, impacting the pace of economic recovery.

Are business leaders prepared for these challenges?

We do not know what these days will bring, in terms of how quickly our local economies will re-open and how much activity they will generate.  What we do know is that these are really important decisions, as our communities cannot afford to cycle backwards.  You can listen to our conversation here, with my thanks to Natasha Hall!

MEDIA: Will COVID19 Change the Way We Do Business in the Future? (CJAD 800 AM)

Pleased to join Natasha Hall of CJAD 800 AM radio (Montreal) to discuss recent COVID19 developments and how it might change the way we do business in the future.  As business leaders and their staff members scramble to deal with the current challenge, it is an interesting question to consider what this experience might mean for the future.  Will work ever be the same again, or is the world of business forever changed?

Consider a few simple examples:

  • The “office job”, could lend itself well to working on a remote basis; but is it that simple?  Anyone who has managed a staff group remotely, such as in a different geographic location, can appreciate just how much this differs from managing a team that is under the same roof.  What are some areas that need to be addressed in order to do this effectively?
  • The “service job”, which could include a wide range of companies, such as wellness, food, and household services.  Many of these require interaction on a personal level, such as visiting a hair stylist, repair shop, or tailor, but will these companies face higher standards in the future, such as in terms of cleanliness and service delivery guidelines?  How will this impact how a business is managed?
  • The “user experience”, such as transportation, hospitality, and events.  Most of us are familiar with what it’s like to travel on a crowded plane, train, or bus or to spend time in a restaurant, hotel, or entertainment venue.  Will “personal space” or cleaning requirements change?  What could this mean for a company’s cost structure and viability going forward?

There are certainly some interesting areas to consider, that meet at the intersection of a company, its management, and customer/client base.  Given the experience of COVID19, it stands to reason that there will be an additional factor that could play a significant role: the notion of space, designed to protect people from that which could hurt them.  In this case, it’s protection from a global virus without a cure, one that has kept people isolated worldwide for weeks, months, maybe longer.

So, will COVID19 change the way that we do business in the future?  You can listen to our conversation here; with my thanks to Natasha Hall!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Viewer Q & A (Business in Times of COVID19)

Pleased to join Elmer Kim and Michael Serapio of CBC News Network to answer viewer questions about business in times of COVID19.


These are difficult times for business leaders, and although numerous support programs have been announced, it can be challenging to understand the details and implications.  Here are a few things to keep in mind as we continue to navigate through this unprecedented period:

  • Accept the fact that these are challenging days.  The Federal and Provincial governments have released a lot of information about programs to help business and individuals; this can be overwhelming.  Try to focus in on the areas that pertain to your situation, “one bite at a time”.  As questions arise, be sure to write them down so that you have a record at hand of areas that you want to discuss and clarify.
  • Connect with others.  Remember that a local, national, and global business community is going through the challenges of COVID19; you are not alone and do not have to navigate through this in isolation (OK, you might be in your house, but you can still connect with others).  Reach out to business owners, industry and professional associations, and advisors for help, as they can bring meaningful context and answers (strength in numbers is a good thing).
  • Speak up when overlooked.  If you feel that your situation is not being addressed by the current support programs, contact your MP and government to voice your concerns.  Do not assume that they understand what it is like to be in business or how/why a gap in support programs is a problem; be prepared to spell it out, in plain language and with examples (quantifying the financial and job implications can be particularly helpful).
  • Expect more to come.  These are fluid times, and although each day might seem like a month or longer, governments are moving rapidly to help Canadians.  We have seen support programs unfold on a daily and weekly basis, and although a good foundation is in place, there is more to do (areas that come to mind include addressing gaps in the areas of very small businesses, the self-employed, and mandating financial institutions to provide payment deferrals more broadly).  This is why it is so important to speak up about gaps and shortfalls in the system.
  • Look for opportunities to reinvent.  Turbulent times bring opportunity, as the shell of yesterday breaks open to reveal a new tomorrow.  What could this mean for your business, in the present and future?  Look to companies who have already started to do this, such as manufacturers who have adapted and retooled to produce what is desperately needed in this moment, and then, look beyond that.  Companies are using this time to consider the new path forward; advisors can help.

It’s my pleasure to answer your questions; keep them coming and hopefully we can chat again soon.  In the meantime, stay well and look for the silver linings in your world.