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.

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

Launching the home studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel in times of COVID19, alongside Elmer Kim and John Northcott.  Our segment was devoted to business as COVID19 unfolds, including record unemployment levels, government support programs, and the struggling oil sector.

As developments in this area are rapidly unfolding, a few quick thoughts based on where we are at today:

  • Unprecedented unemployment levels.  Expect to see unemployment levels continue to increase, offset by programs that provide the opportunity for employers to retain staff (such as the Canadian Emergency Wage Subsidy).  Having said that, the bottom line is that a significant portion of Canada’s workforce isn’t working and may not be for some time, including those who are unemployed, being retained through government programs, or are underemployed due to working less.  Maintaining connection to the workforce is critical for employers, employees, and self-employed people.
  • Self-employment support shortfalls.  Under the current income support programs, it appears that self-employed people only qualify for the Canadian Emergency Response Benefit (maximum of $2,000 per month).  Many self-employed people who work on a full time basis earn far in excess of $2,000 monthly, representing a significant and urgent support gap.  Those who are working, but earning less due to customer and client circumstances, should be compensated in a manner that brings income up to at least the support level, as opposed to having to cease work in order to collect.
  • A loan is a loan.  Although there is certainly a place for loan programs as part of COVID19 support, it is important to remember that loans must be repaid, even if the interest rate is zero and a portion could be forgiven.  Loan repayment is dependent upon cash flow, something that companies may or may not have in the future.  It is important to remember that loan programs should not be a substitute for supports that address current income and cashflow needs, such as a wage replacement.
  • Upping the banks’ ante.  Thus far, the Federal government and banks have indicated that processes have been put in place to help customers “on a case by case basis”, in terms of areas such as loan payment deferrals.  Feedback has been reported as mixed at best, and given the risk averse nature of financial institutions generally, more needs to be done to provide broad-based relief, which could be achieved through a government mandate or similar measures.  The bottom line: financial institutions are living in a COVID19 world, whether they like it or not, and if sufficient actions are not taken now to assist people and businesses with their immediate cashflow needs, expect future default levels to be widespread.

On a lighter note, this was my first opportunity to be part of CBC News Network’s world-wide streaming from my home studio.  My director was watching every moment of it; how fortunate am I?  See you again very soon, CBC!

 

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!

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!