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.

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!