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

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

On tap for our discussion:

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

MEDIA: Celebrating 2 Years on CBC News Network!

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

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

 

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

Summer days also mean studio days for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Sherena Hussain and Janet Stewart.  On a personal note, it was great to get a chance to work with Janet, who I know as the anchor of CBC News in Winnipeg!

There are so many stories we could have discussed on what was a busy and varied news week; here’s what we covered:

Facebook’s $5 Billion Fine.  Federal regulators have fined Facebook $5 Billion for US privacy violations.  What are the implications for the company, in what has become an ongoing saga of operational problems?

Boeing’s Max Mess.  Boeing is considering pausing production of its troubled 737 Max jets after two devastating crashes, a lengthy “fix” process, and public concerns.  With the grounding impacting airlines and ongoing regulatory scrutiny, can the Max’s reputation be salvaged?

When Inspired Honey Hits the Shelves.  Investigations by the Canadian Food Inspection Agency have found that some products that claim to be honey are anything but.  What should consumers do when shopping for food items and is there an even broader impact?

Although some have shown little concern about the magnitude of Facebook’s recent fine, there’s no denying that $5 Billion is a massive amount of money.  Given the many shortfalls that have been observed over the last few years, including in terms of privacy, security, unintended use of subscriber data, and questionable content, there should be significant concern over the potential for additional financial penalties that could be in store for Facebook.

It’s critical that the company put fundamental systems and processes in place to proactively combat threats and mitigate risk, and although new compliance measures require certification from Facebook’s CEO, the strength of such obligations tends to be related to the person who signs.  To this end, executives must have a full appreciation of the serious nature that certification entails, and not fall into the category of those who sign their name with little recognition of the magnitude and consequences.  Many will be watching this next chapter very closely, including regulators.

First and foremost, the story of the Boeing 737 Max is a tragedy, with two horrific crashes and the loss of hundreds of lives.  Couple this with a relatively slow response from Boeing to ground the planes, criticism and concern from pilots, lawsuits from victims’ families, and a significant financial and operational impact to airlines and there’s not denying that a crisis is at hand.

Companies in this type of industry must always be mindful of the high degree of attention that must be paid to areas such as design, testing, training, and communication.  In the event that there proves to have been weaknesses in these areas and others, Boeing must take steps to fully review what was behind this disaster, and resolving it should start at the leadership level.  Consumers have their eye on the Max; how many would trust this technology enough to get on board again?

It’s certainly disturbing when a food item turns out to be something other than what was expected; this is just what has occurred with some products labeled as honey.  Besides the obvious risk and unfairness to consumers, this scenario also impacts companies that are producing and selling quality products in an honest manner, as doing so tends to be more expensive than items that are “watered down” or laced with cheaper inputs.

There is no excuse for companies incorporating additives into a food item that is being represented as pure or of superior quality; how dangerous it is to have such products in Canada’s food supply.  Although shoppers have a job to do when it comes to reading labels, the onus is on companies to be truthful about their products; regulators must also take steps to ensure that standards are in place to protect consumers, as well as a robust enforcement regime.  There is no place for dishonest, fraudulent, or low quality food products in Canada, period.

These are serious topics, but there was a moment to smile.  The reason?  Watch the archived version and find out why!

 

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

In studio this past weekend for a fun CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Sherena Hussain and Jacqueline Hansen.  With a city and country still reeling from the Toronto Raptors’ big win, we couldn’t help but start our conversation there.

  • Raptors (and businesses) win bigWith all of the excitement around the Raptors’ playoff run and championship win, many restaurants and businesses hosted events and shared in the fun.  What’s the financial impact and will it last?
  • Mountain Equipment Co-Op and “the Pink Tax”.  MEC faced a social media backlash when two similar items had a price difference, with shoppers having to pay more for “the women’s version”.  Is this an example of the Pink Tax and what are the implications for companies in this situation?
  • Beyond Meat’s Big Deal.  Tim Hortons introduced Beyond Meat products in their 4,000 locations across Canada this week; what does this say about the company and customer preferences?

There’s no denying that the Raptors’ playoff run caught the attention of local fans and those across Canada, including many who do not follow basketball on a regular basis.  I would be remiss to not mention the beautiful diversity story that this fan base represents, including people from every walk of life, so uniquely Canadian.

It’s true that much of the game day spending, such as visiting restaurants and attending games, is event specific, however, when a team is able to expand its fan base, it can create benefits in the future.  I was fortunate to be around the corner from Jurassic Park Halifax the night of Game 6, watching fans arrive on foot from every direction to cheer on their team.  Shout out to those who arranged these events, providing Raptors enthusiasts in Halifax with a venue to share in the fun.

MEC’s situation with the Pink Tax is a good reminder of the importance of a well managed system for procurement, production, and pricing, so that problems like this do not occur.  Production costs can differ, however, it is important to have a good understanding of costs and pricing in advance, to ensure that parity and reasonableness exist across a company’s product line.  And as for the Pink Tax generally, it does exist, with studies indicating that women pay in excess of $1,000 more annually than men for similar products.  Companies need to make a dedicated effort to eliminate this inequity; how about a diversity officer who is responsible for pricing parity and fairness?

And finally, as Beyond Meat continues to expand its distribution, management is, again, a key issue.  Strong systems in the areas of supply chain, production, and logistics are critical, to ensure that customers (and their customers) are not disappointed by a lack of supply.  New products can be in demand in the early days, but generating sustainable interest is something quite different.  We’ll see where Beyond Meat’s story goes from here.

As I mark my 20th appearance on the Biz Panel, a special thanks to everyone who has supported and helped with my segments on CBC News Network, especially those behind the scenes.  On a personal note, it was especially fun to have my dog, Laci, walk me to work!

 

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

My long weekend involved time in studio for the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Elmer Kim and Natasha Fatah.

It was such a busy week, beginning with Westjet’s news of potential acquisition by Onex, soon followed by Air Canada entering talks to acquire Air Transat. We didn’t even get around to chatting about that, and instead, focused on these stories:

Here’s a quick take.  There’s no doubt that tariffs on steel and aluminum that were imposed on Canada by the US for so called “national security” reasons have been harmful.  Once faced with these tariffs, Canada imposed its own retaliatory levies soon after, and this challenging environment was in place for almost one year.  Although the White House has taken the position that tariffs are helpful, not harmful (albeit through a series of tweets), the bottom line is that companies that utilize steel or aluminum are left with higher input costs, which decreases margins and typically results in higher prices.  This situation can create a domino effect, where products become less competitive, sales decline, jobs are lost, investment activity declines, and consumer spending, in time, is negatively impacted.  Going forward, removal of the tariffs will hopefully refuel business investment that was delayed or lost, and provisions to combat steel imports from other countries with unreasonably low prices (aka “dumping”) should set the stage for a return to a more favourable marketplace.  Regardless, it’s good news for business, employees, and consumers.

It’s concerning when a communication app that is supposed to be secure gets hacked, and that’s what happened with WhatsApp.  As the speculation around who was responsible and why this occurred continues, it’s a good reminder that device security starts with users and we need to pay timely attention to updates and notification of security breaches.  It seems that hackers are always a step or two ahead of technology security, and it makes me wonder just what these hackers were seeking.  As a Facebook company, this is yet another security/privacy related story, and although hacking isn’t something that can be blamed on anyone other that the hacker, there are undoubtedly implications for the provider.  As has been noted numerous times, Facebook needs to ensure that users are protected through a better regime of fundamental business practices and systems across a range of areas, as the threat of hacking and security breaches are a given in the tech industry.

And finally, cattle producers sought protection of the definition of “meat”, as the popular Beyond Meat referred to its product as “plant-based meat” (which leaves me wondering “are they or aren’t they?”).  As Beyond Meat continues to experience rapid growth, producers should be looking carefully at their own business, as it’s yet another to experience significant change, as has been the case with so many others.  It’s interesting how what is essentially a technology development is poised to take such a big bite out of a traditional industry.

That’s a wrap!  See you next time, CBC.

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: 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: 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!