MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (February, 2024)

It’s Super Bowl Weekend on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Jeanhy Shim, Christian Bravo, and Marianne Dimain talking another round of layoffs at Bell Media, Google’s AI chatbot, Gemini, coming to Canada, and, of course, those commercials that Canadians won’t be seeing during the big game on Sunday.  You can watch the Weekend Business Panel on Saturday mornings at around 10:15 AM ET on CBC News Network.

This week’s Business Advisor Highlight:

The importance of the female consumer demographic has long been known as highly lucrative, in that women have significant influence in a wide range of buying decisions, including in the areas of housing, vehicles, travel, consumer goods, groceries, anything and everything related to children, and more.  Not only do women have significant influence in this regard within a family unit, single women are also a very powerful demographic.  Over the years, numerous consumer research studies have reported these findings.

Which makes it more than a little ironic that it took a well known celebrity attending a handful of football games for some brands to decide to advertise during the Super Bowl (you guessed it), targeting women.  This, in concert with obvious efforts on the part of the NFL and its broadcast partners to utilize Taylor Swift’s attendance to increase viewership numbers (anyone who has watched sports for a long period of time will understand why this is so evident).

Millions of women have watched football for decades (myself included), however, it took the attendance of one popular female celebrity for this large audience to be of relevance.  Really?  And, yes, women do buy more than makeup!

Brands need to ensure that they understand their target market, in various respects, including size, trends, and the key aspects of decision making and influence in order to develop strategies to reach potential consumers.  From what we’ve seen here, it appears that the lucrative female football-viewing market has been poorly recognized until now.

Thanks for watching, and see you next time!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (July, 2023)

Extremely busy news week on the Canada Day edition of the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Mark Warner, Elmer Kim, and Hillary Johnstone, talking the lack of grocery competition in Canada, cyber attacks, and the latest economic numbers; you can watch our segment here.

Some thoughts on our discussion.  Canadians might think they have a range of grocery shopping alternatives, but a closer look indicates that most familiar brands are owned by a few large players (think Loblaw, Sobeys, and Metro).  The latest Competition Bureau report addresses this situation, with a number of important considerations for improvement, as well as some thoughts on the challenges of increasing the number of players.  Shining a light on the lack of competition comes at a time when Canadians may well be feeling sour on this topic, with reports of record profits and executives seeking compensation package increases.  In addition, consumers are undoubtedly already experiencing budgetary challenges, as inflation and interest rates have risen over the past year.  Although mandatory unit prices and better transparency at the consumer level can be helpful, the challenges of attracting foreign players are of note; these may include addressing bilingual and metric packaging requirements, as well as identifying the right business model.  Numerous retailers from other countries have found out the hard way that the Canadian marketplace has specific requirements (Target and Nordstrom come to mind) and it can also be difficult for smaller players to make an impact.  What happens next in this respect is anyone’s guess; a closer eye from regulators/consumer protection agencies could be an opportunity for a meaningful step, especially when it comes to addressing any bad behavior.

Many established companies and organizations have been impacted by cyber attacks, with Indigo and Petro Canada being a couple of the latest.  Businesses of all sizes need to consider the impact of this unpredictable and damaging situation, as the ramifications can be significant, including lengthy downtimes and expensive resolution paths.  Business leaders should be asking themselves a number of questions in terms of their company’s level of preparedness, including:

  • Has the company engaged a qualified information technology advisor to address this issue?
  • Is a comprehensive security plan in place?
  • Are staff members sufficiently trained?
  • Has the company explored and obtained cyber event/business continuity insurance coverage?
  • Does the company’s leadership understand what is covered by insurance and what the risks are?
  • Is the company’s security plan reviewed on a regular basis?
  • What business continuity plans are in place, in the event of a cyber attack, including in terms of customer communications?

The reality is that many companies are not well prepared in this regard, be it due to a lack of understanding of this complex issue or qualified advice, as well as the fast pace at which risks emerge.

In terms of recent economic news, modest growth over the past couple of months has Canada moving in the right direction.  As indicated on previous Business Panels, progress will not happen in a straight line, but points in time should be taken as information, paying close attention to any trends that may become apparent.  In my view, this is a good time for the Bank of Canada to pause on interest rate increases, so as to not “oversteer” on the road to recovery.  Business leaders continue to deal with many front line challenges, and a balanced approach is better than upheaval (even when unintended).

A Happy Canada Day to all of our viewers, and thank you for watching!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (June, 2023)

Another busy week on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Mark Warner, Michael Hyatt, and Natalie Kalata, talking concerns about artificial intelligence, Air Canada pilots taking early steps to negotiate their next labour agreement, and BMO’s acquisition of Air Miles.  You can watch our segment here.  Some thoughts on our discussion.

Various science, academic, and technology leaders issued a warning about artificial intelligence (AI) and its potential to harm humankind with the following statement: “mitigating the risk of extinction from AI should be a global priority alongside other societal-scale risks such as pandemics and nuclear war”.  This has resulted in discussion about how AI could harm the public (such as through disinformation and privacy issues) and has raised questions about what should be done.  In general terms, it stands to reason that since parties/companies that develop and commercialize products (including technologies) tend to benefit financially (sometimes, quite significantly), they should also play a role in addressing any negative impacts.  This is analogous to issues such as pollution and the downside of social media, for example, something that has been unaddressed for too long.  It is not sufficient to engage solely in “finger pointing”, typically at government, for an ineffective regulatory environment (or none at all); rather, industry has a key role to play in identifying, assessing, managing, and mitigating risks, given that they have the expertise to do so.  Further, no one benefits from an industry that causes significant harm and there is a responsibility to ensure that this doesn’t occur.

As Air Canada’s pilots opt to pull out of the existing labour agreement early to commence the bargaining process (perhaps, in the Summer of 2023, with the current contract set to expire this September), travelers are likely on edge, particularly given the fallout from the recent near-strike at Westjet.  The unfortunate truth is that Canadian travelers are in a less than ideal position, given the very limited airline options in this country.  Speaking as one of the many travelers impacted by the Westjet strike, despite being told that the flight would not be cancelled due to the labour dispute (false), there is no sufficient compensation when life events are missed, often accompanied by significant frustration and disappointment.  Reviewing the communications by the company, the lack of customer focus is obvious, with commentary priorities being primarily Westjet and its pilots.  At its core, these situations are internal human resource matters, and in a typical competitive marketplace, companies don’t survive for long if customers are not their top priority.  Customers simply want to receive what they purchased, with reasonable quality and in a reliable manner; this is not too much to ask.

BMO Financial Group announced its acquisition of the defunct Air Miles rewards program, indicating that improvements are on the way.  Given the many rewards program options available to consumers, it is likely that people select the ones that best meet their needs and bypass the rest, setting the stage for an uphill battle to reinvent Air Miles.  There is also a need to attract more vendors to participate, and companies are only likely to do so if they see a meaningful opportunity to increase business.  Will have to wait and see what BMO has in store and whether or not consumers and vendors will engage.

And, finally, it was my pleasure to join the Biz Panel from beautiful Nova Scotia once again, albeit in the face of difficult times for many, given the devastating forest fires.  Being in proximity to two forest fires has certainly been concerning, and I have been thinking about those who have been impacted over the past week.  Sincere thanks to all those who have been working so hard to keep our communities safe.

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (February, 2023)

Pleased to join the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Mark Warner and Hillary Johnstone, talking high grocery prices, the US Federal Reserve interest rate increase, and ChatGPT’s subscription plans; you can watch our segment here.

Some thoughts on our discussion.

It’s no secret that rising prices have been challenging for consumers in recent months, especially at the grocery store.  And now that price freezes have concluded, many consumers are wondering when they might see some relief.  Although inflation rates have declined in recent months, it is expected to be a while before “near normal” levels will occur, which means that shoppers have a need to keep time tested advice in mind: make a list, be flexible in choices, focus on buying what is needed, and shop around.  As the Summer months near, we will see some additional produce choices in the marketplace, which could be helpful.  Having said that, it isn’t too late to start your own garden preparations, as seed displays begin to appear in stores!

Speaking of inflation, the US Federal Reserve slightly raised interest rates this past week, but unlike Canada, did not indicate a pause in rate hikes.  Although our countries are closely connected, in terms of business relationships and trade, there is something to be said for stepping back to observe how rate increases impact not only the economy, but also companies.  Business owners deal with a tremendous amount of practical, real world challenges on the front lines of their company on a daily basis.  Although inflation also affects companies, in terms of the goods/supplies that they purchase, they are also impacted by rising labour costs and interest rates, by way of debt and financing obligations.  It is important to balance increasing rates to combat inflation with adverse impacts to business in other areas, keeping in mind that the implications are often not immediate and there is a danger in “oversteering”.

And, finally, as ChatGPT continues to attract attention, will it be able to access subscriber money, to the tune of $20 USD per month?  There is a need for people and technology to work together to be more productive, in terms of business applications, however, as consumers choose carefully about where to spend their money in challenging economic times, paid subscribers may be elusive over the longterm (building a sustainable customer base is so important for companies!).  This technology has some applications, however, expect a number of real life stakeholders (such as those in the business world) to require more robust solutions.

Thanks for watching and see you again next time!

MEDIA: CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel (November, 2022)

Another busy week on the CBC News Network Weekend Business Panel, alongside Jeanhy Shim and John Northcott, talking layoffs at Meta, the collapse of crypto platform FTX, increasing financial strain, and more; watch our segment here.


Some thoughts on our conversation.

Although businesses with emerging ideas can be exciting places to be, one of the challenges is that the plan to make these ideas a reality is not always as well developed as it should be.  When opportunity appears, growth companies have a tendency to put resources to work first, which could include hiring people without fully understanding the necessary roles, skillset, and quantity, as well as allocating funds to a range of areas.  Before long, a lot of money could be spent, and without sound project management, these initiatives tend to drift and may not fulfill what was initially envisioned; they can also run well behind expected timelines.  A company’s core business can also suffer, while focus and resources are allocated elsewhere, resulting in problems in various areas.  These situations can “snowball” and become quite significant,

Some might think that this scenario would primarily occur in smaller businesses, however, this can happen in any size of company, where growth gets ahead of good planning (analogous to the cart before the horse).  The Meta layoffs raise the question of how well the “metaverse” plan was established, resourced, and managed, and also brings to mind the importance of market timing, in terms of the extent to which consumers are ready for what companies develop or are planning to bring to the marketplace.

The FTX collapse is a reminder that the crypto sector is one of high risk and brings to mind the pitfall of thinking that all companies associated with a novel business category are “winners” (examples of this were also seen in industries such as technology and the internet).  High risk businesses include those that have a limited track record, weaknesses in areas such as governance and oversight, and thin business models; they also tend to have people in leadership roles with limited experience.  This story is a reminder to keep risk considerations in check, especially in those “seems too good to be true” situations.

And, finally, as inflation rates remain high and interest rates continue to rise, there is no doubt that Canadians are feeling the stress of the situation.  Over the past couple of years, a drive around many communities is all that was needed to recognize empty office spaces and companies that were no longer in business; this includes job losses.  Despite a tight labour market, moving one displaced employee to a vacant job is not always feasible, making solvency difficult for some Canadians.  It is important to recognize that, like COVID, our economy may not reach brighter days for a while, despite our best hopes.  This is an important area to continue to monitor, for consumers and businesses alike.

It was a pleasure to join this week’s Business Panel from beautiful Nova Scotia!  Thank you for watching and see you again soon.

At the Speed of Fright (I Mean, Light)

This article was published by CMC Canada.

The pace at which our world is evolving is one of those things that has become so common, we don’t always take the time to think about its impact.  Phones that are used to watch broadcast media, cars that don’t need gas or a driver to operate, personal “assistants” that can place orders on command, rockets that can essentially land themselves, mapping applications that make logistics a snap; these are phenomenal developments.  While these technologies and many others have made our lives easier, they have also presented significant challenges to the business community.  Consider the following:

  • Business model blow up.  The manner in which companies make money has changed dramatically in many cases, which cuts to the very heart of business; this is easily illustrated by the retail industry.  While stores used to be the primary shopping option, consumers now have access to a range of methods, including online, rapid delivery, subscription models, and mass media e-tailers.  Consumers have, in fact, come to demand these options, leaving companies to struggle to meet the pace of change, with many finding themselves in a too little, too late situation, unable to survive.  This disruption scenario is true in almost any industry.
  • Strategy break down.  In order to migrate a company through significant change, a key requirement is having a strategy that is proactive, comprehensive, and relevant.  These attributes are driven by having a thorough and timely understanding of the changes that are occurring in the external environment, including industry trends, technologies, and marketplace developments.  Too often, business leaders focus primarily on what’s occurring inside of their company, with a “they need us” mentality when it comes to customers.  This mindset is one that greatly jeopardizes the future of a company.
  • Resource reckoning.  New business models utilize resources differently; examples include the need for fewer people, different skillsets, roles that are held by technology, and utilizing strategic partnerships.  Each of these bring changes in workflow design, systems, processes, and costs (remember that costs directly impact pricing!).  Companies that do not proactively pursue the need to change how they work tend to get left behind at the worst of times, when more savvy competitors have implemented these methods, making it impossible for others to catch up and compete; which leads to this last point.
  • Financial shortfall.  Integral to a successful business is the ability to generate at least good financial performance (strong results are, of course, better), thereby creating the fuel to invest, grow, and sustain over the long term. When a company does not have the right business model, it isn’t in a position to build the appropriate strategies to utilize resources well and be competitive over the long term, which leads to poor financial results; it’s all connected.  Companies in this situation lack market relevance and are, too often, left without a future.  Think about what this means to a business leader who is depending on the transition of their company to someone else, as the basis to fund their retirement.

The reality is that many of the advancements that we live with today represent technologies that much of society could not have imagined even five years ago.  What will the next five years bring?  The next 10 years?  As technological advancement continues to accelerate, even the next two to three years will be highly significant.  Is your company ready to face this challenge?

Remember that challenge also brings opportunity, but only for those who are well positioned to approach it.  Learn more about the profound impact of disruption in the external environment, as well as how to take control and benefit from it by reading Defusing the Family Business Time Bomb.  The future of any company is based on its ability to continue to be relevant to the marketplace over the long term.  In today’s world, this is anything but a given.