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

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

Here are some quick thoughts on our discussion.

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

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

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

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

MEDIA: Celebrating 3 Years on CBC News Network!

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

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

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

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

 

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

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

Here’s a few thoughts on our discussion.

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

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

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

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Thanks for watching and see you again soon, CBC!

MEDIA: 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: 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!