in Waterloo

A talk on business productivity

Yesterday I had the oppertunity to participate (a little) on a panel hosted at the Accelerator Centre that was to talk about the opportunities for Canadian Businesses to boost their productivity. Other panel members were:

  • Dr. Sherry Cooper, Chief Economist, BMO Capital Markets
  • Tom Jenkins, Executive Chair and Chief Strategy Officer, Open Text
  • Paul Summers, Chairman and Chief Executive Officer, Clemmer SteelCraft Technologies Incorporated
  • Mike Klopchic, District Vice President, BMO Bank of Montreal
  • Moderator: Iain Klugman, Chief Executive Officer, Communitech

The discussion was opened by a report from Dr. Sherry Cooper that covers the very high view of productivity and opportunity in Canada. Essentially we have closed the gap or are leading in most categories over the US but productivity is low (or measured in a way that makes it seem low). From the discussion an important bit of information was brought up that essentially said the numbers are deceiving because the way it is measured is likely skewed by combination of things like the rising Canadian dollar.

Fascinating stuff. Encouraging stuff. Dr. Cooper sees Canada in an extremely strong position economically for a number of reasons ranging from having the strongest banking system to having had only a mild recession compared to everyone else. A position it arguably has never seen itself in before.

We have some weaknesses however: attracting, retaining, and building talent.

Tom Jenkins brought the discussion to investing in people, the number of positions open locally, and the importance of that. Paul Summers (a very interesting and understated local business leader) made the point that he has ~350 staff, most of their business is in the US, and just in time manufacturing is difficult when all your product has to cross the Peace Bridge. He believes the talent is here, equipment is a minor expense, and overall he weathered the recession quite well.

My contribution: Waterloo has the talent at the University but everyone else knows it. Getting those students engaged locally is key and that is where VeloCity fits. A point I didn’t bring up is that the same talent Tom Jenkins is trying to bring to Open Text is attracted to a lot of the same things the students are: local culture, more urbanized environments, social life, etc. The other thing students and professionals are interested in is something Dr. Cooper mentioned as a strength the US has — specialized economic zones that are full of opportunity in a general professional area. The opportunity in those areas is that people can switch jobs, build expertise, and spread knowledge throughout the area without having to uproot everything.

What I think? Investment in productivity is less about the organization and more about the community. Invest in the infrastructure, build strong economic cores, and highlight diverse cultural development on the local level.

I didn’t contribute a lot to the talk. Four opinionated people with two extremely high level people amongst them with only an hour is hardly a place to get into a deep conversation where I might get more than my 0.02 into. However I think it was great of Dr. Sherry Cooper to take the time to explain her vision of the state of Canada and Tom Jenkins for defending the Canadian work ethic and way of life.

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