If reputation is simply perception, does it really matter?

Reputation is essentially the sum of others’ perceptions. The nebulous and hard to measure nature of the asset leads many companies, particularly those with strong balance sheets and robust value propositions, to neglect investing in it. Tempting though it may be, there are many current examples of where indifference to the fundamentals of reputation has damaged individual companies before reverberating across entire industries.  For many years, Australia’s major banks accepted the post-GFC anti-bank zeitgeist as a phenomenon to be endured. Immensely profitable and consistently growing in value, the banks turned inward, focusing on their reputations in comparison to each other rather than on the industry as a whole.

As the decline of the sector’s reputation continued unabated, a perception began to build that the banks didn’t prioritise their customers, were run by ‘greedy’ executives and were uncompetitive. Reinforced by regulator interventions, a series of high profile scandals and a rising disparity between official and bank interest rates, the banking sector’s reputation continued to diminish.

Year after year, record bank profits further embedded negative perceptions of banks while removing incentives to address the industry-wide reputational crisis. Profits were on the rise, why change?  The government sensed this reputational vulnerability and brazenly announced a $6.2 billion levy on the banks in this year’s budget. Tellingly, in this age of hyper partisanship the levy received almost unanimous political support. All sides of politics were content to bask in the prestige of positioning themselves as punishers of the banks.

When corporate reputation is low, companies and even whole sectors of the economy become vulnerable – and few are more reputation conscious than politicians. Gaining prominence by coming down hard on a sector with an image problem is an effective way for a politician to improve his or her own reputational stocks. This reality is a serious concern for businesses. Governments have a long history of targeting organisations and industry sectors with poor reputations – often unfairly, and with potentially expensive and far reaching long-term consequences.

In 2014 the NSW government responded to public concerns about alcohol fuelled violence with legislation which dramatically reduced patronage of bars and clubs in Sydney and Kings Cross. The changes were rushed, and as a consequence many licensed venues with good compliance and safety records closed. Given the complex and multi-dimensional nature of the problem, many have identified the poor standing of bars and clubs as making them an easy target for a government keen to bolster its own reputation.

SenateSHJ’s Reputation Reality report found that corporate reputation may be an intangible concept, but senior executives appreciate it is a tangible asset. They recognise that reputation is a key component of their organisation’s success. Consequently, they are becoming more actively involved in building trust and putting systems in place to protect and reduce risks to their organisation’s reputation. As the examples cited demonstrate, this is rarely a straightforward proposition, and even the most sophisticated and well-resourced businesses and brands are not immune to missteps.

Over the years that SenateSHJ has worked with clients on reputation management, we have developed strategies and techniques which bring much needed order and clarity to the complex dynamics which feed into reputation. In our experience, starting simple is the best way to manage complex challenges and often brings other benefits. Stakeholder landscape mapping, for example, is a fundamental component of a reputation management strategy which many clients find provides invaluable strategic insights into their businesses.

If you haven’t already done so, take a step back and consider how your business is perceived. An interesting starting point is to empathise with the stakeholders who are not central to your business or organisation’s daily functions, but are familiar enough with what your organisation does to have a perception of it, and drill down from there. One thing is for certain: there are only upsides from gaining insight and understanding of your reputation and the reality.

Darren Behar is the Managing Partner of SenateSHJ in Australia.

Is governance training a must have for directors?

One common belief among people working their way into the boardroom is that they need governance training qualifications. While I don’t want to denigrate governance training courses or those who have qualifications, the notion they are a necessary prerequisite to landing a board role is, quite frankly, untrue. Before we talk about why governance training isn’t strictly necessary for would-be directors, let’s quickly bust myths around this belief.

Many believe that without a formal qualification they’ll be overlooked by boards. However, the reality is boards value expertize and experience over training. Out of our program faculty (all of whom are non-executive directors), fewer than half have governance training; likewise, of the people who go through our programs and land a board role, fewer than 20% have formal governance training.

Another misconception around the need for governance training is that without it you won’t have the financial and legal know-how to be effective. Of course, the need for this in the boardroom is vital, especially as it relates to your duties, but this can be learnt without going through formal training. Also, if you are a new director it’s highly unlikely you are being hired for your governance expertize.

What’s more important than this knowledge and anything you can glean from governance training is your experience, how you work with others and your ability to think independently, question, challenge and be held accountable.

Perhaps the reason that so many people go through governance training is because they believe it will allow them to easily find board work. However, these courses fail to offer advice and tips on how to follow through and land a board role or the soft skills needed to excel once you become a director. We believe it’s important to show people the practical steps they need to follow to land a board role, and the skills they’ll need to succeed.

We encourage directors to include training in their career plan but we also encourage them to educate themselves in a range of topics to be better governors; digital marketing, crisis management and cyber-security. As non-executive directors you will be presented with strategies in these areas and you need to ensure you can assess the risks and opportunities for your company and its stakeholders.

Again, none of this is to say that governance training courses offer no value. They do. It’s just they’ll do little to help you find a director position in the first place. We believe they offer more for people already on a board, being more practical and less theoretical. But before you’ve even set foot into the director space, governance training can be a little abstract.

My advice is to understand what governance training courses can do for you specifically. If you spend time on research and you deem it a necessary step, then by all means go ahead. But if you sign up to a governance training course – even a credible and reputable one – without knowing all the facts, then you may be about to spend a large amount of money on something that doesn’t offer much in return.

About Paul Smith, Co-founder & CEO of Future Directors Institute

Paul is a social entrepreneur and non-executive director with a passion for advancing diversity in the boardroom to improve social, economic and environmental outcomes. Utilised effectively, diversity and inclusion are powerful levers for driving more purposeful and ethical business practices and Paul is dedicated to helping leaders shape the future from the boardroom.

Future Directors was established to increase and develop the pipeline of next generation board directors. We help professionals at any stage of their journey, helping to define their goals, their unique value and ensuring they are committed and ready for the boardroom. We also help them understand what it takes to impact and influence as a future director. Since 2015, our award-winning programs have helped 500 on their board journeys.

Paul is Chair of a major NGO and involved in several global strategic committees. He is an advisor and mentor to several start-ups and co-founded a gin subscription business on the side. He splits his time between his home in New Zealand, Sydney and other Australian cities.

Customer journey & marketing automation – the benefits and challenges

Back in the early days of digital marketing, marketers performed the ritual of pulling down raw log files from servers to learn insights about where people came from, what pages they visited, what actions they performed and so on. While the rise of Google and various digital tools have helped us overcome such primitive problems, the challenges faced by marketers in today’s buyers landscape have changed a great deal.

Buyers today have more information than they can even use. They are followed by ads everywhere they go on the web. It is not enough for a business to have an online presence. To get enough leads to feed their sales funnel, they need to deliver relevant content to their target audience. moreover they need to build a relationship that the customer buys into. If businesses don’t want their marketing message to get lost or ignored in a sea of competitors, it needs to be authentic and more tailored and personal than ever before. Customers are seeing through the Blogger networks who post for $$.

To achieve this we need to begin with the customer Journey, understanding what is the process of engagement for our customers, across all off and online channels. Then we can understand the opportunities available to engage. While personalization is becoming essential to drive more sales, it is impossible to manually track down each visitor to a website, identifying them and then sending out relevant messages at a relevant time.

This is where marketing automation comes into picture. Marketing automation platforms, when fed with the right tasks and actions can increase lead generation by up to 5 times while decreasing the manual effort. Marketing automation lets companies achieve a host of different objectives ranging from generating more leads by identifying anonymous web visitors and capturing them with forms, to increasing number of qualified leads by nurturing all leads with personalized content, driving more sales by identifying sales-ready leads for the sales team, and helping them follow up as fast as possible, to improving up-selling and cross-selling by developing and retaining existing customers, and finally seeing a comprehensive ROI for every marketing tactic by tracking the entire sales process from end-to-end.

Proving ROI is an ongoing pain point for marketers, so it’s no surprise that 45% of agencies rely on marketing automation platforms to show ROI and 42% use marketing automation to measure performance for both their own marketing efforts and those of their clients. Nearly 90% of agencies say their marketing automation strategy is successful. *source sharpspring

Then again, there is the mammoth task facing agencies and companies while making the leap to marketing automation: implementation and ease of use.

While there is less manual effort required once the platform is well set up, it does take some expertize and resource to implement and integrate a company’s current processes into a new platform. Dedicated staff time is also required to monitor the results on an on-going basis and aligning objectives accordingly. It is not enough to purchase and install an automation software without feeding it with the right instructions from time to time. E.g. in regards to email marketing, while the software can personalize the content of an email and automatically trigger sending based on certain actions performed by a user, a marketer would still have to construct the email and set new triggers from time to time to prevent periods of no contact.

Marketing is notorious for being difficult to report on, from what’s working and what isn’t, to the ROI of a particular campaign. By capturing every lead that comes in, whether by phone or by form, you’ll have 100% attribution across the board. Among some of the most valuable features of marketing automation are analytics and reporting. Analytics is also the number one need that drives companies’ search for marketing automation. With all your digital assets under one hood, report generation becomes easier and consistent.

In summary, companies that invest initially in understanding their customer engagement opportunities through mapping out the journey, and allocate a part of their marketing budget to automation this can increase their ROI manifold.

About Angela Mellak

A Marketing strategist, passionate about digital she has been focused on seeing women at the forefront of this movement and co-founded the Digital Women’s Network. With a career that spans over two decades in senior marketing roles, media, board and creative agency experience, across verticals such as retail, financial services, real estate & property, technology/mobile/media, creative/design, automotive/manufacturing and FMCG.

STEMCELL Technologies: How Canada’s regenerative medicine company helps scientists Globally

STEMCELL Technologies grew out of the Terry Fox Laboratory (TFL) in Vancouver, Canada, where Dr. Allen Eaves, a hematologist and cancer researcher, was the Founding Director.

Unsatisfied with commercially available reagents for growing the stem cells required for their research, Dr. Eaves’ research group at the TFL began making their own cell culture media out of the highest quality components they could find.

“In the 1980’s our leukemia research program required us to make tissue culture media for growing normal and chromosomally-marked cancer stem cells.” says Eaves. “This methylcellulose media helped us develop new ways of understanding and treating chronic myelogenous leukemia. We did this with our closely-associated bone marrow transplant program at the Vancouver General Hospital. There was no intellectual property involved in making this media—other researchers made it too—we just made it better!”

Dr. Allen Eaves President and CEO of STEMCELL Technologies

As word about his high-quality cell culture media spread throughout the global scientific community, Dr. Eaves started selling the media to other institutions, reinvesting the revenue back into his research program. This fueled a business that quickly outgrew the manufacturing capacity of the TFL. Thus, with a second mortgage on his house and a loan from Western Economic Development Canada, Eaves formally launched STEMCELL Technologies in July of 1993. That year, the company sold over $1 million of MethoCult™ culture media, which remains the international gold standard for growing and measuring blood and bone marrow stem cells today.

After 24 years in business, with annual revenue approaching $185 million, STEMCELL continues to be true to its roots, bootstrapping growth by reinvesting all profits back into research and development. The company now employs over 1100 people, 800 of whom are based at the Vancouver head office, research labs and manufacturing facilities. STEMCELL has grown at an average rate of 20% annually, with 96% of sales revenues coming from outside Canada. STEMCELL’s products are used in 90 countries, serviced by nine international offices and a network of distributors around the world. Allen Eaves continues to serve as President and CEO.

STEMCELL is truly a community of Scientists Helping Scientists; one third of the 1100-person team holds an MSc or PhD, and many others carry advanced degrees in fields such as business, engineering, and law


Products Helping Scientists

STEMCELL’s mission is to advance the pursuit of scientific knowledge by supplying high-quality, innovative reagents, tools and services to enable life science research. This mission has driven the company to amass an impressive catalogue of more than 2500 products that are used in biomedical research labs, routine diagnostic centres and pharmaceutical companies across the globe. STEMCELL’s products support research on regenerative medicine, tissue engineering, gene therapy, immunotherapy, toxicity testing, and the development of advanced treatments for cancer and other diseases.

Commenting on STEMCELL’s diverse and integrated product portfolio, Dr. Terry Thomas, STEMCELL’s Chief Scientific Officer stated:

“In addition to expanding our original line of hematology products, we have grown our offerings to include a comprehensive suite of immune cell isolation tools as well as products that support research using pluripotent stem cells and mesenchymal stem cells. We have also developed families of products optimized for neural, mammary, prostate, pulmonary, pancreatic, cardiac, and intestinal cell biology research. A very exciting recent focus of the company is organoid technology. These mini-organs are revolutionizing the way scientists are studying human health and disease in the lab, and we’re helping them do it!”

STEMCELL is committed to quality, investing heavily into sourcing the highest calibre raw materials, and ensuring batch to batch consistency through rigorous quality assurance and quality control systems. By providing novel, useful, standardized products, STEMCELL enables scientists to do their experiments more efficiently and effectively, delivering faster, more reliable and robust results.

In addition to its off-the-shelf products, STEMCELL’s Contract Assay Services department is available to provide standard and customized assay services to support scientists with specialized research needs for which they don’t have the infrastructure or expertise to carry out. This department harnesses STEMCELL’s high-performance products and in-house experts to provide standard and customized assay services on site at STEMCELL’s Vancouver-based research labs. Since 2000, Contract Assay Services has performed studies for over 120 pharmaceutical, biotechnology, government and academic life science organizations worldwide.

STEMCELL also recognizes that Scientists Helping Scientists goes beyond the lab bench. As such, the STEMCELL team is committed to nurturing scientific communities through ongoing learning and science communication. For example, the company’s Education division offers customized hands-on and virtual training courses. These workshops, delivered locally or at STEMCELL’s Research & Learning Centre in Cambridge UK, provide expert instruction on complex research protocols and experimental procedures. Other resources, such as educational videos and podcasts, weekly science newsletters, social media communities and online science resource hubs keep scientists current with their fields, connecting scientific communities, and providing scientists with the information they need to succeed with their research and careers.

This department harnesses STEMCELL’s high-performance products and in-house experts to provide standard and customized assay services on site at STEMCELL’s Vancouver-based research labs


Knowledge and Expertise

STEMCELL is truly a community of Scientists Helping Scientists; one third of the 1100-person team holds an MSc or PhD, and many others carry advanced degrees in fields such as business, engineering, and law.

“A culture of curiosity, collaboration, and innovation pulses throughout the company.” says Helen Sheridan, Senior Vice President of Human Resources at STEMCELL. “It is inspiring to work with such a fantastic group united by a common goal – to help progress the pursuit of scientific knowledge. Our great leadership team, rapid growth, and extensive internal training programs create fantastic opportunities for career growth and personal development.”

STEMCELL takes great pride in providing high-value, knowledge-based jobs to a diverse workforce. With strong growth expected to continue, the company anticipates offering 3500 new, permanent, knowledge-based jobs in Canada by 2030.

The company is continuing to work closely with academic and industrial research partners, with a goal of bringing innovative technologies to life

Looking Ahead

Stem cell therapies are the future of medicine and of the global healthcare economy. Fields such as tissue engineering, regenerative medicine, immunotherapy, and precision medicine are advancing rapidly and potential therapies are moving closer to the clinic. As Canada’s Regenerative Medicine Company, STEMCELL Technologies is committed to developing tools and technologies that support cutting-edge research in these areas. To this end, STEMCELL has invested in increasing their state-of-the-art laboratory research space and is working toward building a clinical-grade, advanced biologics manufacturing facility in Canada. This will enable more of the company’s products to meet global regulatory standards for clinical use, supporting research that is moving from bench to bedside.

With its large investment in Research & Development, STEMCELL has built a very strong intellectual property portfolio of over 100 patents. In addition to developing its own products, however, STEMCELL is very active at in-licensing intellectual property developed by others, and has helped several scientific technologies born in academic research settings to reach the global biotechnology market. The company is continuing to work closely with academic and industrial research partners, with a goal of bringing innovative technologies to life, ultimately enabling new discoveries and the advancement of scientific knowledge and understanding.

“Our vision, quite simply, is to be in every lab. If there is a lab anywhere in the world that is doing research where our products, services, expertise, and collaboration can add value, we want to be there to develop a meaningful relationship with them.” noted Andrew Booth, STEMCELL’s Chief Commercial Officer. “As a company, we are rooted in Allen Eaves’ passion for the pursuit of scientific knowledge. This commitment has deepened as we’ve grown from a small side project out of the back of the TFL to Canada’s largest biotech, and we will continue to be guided by that passion as we grow to service the complex needs of the biomedical community.”

To learn more about STEMCELL, visit www.stemcell.com or follow their Facebook, Twitter, LinkedIn and YouTube channels.

Written by Nicole Quinn, PhD.

CBC Canada CEO Hubert Lacroix: embracing change

Since Canadian radio began with the first licences for private commercial radio stations in 1922, public broadcaster CBC (marketed as CBC/Radio-Canada) has worked to counter the American media influence and protect Canadian culture.

In the modern day, CBC/Radio-Canada continues to inform, enlighten and entertain, sharing Canada’s daily journey through the news, commentary and culture that Canadians need today and in the future. CEO Hubert Lacroix is perfectly aware of the current landscape, having overseen the broadcaster during a period of unprecedented change in the way content is consumed.

Hubert Lacroix

“I was recruited by a national headhunting firm,” Mr Lacroix says, “out of what I was doing. I spent more than twenty years doing mergers and acquisitions in public markets. I was a securities lawyer, sat on many public company boards, chaired public company boards.” Mr Lacroix’s expertise was in takeover bids and initial public offerings, meaning he had several clients within the media environment. He worked particularly closely with one large company, the Telemedia corporation, which held a number of media assets in the country.

“So I got closer to [Telemedia],” he explains. “I left my law practice on January 1st 2000, joined them on a full time basis, became their executive chairman. And with them we built at that time a radio network across the country.” The Telemedia network grew to have about 82 radio stations across Canada, a network as big geographically as CBC/Radio-Canada is now. Eventually, stations across the network were sold off, and Mr Lacroix returned to the law.

Hubert Lacroix was working in a firm in Montreal, and he was approached by a head-hunter and asked if he was interested in the job at CBC/Radio-Canada

Once again a practicing lawyer, working in a firm in Montreal, he was approached by a head-hunter and asked if he was interested in the job at CBC/Radio-Canada. It took a little while before he could be convinced. “I had no political colour, I said no a couple of times. I went to interviews and actually had an exam in Ottawa, like the others on the shortlist, and then there was a decision made that I was going to lead CBC/Radio-Canada.” Since that time, the landscape of the business has changed significantly, due in the most part to digital innovations, creating many new challenges for public broadcasters around the world, challenges CBC has had to face head on.

“We have 89 radio stations right now and 27 television stations, and that network is across the country. Obviously the idea is you cannot be a public broadcaster without telling the local stories, [which] have to also find a place at the network level, and be told across the country.”

21st Century Model

“I’ve been the head of CBC/Radio-Canada for [almost] ten years,” Mr Lacroix says. “I’ve had time to reflect on where we’ve been and what we’ve done. I walked in on January 1st, 2008. At that time there was no such thing as an iPhone, an iPad, no Netflix, no Snapchat.” Mr Lacroix recognises that the huge strides made in technological development in such a short period of history have had a profound effect on the workings of the television industry. He notes that in the Vancouver Olympics in 2010, the iPad was not yet in widespread use.

“The broadcaster that I lead has had to not only adjust to this, it has had to keep its connection with Canadians in this environment, with everything being so fragmented, where the revenues are migrating from what used to be a relatively safe television environment.” In days gone by, to achieve high audience numbers, CBC were competing for viewers with a relatively small number of other Canada-based broadcasters. Nowadays, the scope of competition is much vaster and far more wide-reaching.

“You are competing against Vice and Netflix, all of this content that is created by a Netflix for your attention, and there are so many minutes per day, and that’s why [there’s a change] in an environment where 40% of our revenue was derived from TV advertising.” As a response to the influx of pay-monthly streaming services and digital content providers, Mr Lacroix has been forced to consider how the broadcaster can adjust by leveraging partnerships.

CBC/Radio-Canada believes in the quality of Canadian content, and its aim is to promote such content on an international level, exposing Canadian artists to the rest of the world

“I get really annoyed when people compare us to Vice, because it’s really not understanding what a public broadcaster does. [Vice] doesn’t do news—they do great documentaries, they have interesting content, but they don’t do news like we do news.” Mr Lacroix admits that it is the task of CBC to gain a greater understanding of the reasons behind the popularity of platforms such as Vice and Netflix to a certain demographic, and to work out how it can tap into that market to benefit from changes in content consumption.

“This is when we adjust,” he says, “in the context of the mandate that we have, which is clearly a mandate that neither Netflix nor Vice have, which is: compelling Canadian content promoting Canadian artists, creators, not only in this country, for the rest of the world to see.” CBC/Radio-Canada believes in the quality of Canadian content, and its aim is to promote such content on an international level, exposing Canadian artists to the rest of the world. It is something the broadcaster takes great pride in doing.

“The broadcaster is about Canadian content in primetime, when most Canadians are watching. If you look at our programming schedules, just the ones coming in the fall, there’s no U.S. content, we have one series in French, just about nothing in English.” By offering almost 90% Canadian content across its scheduling, the broadcaster has found the best way to compete with content streaming services, making sure that it creates compelling entertainment to put on its platforms. “That means partners, it means dealing with producers, it means looking for partnerships that we would not have done before. We just did Alias Grace with Netflix, we’ll look at other organisations of that kind to see whether certain Canadian content can’t be done with them.”

Going Global

The days of content being produced and broadcast nationally are over, and Mr Lacroix admits that the change in the model has made it imperative for national broadcasters to keep pace, requiring new ways to introduce Canadian content to international markets. “We actually are trying to create something called Panora.tv,” he explains. “It’s an initiative that we put together to facilitate and promote the export of video content to different markets around the world and to digital service providers.”

Panora.tv unites CBC’s interests with those of the Canadian National Film Board (NFB), the Australian Broadcasting Company (ABC), Portuguese national broadcaster RTP, the Swiss RTS, French FTD, Finnish YLE and the Spanish broadcasting company RTVE. “They’re all joining forces to launch this Panora.tv idea, where you would actually create an environment to facilitate the buying of the content created by all these broadcasters in an environment where you can acquire multi-platform broadcasting rights.” This is just one example of a project that CBC/Radio-Canada is very excited about, and with help from the Canada Media Fund, Panora.tv promises to be a groundbreaking scheme for promoting national content worldwide.

“You could get licensing rights on an as-needed basis, and it’s creating a marketplace where this very particular content, which comes from public broadcasters, is actually on display and facilitated for exposure.” Another example of the network’s expansion plans involves its French arm, Radio-Canada, which is working closely with three other French-speaking partners to create an environment for content to flow easily between networks. “If you were to click on Radio-Canada, it would give you a link to content created by somebody in Switzerland or France. That is part of the mandate we think we have, which is to expose the content that we create, and produce and broadcast, to other parts of the world.”

Moving with the Times

The question remains whether the new landscape of digital information and entertainment distribution will have a significant impact on the way CBC delivers its content going forward. Would the network consider amending its approach to stay competitive? “We have some very important journalistic standards and policies, which we will never move away from,” Mr Lacroix stresses, “and we will continue imposing on the news that we broadcast and the content we create for news.”

By having access to a multitude of news platforms, there is no longer a need for the national news to be presented in a certain way

However, even within these frameworks of integrity respected by public broadcasters, there is no reason why the format can’t be changed. One example is that CBC will be bringing in four new anchors for its national news. “You’re going to see next week, in Radio-Canada, also a different way to tell the news, and maybe a different pace. More in-depth pieces. When you come to 10pm and you want to watch, you already know the news, you’ve been bombarded by it.”

By having access to a multitude of news platforms, there is no longer a need for the national news to be presented in a certain way. This has allowed the broadcaster to provide people with a better understanding of the news by taking the time to put it into context. “We’d like the context pieces to be more in-depth. So maybe you’ll see, in French, a smaller number of stories at 10pm, but much longer pieces. So that’s one way of showing that the format is actually going to go to each Canadian and what they will get from news.” This will all amount to a personalisation of the broadcaster’s news output, including targeted content on people’s phones and a greater presence on social media to really help people get the best of CBC’s offering. “[One] of the [social media] labs that we’ve created, it’s called RAD. It’s a lab of 25 kids, they’re all below 35 years old. In their formats and way of telling stories they’re reinventing the way we do news and all sorts of other news-related items.”

The whole layout of RAD is fresh, with colouring and tone that represents a radical departure from the broadcaster’s normal aesthetic. Mr Lacroix explains how this is an experiment in French with the hope of expanding the idea going forward. “If you were watching [RAD], you wouldn’t know until you see the logo that this is a CBC/Radio-Canada content. We understand that anybody that is considered to be a digital citizen, they don’t look at nor interact with the content of news in the way they used to.”

Compared to a decade or two ago, the labour needed to turn out such content has also grown dramatically. In truth, it isn’t just now that this change has become apparent. CBC/Radio-Canada has already had to change its methods over the years. “We’ve been investing in that part of our business for a long time. Obviously it’s accelerated substantially, but it was a much simpler environment. Now our priorities, which used to be television, radio, internet and mobility, have been turned completely around.” These priorities now appear to be reversed, with mobility becoming far more important, followed by internet, both of which have become far more important than television and radio are now considered.

All of this means that the broadcaster now needs to invest in a diversity of skillsets in order to produce content, to find the right people to work for it, whilst also managing to retain them on staff in order to keep moving forward.  “Once you’ve [invested in] that,” Mr Lacroix says, “then the shift in the organisation of these people and of what’s going on is going to help accelerate the digital direction in which we are completely committed to [moving].” One important consideration on top of this is the need to continue to cater for traditional audiences. There are plenty of people who still listen to the radio and watch television in the way they used to, and this cannot be ignored.

“In this country there’s more than 80% of people that watch in a linear way, according to the schedule that we build in prime time. So that’s 30 hours a week of people watching it in a traditional way. We can’t forget them.” Audience numbers reflect this retention of traditional viewers and listeners, with the radio side showing that CBC is rated at number one, two or three in 21 of the 26 markets it works in, and number one in another 15 of those markets. “It’s all about the perception of what CBC/Radio-Canada bring,” Mr Lacroix adds, “and certain parts of the country have been easier markets for us to connect with. Eastern Canada, for example, has a very strong admiration and love for the broadcaster.”

This is contrast to the choppier relationship shared with viewers in central and western Canada, meaning the broadcaster has an objective to improve numbers across these parts of the country where it is harder to pull in viewers. “We have the number one morning show in Calgary, but we can’t have anybody watch our evening news. So why is that? We’ve changed our priorities, and what we now do is spend more time on trying to interact with people in Calgary in a digital way than we used to.”

There is clearly a geopolitical element to these findings, showing that certain parts of the country react differently to the broadcaster’s offering, meaning some extra work must be done to increase numbers in certain areas. “If you look at the corporate plan and the strategy, we would like 75% of Canadians to at least come to us and say that [they use] one of the services that we offer, there’s at least one link with us that makes it a really special relationship.” CBC set the target in 2014 of achieving 18 million online visits per month by the year 2020, which would represent double the 9 million it was achieving at the time. In 2017, it is already well ahead of schedule.

“This summer we passed that,” Mr Lacroix says. “We have more than 18 million Canadians that come to us on a monthly basis on one of our platforms, unique visits. It means that we’ve reached a lot of people, so now the challenge is going to be the engagement part.” The target is now to turn this interest into more minutes spent on CBC platforms, to create intimate one-to-one relationships that cater for the individual viewer and keeps them engaged in what the broadcaster has to offer.

Mr Lacroix has high hopes for the broadcaster even once his tenure is over, and is keen for CBC/Radio-Canada to keep trying new things, stabilising its position and helping to further its shift into a more digital world

More Canada

Mr Lacroix has high hopes for the broadcaster even once his tenure is over, and is keen for CBC/Radio-Canada to keep trying new things, stabilising its position and helping to further its shift into a more digital world. “The public broadcaster has a business model right now that is still extremely shaky. It has been helped by the liberals in this government, an investment of $650m over five years, and that allowed us to accelerate the digital shift and to become as important as we are.”

But, he admits, the business model itself is still deeply flawed in this new environment. The issue of how to move forward in the digital age has not yet been completely solved, and Mr Lacroix would like to see this addressed even once he has left CBC. “There has to be a fundamental rethink about what the broadcaster actually does. We delivered a paper in November which I think is a very important one, we said that CBC/Radio-Canada should take a leading role [in the industry].”

This paper outlined plans for the broadcaster to put together and lead a council of creative and cultural industries, similar to that introduced in the UK. Within this, the suggestion was made for the broadcaster to become advertisement free. With so much of the country’s advertising now being sold to digital media companies, there is a shortage for the rest of Canadian broadcasters. CBC/Radio-Canada could help significantly with this problem. “What we said is: let’s become ad-free. Let’s make sure we replace advertising dollars with support from the federal government. We will no longer compete with the others, we can be a better partner to the entire cultural community. That’s what I hope.”

Not only will this move create many more jobs, but it will also support Canadian creators as they produce fresh, innovative stories without the usual pressure of commercial success, something that can only be good for the national entertainment industry. “We could do all sorts of stuff with the programming schedule,” Mr Lacroix insists, “which we can’t do now. So, we would actually be a better broadcaster, we would be more in line to match Canadian’s expectations.”

The ultimate goal is to shift the focus of the Canadian public broadcaster, moving from insuring that it balances budgets with commercial revenue, to becoming freer to experiment with programming even more than it already does.  “We can’t forget that the broadcaster does one thing better than anyone else. Throughout all of these tough times, I’ve kept the geographical footprint of CBC/Radio-Canada, because I don’t think that you can be a public broadcaster without being deeply rooted in the region.”

Local and community stories will always be extremely important for public broadcasters to tell, and Mr Lacroix is keen for CBC to continue doing just that. But there will still be the need for partnerships to create great content, and chances will still need to be taken. “What happens in Victoria BC has to be told in a way that the Newfoundlanders, or the people from Prince Edward Island, or the people from Quebec can understand what goes on in the country. Our mandate is to contribute to a shared national consciousness and identity.”

For Mr Lacroix, that’s the fabric of CBC/Radio-Canada’s existence. As a broadcaster it enriches democracy by informing the electorate on the key issues, catering for Canada’s mosaic of different nationalities.  “When people say we need more Canada,” Mr Lacroix concludes, “we need more Canada because we actually have a way of looking at the world which is much more inclusive than many, and that’s our job—to continue doing that.”

Find out more about the Canadian Broadcasting Corporation by visiting www.cbc.ca.

Fiasco Gelato CEO James Boettcher: Not just a gelato company

Calgary-based ice cream company Fiasco Gelato has faced its share of adversity over the years. Having almost lost the business before it had a chance to prosper, the team at Fiasco Gelato had to dig deep to rise from the flames of near-ruin.

In 2012, the business relocated to what it now calls ‘The Little Gelato Shop That Could’, transforming the company into a wholesale purveyor of the some of the finest Italian ice cream in Canada, at the same time developing a commitment to changing the way business is done. CEO James Boettcher has been in charge throughout several periods of adversity, and has no doubt that it was pure desire that saw the business through the hard times.

James Boettcher

“I started bagging groceries on my fourteenth birthday,” Mr Boettcher explains, “just trying to help out with the cost of being raised by a single parent, and along the way found a passion not only for natural foods but for brands.” This newfound passion helped Mr Boettcher begin his professional journey. After proving himself to be accountable and reliable he was invited by the Assistant Manager of the store to pick up work before and after high school, placing orders and working the night shift.

“It helped me build a pretty strong foundation in terms of what was required for a work ethic and all that good stuff. After that I found myself at sort of a crossroads, again being super excited about branding and design.” Soon after, he was given the opportunity to go to art school, but after being offered a chance to learn in the field by natural food distributor Planet Foods, he declined the university place and instead turned his focus to the world of commerce.  “I was their first employee,” he says. “They were under a million bucks in sales and I had the opportunity to grow with them to nearly 12 million over five years. Through that time, I just kind of learned what to do and what not to do.”

During his time in the role, Mr Boettcher realized that all the hard work he was putting into another person’s business was not serving his long term professional goals, and he soon decided that he wanted to find his own way. “I’d always sort of done odd things on the side. I was doing small brand strategy and graphic design, and at that point one of my clients said that I was very passionate about his business, and I had the opportunity to discuss a bit of an acquisition.”

That client was Matt Wilson, the man who started Fiasco Gelato five years earlier, in 2003. By 2009, the company was running two stores in Calgary, and Mr Boettcher had been hired to help with the running of its website and some graphic design work.  It soon became clear that there was the chance for a new direction to be taken. Mr Boettcher admits that people were excited about the brand at that time, but the business lacked the operational strength to be making a profit.

“With seasonal help and young employees, it’s really tough at that scale to hone in on some of the systems and processes required to run a solid business. That was where it was at, and at that point I just thought I would run a really well designed store and do a good job.”

CEO James Boettcher has been in charge throughout several periods of adversity, and has no doubt that it was pure desire that saw the business through the hard times

Disastrous Beginnings

Despite only having a small amount of capital at his disposal, Mr Boettcher made a handshake deal with Mr Wilson to acquire the company, a deal which would involve the repayment of a loan of $100k over the following three years.  “We were in a position where it just kind of made sense. Matt was interested in other things, building some homes and starting a family, and I was fairly young at the time and really keen to just kind of keep building from it.” Mr Boettcher admits that at first he was unsure whether it would be possible to build a profitable business at the same time as working on paying off the sizeable debt he had accrued from the acquisition.

“I didn’t [know how I would do it] to be honest,” he says. “It was just a bit of a leap of faith. There wasn’t a real strategy, or a method to the madness. It was just sort of taking a leap and seeing what would come of it.” Mr Boettcher made the decision to reduce the business to just one storefront, the plan being to make things more manageable and begin relaunching the company. These plans were derailed when disaster struck, just as the new business was about to launch. “In the process of the switch over there was unfortunately a fire in the location. I probably should have turned my entrepreneurial badge in at that point I guess, but I decided that we’d forge ahead and rebuild the location.”

The early focus had been on making sure the new shop could be quickly opened. Work was scheduled for light construction with the small amount of money available, the plan being to breath fresh life into the business so that it could take the next step. “Getting to that point where you’re ready to open, and then being incapacitated by such a traumatic event, it’s a significant challenge. But again, I think at that time there was so much desire and will to see this materialize.”

This desire to create a successful business meant Mr Boettcher didn’t think twice about rebuilding the company after the fire. Once more bereft of a solid strategy about how to move forward, Fiasco Gelato took stock of its position and started again. “We changed the logo and sort of the feeling of the brand,” he explains. “We wanted to make sure it felt a little more fresh. It had got to a point where it was a bit stagnant, just based on some perceived notions of what Italian gelato looked like.”

A few months later, the company was informed by the building’s landlord that rent would be doubled, forcing another change. Mr Boettcher chose to leave the property and put all the equipment into storage, determined to radically rethink Fiasco Gelato’s business strategy. “Fiasco was a scoop shop at the time,” he says, “and so through all of this we realized, if we could get into people’s hearts and their homes then we would be in a position to really thrive and find our way through grocery and wholesale.”

Fiasco from the Flames

The challenges faced in bringing the business back from the brink of ruination were significant. Mr Boettcher admits that he is not exactly sure what the secret ingredient needed was to keep the company trading. “To be honest, I don’t know how [you deal with something like that],” he says. “You go through a lot of challenges in life and it teaches you some lessons about how resourceful you are, how much gumption you have and what you’re capable of.” The first major achievement in the company’s rejuvenation was in finding a number of restaurants in the local area to carry its product, the emphasis being on keeping the company name on menus and in people’s minds.

“Every penny we earned there, we turned into some new piece of equipment, or something that would make us more efficient. That was where the focus was. It wasn’t until 2013 when we hit grocery stores that we really saw the opportunity for how big things could be.” Despite the level of competition in wholesale products, Fiasco Gelato was fortunate at having partnered with Calgary Zoo to help raise money during the Alberta floods. The zoo returned the favour by helping establish new contacts.  “They introduced us to Calgary Co-op, and Co-op was keen on us putting together a retail product that they could offer and we ended up hand-filling over 11,000 jars. The first order for a couple of hundred took a couple of weeks, just based on the scale.”

The Co-op contact proved vital in helping the company expand into other grocery opportunities, and Fiasco Gelato soon found that opportunities to capitalize on momentum were not hard to come by. “People are really attracted to the brand,” Mr Boettcher says. “We’ve been fortunate that the product’s performance has been strong enough that everyone kind of comes to us, and we don’t have to go hunting as much.” The company is now operating with 42 staff, some of whom are part time, but each of whom plays an important role in the business. As Mr Boettcher describes it, they are people “trying to change the world each day.”

The company’s gelato factory and coffee bar spans nearly 7,000 square feet on the main floor, the building comprising of another 15,000 square feet of office space on the floor above. The company also owns six vehicles with which product is delivered. “We’ve got two vespas, two delivery vehicles and then our two food trucks. As a bit of a family extension, I own Calgary Food Trucks, so we work with the food truck community to really make things happen.” The company’s product is available in around 1,000 retail spots across Canada, including supermarkets, with the big hitters such as Co-op, Safeway, Sobeys, and Overwaitea Foods all stocking Fiasco Gelato, as well as Alberta locals Sunterra Market.

With annual revenue of around $5-10m, the success the company has experienced is now being looked at as a stepping stone to try further ventures, perhaps even moving out of Canada and into other markets. “We’re approaching a U.S. conversation here in September/October. There’s not really the catches in some areas. We might have to build another facility and start looking at what is required there by law. Really we’re just focused on doing a great job in Canada right now.” In addition to the grocery business, the company has developed other marketing and wholesale strategies that reach even further into the community, taking advantage of key opportunities such as events and festivals.

“That’s what we call our field marketing,” Mr Boettcher says, “for us just authentically engaging with people that either haven’t tried the product or want to get immersed in the brand, that’s kind of the key to the success there.” The strategy in the field is a simple one: the more people taste the product, the more they will fall in love with it. It’s about employees getting out and exposing both the product and the brand to those who may be unacquainted with it.

One of the main drivers for the brand’s popularity is the company’s commitment to helping out in the community, especially during times of crisis, a spirit which was seen on full display during the Calgary Floods

We Versus Me

One of the main drivers for the brand’s popularity is the company’s commitment to helping out in the community, especially during times of crisis, a spirit which was seen on full display during the Calgary Floods. “Any time we get involved in community work, generally we’re known now as the igniters—we’re kind of the first to step up and say ‘let’s do something’, and what it does is it encourages other businesses to do the same.” Mr Boettcher admits that the company is not afraid to be a pioneer in terms of doing the right thing, as the spirit of community comes naturally to those running Fiasco Gelato. In times of crisis it is important for somebody to lead the way.

“Even though our gesture might be 10 or 15 thousand dollars, not a lot, it starts to encourage others to say ‘what can we do?’, and that really becomes a sort of snowball effect and it’s great to be part of an organization where everyone rallies together.” The team is aided by a finance department which is wholly supportive of Mr Boettcher’s vision of being involved in these kinds of project, giving the organization the opportunity to play an influential role in the community. As well as its community presence, the company is equally interested in being a paragon of business practices, leading by example to show how the commercial world should be behaving in the 21st century.

“We’re just about to launch a culture handbook, and it says: we are not a gelato company. Our purpose is so much more meaningful, the role that we play in how employment standards are met, or how we pay a living wage, or our sustainable practices.” The specific measures that Fiasco Gelato has included in its business plan are still considered contrary to what most other companies look upon as important. Mr Boettcher is adamant that in his company it could be no other way. “Business practice for us is very genuine. It’s the way that you would live you own life. When I look at what our legacy will be, the gelato’s great and everyone loves it, but it will come back to being a brand that carved a path for others to use business as a force of good.”

In practice, Fiasco Gelato boasts several USPs that separate the brand from its competitors, such as great packaging, an extremely high brand connection and product innovations above anyone else in the category. “Those to me are kind of the easy things, the brass tacks on building a great brand. If you can’t do those things well then why do them at all? I would say that the USP for me is that you’re becoming a part of the story of a great brand that chose to do business differently.” Throughout his career, Mr Boettcher has been naturally attracted to the notion that collaboration is the new competition, the idea that greater things can be achieved with passionate people working together rather than individuals working alone.

“The more that you involve people in your quest for whatever cause it is that’s important to you,” he explains, “the more you’re going to have enrolment and support in it. I think that’s always an awesome opportunity to enjoy the journey.” It is clearly extremely important for Mr Boettcher to be constantly challenging himself, to live his life by embracing a set of fundamental core values that make the process of important decision-making seem easy. “There’s always going to be these points where you’re going to reach these crossroads in business and decision-making, where they infringe on what you know is right, and I think for us at Fiasco our committable core values allow us a very black and white line in the sand.”

The company is now operating with 42 staff, some of whom are part time, but each of whom plays an important role in the business. As Mr Boettcher describes it, they are people “trying to change the world each day.”

These core values are in place to ensure that decision-making is natural and intuitive, putting the company in the best possible position to make the right choices. Mr Boettcher insists businesses should always look to fail fast. “Part of the magic of great organizations is: try it out, and if it doesn’t work, ditch it and move along. Richard Branson once started a cola company and realized pretty quickly when he went up against Coca-Cola that he was in the wrong space, and didn’t succeed.”

Another important consideration is to offer the same level of service and treatment you would expect for yourself, not just for customers but also employees. Mr Boettcher considers this another vital part of good decision-making. “It makes it really easy to make decisions when you just ask yourself: what level of respect or dignity or treatment would I want if I was on the other side of this equation? I find that one creeps up a lot when you start talking about policies or returns.”

It is often the policy of businesses to pay less attention to the treatment of others when things go wrong, with the focus generally geared around making things work smoothly. Rarely are employees empowered to think like humans and resolve problems in this way. By identifying not as a gelato company, but as a business focused on installing great practices, Mr Boettcher and Fiasco Gelato have ensured that customers might well be coming for the gelato, but they are staying for the brand.

Find out more about Fiasco Gelato by visiting www.FiascoGelatoshop.com.

Kealey Tackaberry Log Homes: Building traditional homes for evolving markets

Paul Kealey

For Paul Kealey, an old fashioned business ethic is the secret to keeping modern customers fascinated with a timeless product.

The opportunity to start a business came organically for Kealey, his interest in the skills of building log homes originating in the desire to build a home for himself and his family, “My wife, then girlfriend, and I had wanted to start a hobby farm and to live in a log home, but we just couldn’t find one. Every house seemed to have something wrong with it, needing either a partial or extensive renovation. I felt it was right, instead of purchasing a home, to go out to British Columbia and learn how to build one.” Kealey says.

Leaving Ontario also meant leaving his job. Kealey had studied Science at St Francis Xavier University in Nova Scotia, his degree was part of a concurrent education program and after graduating he felt that his easiest option was to pursue a position teaching at high school level.

“Even though I didn’t go to become a teacher, I received a teaching certificate after four years in University. I came back and started teaching immediately. It seemed like the easiest thing to do, but after spending two years in the school I didn’t feel right. I’ve always been the type of person who wants to get out there and do as much as possible. I needed something else to do.” Kealey says.

It was 2002 when Kealey decided to look into developing the skills to build his own log home. At the time the International Log Builders’ Association had listed that over half of the handmade log home companies in the world were based in the province of British Columbia. “I felt it was necessary to go to British Columbia because I thought that was where the real experience was. Many companies were extremely busy.” Kealey says.

“Ultimately I left teaching because I felt trapped and limited in what I could do. Moving out to British Columbia, I went there thinking I could go for three months, come back and build a house, and then start our hobby farm. But being out there I fell in love with the natural form of building. I went out, took the course for three months, and ended up working out there for the better part of three years before coming back to start our own business.”

“One pure natural material able to do everything really impressed me.” Kealey says, “The log is the exterior finish, it’s the interior finish, it’s the structure, the insulation, the vapor barrier.”

Kealey Tackaberry

As Kealey moved back to Ontario to start his business, he had the skills, the passion and saw the opportunity. He knew now that what he needed was good people behind him. One of these people came not as a professional contact but in the form of long-time friend Adam Tackaberry.

“We’ve known each other probably for the better part of our lives, he grew up as a childhood friend of my younger brother.” Kealey says, “When I was at the point where I wanted to start a business, Adam had since graduated university and was looking for something to do. I had always liked his demeanor. He had played high-level hockey growing up, he was always a captain on his teams, and so I knew he had great leadership skills and experience. From that, I thought he would be a great asset to the company and knew I’d be able to teach him everything about the business”

Hiring Tackaberry proved a great move for Kealey, and after their first few projects together he found him invaluable, “There’s a saying which applies to every profession, ‘It’s hard to find good help.’ Adam was the complete opposite. He has an easy going mentality, willingness to learn, and the ability to know what is required to do a good job.”

“I thought, we have to do something here so that we stay together, because there’s a lot of things we could do together. It partly goes back to the fact that I’d known him for the better part of my life.”

After signing on Tackaberry as his official business partner the two needed to decide on a name, trying a few ideas and ultimately settling on their own names as an emblem of the personal mark every builder makes in creating a bespoke home.

“We were first thinking about a name and had done a lot of brainstorming but nothing really felt right to us. Being a natural log home builder there’s a lot of craftsmanship which goes on, a lot of which is directly related to the people building the home. So we thought we’d stick to who we are, Kealey Tackaberry.”

In addition to handling their clients complete home building requirements, Kealey attributes some of their success to using the best materials possible in for striving to work in a fashion which is as sustainable as possible

Log Homes in Ontario

“One pure natural material able to do everything really impressed me.” Kealey says, “The log is the exterior finish, it’s the interior finish, it’s the structure, the insulation, the vapor barrier. Everything in one material, it just felt like the ideal form of home. Also, being a form of building traditional to Canada, I thought it was a great business opportunity. Even though it wasn’t common or popular, it’s a type of home which will never be eliminated in Canada due to its traditional values.”

After honing his skills in British Columbia, Kealey made the decision to return to Ontario, saying, “I thought there was a bigger opportunity here for us because of limited competition, most log home companies in Ontario were basically two or three people, so I really felt that there was an opportunity for growth. Seeing how small the companies were solidified the idea that there could be a great business opportunity. It took a couple years to get our first official home on the market, but after that, we just continued to get busier and busier, until this day.”

Kealey Tackaberry build year round, and have embraced steady growth throughout their eleven years in business

Kealey Tackaberry build year round, and have embraced steady growth throughout their eleven years in business, but in more recent years they have reached a level which Kealey feels is comfortable, saying, “We got really busy in 2010-2012, and have stayed at that level since. We’ve noticed the market has shrunk and many companies have folded or downsized. Because of that, we’re comfortable where we are.”

Client Relationships and the Complete Package

“I feel that there are many people who don’t know about us who might not choose a log home for the pure reason that they can’t find a log home company that will do the complete project for them.” Kealey says, “I think we’re very convenient for the client in the sense that we have full, complete home and construction service. Around 80% of our competition will only sell you the materials and leave it up to the homeowner to find their own contractor to assemble it with the help of the log home company. About 19% of our competitors sell materials and will install only the log shell on your home.”

“We can take care of the complete project from a project management level. We use our own in-house builders to assemble the log shell and finish the home with respect to its carpentry needs. We will install the log shell, the roof system, put siding on, we’ll put the windows and doors on, we’ll basically complete a weather-tight shell. The client would only need to subcontract the rest of the trade, which would be plumbing, electric, HVAC systems, foundation and interior finishings.”

In addition to handling their clients complete home building requirements, Kealey attributes some of their success to using the best materials possible in for striving to work in a fashion which is as sustainable as possible.

For Paul Kealey the guiding vision will always be toward using the best materials, investing in great people, and striving for client satisfaction


“The building code in Ontario is starting to demand more energy efficient buildings. Before 2012 the minimum log size was able to be as small as 6 inches, now the minimum is 8 inches in diameter. There are still a lot of companies able to build with 6-inch logs if they make their house more efficient in other areas like insulation in the roof, higher efficiency furnaces. But because of our background as handcrafted log builders, we believe that the modern day log home should only be built with large diameter timber.” Kealey says.

“It’s for both energy efficiency, energy conservation, and sustainability. We have never built with logs as small as six, eight or ten inches in diameter because those trees are not only inefficient but also means logs are being harvested at a fraction of their life expectancy. We’ve always believed that any log harvested for building should be toward its maximum life expectancy, or should be salvaged from another source.”

“We do have a milled product, which we felt we would have to have in order to compete with companies using these six and eight-inch logs, we just do it differently. Instead of harvesting young growth timber, we use the logs from the standing deadwood forest in British Columbia. A third of British Columbia’s forest is standing deadwood, and it makes the perfect building material because they’re dry, and we’re not cutting down a young, living tree that has many years ahead of it.”

Kealey Tackaberry are taking the changing building codes and global trends toward sustainability as evidence that their business model is equally sustainable. “For much of our competition moving from 6-8 inches is taking them out of their scope.” Says Kealey, “We use on average a 16-inch diameter log, which has better insulation value than a standard stick frame home. As we move forward we might slowly increase that diameter.”

“The province is demanding better, more efficient buildings, and the only real efficient style of log home is one that uses large diameter timber.”

As the world and his industry progress, for Paul Kealey the guiding vision will always be toward using the best materials, investing in great people, and striving for client satisfaction.

“Shelter is one of the basic necessities of life. I felt that the log home was the ultimate structure in the world, and the type of building which would never go away, especially here in Canada.” Kealey says.

Find out more about Kealey Tackaberry Log Homes by visiting www.KealeyTackaberryLogHomes.com.

Urtech Manufacturing President Greg Gehl: Quality is Paramount

Electronics manufacturer Urtech Manufacturing is based in Burlington, Ontario, and provides a wide array of services from product prototyping and engineering, to production-scale manufacturing and post production services.

Urtech is dedicated to providing exceptional manufacturing services, utilizing cutting edge technology, processes, and equipment. It’s focused engineering team offers many years of experience in the electronics manufacturing sector, and the production team is fully trained and skilled in assembly, test and fulfilment operations. Company President and founder Greg Gehl talks The Canadian Business Quarterly through the formation and continued growth of the company.

Greg Gehl

“I started Urtech Manufacturing in 2010,” Mr Gehl says, “so during the recession. Just before that, I was at a company where we were outsourcing everything overseas, and so I started looking at the pricing that we were getting overseas.”  The company was at that time plagued by problems in quality and communication, as well as difficulties working across time-zones. Mr Gehl felt he could offer a competitive service within the bounds of Canada, whilst also eradicating some of these long-standing issues.  “I boot-strapped it myself. I had some cash, so I decided to invest it in my own company and started that way. Then after about a year and a bit, I had a couple investors join me as well, so it took off from there.”

Mr Gehls’s early career included a stint with electronics manufacturer Celestica, which was originally an IBM facility. Making the transition from Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to Contract Manufacturer (CM) represented a big learning point in his career. “It was a big step, and that was the boom days back then,” he says, “when the Contract Manufacturing world was really starting to grow and just becoming its own thing. So that was definitely an eye-opener.” By filling several different roles for Celestica, Mr Gehl was able to round out a number of his professional skills. After this position he moved on to another firm, a broadcast equipment and solutions company in Burlington called Evertz.

“It was a small company,” he explains. “We were doing about $5-10 million in business a year. So in the 5 years I was there we grew up to $300m and we did some acquisitions there as well, we expanded into the UK. So that was interesting.”  All of these new endeavors helped Mr Gehl gain plenty of additional knowledge and understanding of the industry, providing valuable experience in acquiring other companies and managing multiple sites and facilities.

Getting Started

When it came time for Mr Gehl to start his own company, these years of experience were paramount in helping him recognize the significant issues in the industry and to work towards finding new solutions. The main idea was to manufacture on Canadian soil. “Anybody who’s had to deal with overseas knows some of the problems,” he says. “Communication is the one thing, there are definitely language barrier issues, and [there’s] also cultural differences as well.” In Mr Gehl’s experience, dealing with companies in different cultures and countries can easily produce crossed wires, with the understanding of intricate business dealings often getting lost in translation or misinterpreted because of custom.

“I’ve been in the industry quite a few years, so I need some people for equipment and that as well. So, I just looked for a facility, a small building, and I went and did it all up so it looked good inside and found some used equipment, and that gave me my start.” Mr Gehl admits that the equipment he acquired was not of the best quality, as he was limited to using resources from his own pocket. Things started to change when he called upon his relationship with Panasonic to pay for an upgrade on the equipment.

Having started off working in broadcasting and communications, the company now operates across a few different sectors, offering manufacturing solutions to a number of companies

Having started off working in broadcasting and communications, the company now operates across a few different sectors, offering manufacturing solutions to a number of companies requiring different services. “The company Evertz, which I was at before this one, they were a broadcast company, so they build products for guys like Fox, CNN, all the big network guys. So I definitely had a background in that, and appealed to people in that marketplace.”

With connections formed at Evertz, which grew to become one of the top broadcasting companies on the market, Mr Gehl was able to retain a number of clients when he started Urtech, once more by utilizing the expertise he had amassed. “That product set as well is very complicated,” he says. “Those are high-technology boards, they use a lot of the latest and greatest technologies, so the fact that we could do that meant that we could do other things as well.”

From this solid platform it was easy for the company to expand into simpler products. Where many in the broadcast industry look for low volume products, there was plenty of space for the company to grow into providing higher volume within other industries. “Some stuff might just be ten boards a month, or ten boards every other month. A high runner for the broadcast industry might be 100-200 boards a month, so it’s not high volume stuff. But we grew, and we’re doing one customer’s stuff that’s almost a million units a year.”

World Class Operation

Through Mr Gehl’s positive relationship with electronics giant Panasonic, Urtech has found itself in the position of having access to the newest technologies, a position that has greatly helped its rise in the manufacturing industry. “I buy all my machines brand new. I make sure we can do the latest and greatest technologies. We’re doing 0201s, 0105s, so that’s the smallest components you can get. We’re doing 0.2mm pitch BGAs and LGAs, again that’s the most complex stuff you can place.” By utilizing this world class equipment, Urtech is now able to place chips such as big BGAs and FPGAs, like the Virtex 7, a chip that was costing around $20,000 a piece when it first came onto the market.

“When you’re placing chips that cost that much money,” Mr Gehl explains, “you better make sure your equipment is good. You don’t want to have any bad product. That’s where quality is paramount.” Likewise, the company’s approach to hiring Tier One staff has helped it grow significantly. With the company nearly doubling in size every year, Mr Gehl admits that it represents a positive story that people are keen to get involved with. “I’m focused on keeping jobs in North America, so I have a plant in Canada, I have a plant in the US. I plan to expand in the US as well, so I think that’s a good news story. Everybody thinks you’ve got to go overseas or to Mexico to be cheaper, but you don’t.”

With the right equipment, the right people and the right processes in place, Mr Gehl and Urtech are proving that a company can be competitive within the bounds of North America without having to look overseas for assistance. “You give people what they want,” he says. “Their good quality product, in the time that they need it and want it, and help them with their engineering live and in real time, in the same time-zones.” Urtech Manufacturing employs a diverse team of staff with many years of global experience, bringing a significant level of knowledge to the table in order to satisfy the needs of its client list, which is made up of both SMEs and larger organizations.

“If we don’t have that direct knowledge, then we probably know someone who has it. We still have good contacts in the industry. If we need lab work done, I don’t have my own Scanning Electron Microscope, but I know how to access one.” This ability to offer a greater service is down to Urtech’s team of Tier One experts, and represents extra value added which smaller Contract Manufacturers will have neither the knowledge or the ability to provide. “I think the exciting thing is, like I was mentioning, the fact that we can be competitive here in North America. I think people are starting to realize that sort of thing and the value added of actually manufacturing where the product needs to be.”

Manufacturing positions represent good core jobs for people. Gehl laments the fact that the Canadian government has little desire to help the sector

North America represents a huge market, meaning having factories on the continent to produce and fulfill those needs for that market is paramount. If Urtech were to expand overseas, it would make more sense to have a plant in the country where product would be supplied. “Everybody’s heard the story about Apple,” Mr Gehl says. “‘Oh, well Apple’s overseas, so we have to be overseas’. Especially with young startups, you hear that so much. The kind of volumes you’re doing, they’re doing it overseas, but they totally control the supply chain.” Manufacturers overseas will in many cases employ a whole engineering team to live and work onsite at one of its facilities, but this setup represents an overhead most companies are scarcely able to afford.

“If you need a product in that area, it’s good to build in that area. You should employ people in that area as well, and that’s something that we’ve definitely done. In Canada we expanded our operation many fold and [in the US] we’re looking to more than double the staff as well.” Mr Gehl believes that if the company is able to maintain this rate of growth, there is the potential for it to grow to be 5-10 times as large as it is at this current moment within the next twelve months.

“We have 300 employees now,” he says, “across three shifts. Turnover’s pretty low, but the nice thing is, [they’re] manufacturing jobs, so nice steady jobs. We have engineering jobs as well, of course we have buyers, purchasers. We definitely hire a diverse group of folks.” For Mr Gehl, manufacturing positions represent good core jobs for people. He laments the fact that the Canadian government has little desire to help out with manufacturing, assuming that people without university degrees should remain in lesser paid positions.

“A job like this, they can actually learn some skills and do some different things. I think it’s a good opportunity for folks and I think it’s a better lifestyle than everybody having to work in the service industry.”

Mr Gehl admits he’s been lucky to have great investors in his company that have allowed it to thrive

Growing Together

Urtrech has both helped and been helped by other local companies that were a similar size when they started out. By forming professional relationships, all parties have succeeded in growing alongside each other. “We’re a Contract Manufacturer,” Mr Gehl explains, “so we build products for [our clients]. We’ve had some great news stories where we’ve worked with companies when they were small and they’ve grown as we’ve grown as well.” In addition, the company has started an initiative to reach out further into the social sphere, allowing a number of electronics startups to rent some of its tech space, machinery and goods as part of a hardware accelerator.

“It’s called UrStart, and I started that up because, if I can help somebody out, I will. I don’t make any money off that kind of thing, but if you give somebody a chance, a company might make it or it might not. Hopefully if we help them a little bit, they’ll actually be able to make it.” Mr Gehl admits that even those companies that don’t make it in a difficult industry will have had a great experience by being part of UrStart, and that many of these people will go on to prove valuable in the future. “They’ll remember us if they’re doing another product,” he says. “If you can help somebody out, why not? You don’t have to be in it for a buck. Shows like Shark Tank, you get these companies go in and they want to take ownership of these new startups. That sickens me.”

Mr Gehl admits he’s been lucky to have great investors in his company that have allowed it to thrive, and that he can’t see any reason to try and take control of other companies. He believes that people starting up businesses are doing the hard work and should maintain control. Often the hardest thing about starting up a business is not in having the knowledge or the product, but in knowing how to go about finding the funding to get it off the ground. Mr Gehl admits that this process can be a slippery slope.

“You want to make sure you find somebody good, somebody you can trust, somebody you know. That’s what I would suggest. If you can’t, make sure you get referrals, don’t take the first money that’s thrown at you. You have a good product, use that as leverage.” It is important to both get along with any potential investors and also to have somebody who shares the same goals. Many angel investors will enter an agreement with a five-year exit plan, and startups need to make sure they are prepared for what an investor wants.

“Startups will say, ‘our investors told us we have to be overseas.’ So they go overseas, and find out that they have to fly people back and forth to China all the time, and they’re having quality issues and communication problems, and it ends up costing a lot more money.” This is just another example of how the need for manufacturing in the place the products are sold is becoming larger. For Mr Gehl, this is one of the main considerations in terms of continuing to grow the company and play to its strengths.

According to President Greg Gehl, “The electronics industry definitely isn’t shrinking… that’s the exciting thing about it. It’s a huge marketplace.”

“I think the focus on having manufacturing where the products are, you’re going to see that more and more. Trump definitely doesn’t hurt that for the US, but other places are realizing that. It reduces a lot of the headaches and you help boost the economy in the area as well.” The goal for Mr Gehl is to keep growing the company every year, and this is likely to see more acquisitions considered. Mr Gehl admits he would like to have another company acquired this year, and maybe two more the year after.

“The electronics industry definitely isn’t shrinking,” he says, “that’s the exciting thing about it. It’s a huge marketplace. There’s been a lot of consolidation in the marketplace, people looking to do acquisitions, people looking to be acquired.” If an acquisition comes up for the company that that looks viable and good, then Mr Gehl admits he will take a look at it, even those that might require moving out of the North American marketplace. “I looked at a place in Germany last year, I went there and visited it. It just wasn’t a good fit for me, so I turned it down. Again, if you can find something that’s the right fit, then I believe that you can make it competitive and you can do good things in that area.”

Find out more about Urtech Manufacturing by visiting www.urtechmfg.com.