Spymasters, conspiracies, the PRC, & Dong Jingwei

Noel Hadjimichael in The Canadian Business Quarterly

The tensions currently exposed between the People’s Republic of China (PRC) and the United States, let alone the more than 100 years of competition between Communist regimes and the assorted democracies that styled the West (from the early 1917 Bolsheviks via the Cold War Eastern Europeans to present day super-power PRC), are real enough. Trade, freedom of navigation in the South China Sea, intellectual theft on a scale never seen before, “social credit / surveillance communism” and continued human rights abuses all make for a toxic conversation. But the reported defection of top spymaster State Security Vice Minister Dong Jingwei made news beyond online commentators like SpyTalk or regional service Chanel News Asia based in Singapore.

Intelligence chiefs are rarely the news story themselves – they are more civil servant and bureaucrat than fast driving, martini drinking James Bond creatures from the world of espionage literature. Think more Sir Humphrey from Yes Minister than an older Jason Bourne or even Liam Neeson on a bad day. William Colby the CIA Director for part of the 1970s or Alan Wrigley ASIO Director General in the 1980s were consummate leaders with strong values – but never let themselves become the focus of the organisation or the narrative.

Dong Jingwei is said to be in hiding or detention or under protection. This prominent Chinese spy in simple terms – more a spymaster or leading organisational figure – was reported to have defected to the United States and offered information about the start of the covid pandemic. News that has slowly gained some traction since February of this year. Deputy Minister of State Security Dong Jingwei is said to have secretly flown from Hong Kong to the United States on February 10, according to information that initially surfaced on Chinese media sites and Twitter.

It was alleged that he travelled alongside his daughter Dong Yang and has sought asylum. Rumours are circulating that Jingwei has offered to pass vital confirmation data about the Wuhan Institute of Virology, at the center of the covid lab leak theory that had been downplayed as a “conspiracy” by many over the past 18 months. The lab leak narrative is getting more oxygen and may feature in President Biden’s soon to be concluded report on the pandemic.

But do spymasters matter? Can you trust the words of someone who is desperate to be given a new life even if under the closest protection for the rest of their lives? History and common sense suggest a mixed picture between trust versus deception. But in this era of big data, global technology and severe levels of disinformation that would have been seen as pathetic over the top propaganda in earlier times, there are few guarantees.

Dong Jingwei was a prestigious head of counterintelligence at China’s Ministry of State Security, also known as the Guoanbu. His intelligence world would have included knowledge about China’s high technology intellectual property strategies, suppression policies towards minorities (religious, ethnic or ideological) and the controversial early pathogenetic studies of the virus, patterns of the predicted spread of the Covid-19 virus with the associated damage to the global economy and societies from PRC decisions taken on people movement and transport. The murky details of the money trail between other governments or corporations that might have had a hand in funding controversial research are also in play.

Former Chinese Foreign Ministry official Dr Han Lianchao, who defected after the Tiananmen Square massacre in 1989, wrote in a tweet in July that Dong Jingwei’s defection “is really a big bombshell”. He also reportedly shared a photo of Mr. Jingwei, claiming that he was last seen in public in September 2020. The photo has since allegedly been removed from the Chinese search engine Baidu. So much smoke, so many mirrors.

There are more questions and precious few answers. It was reported that this spymaster was an attendee at a recent high level Chinese government meeting (with plenty of photos to prove it) but critics and cynics cry “photo shopping or make believe”.

There are mysteries and there are secrets. Secrets are knowledge held by the few from the many. If Dong Jingwei is really in the hands of the West (somewhere safe, secure and hopefully unknown to the Chinese regime) he may provide some of the missing jigsaw pieces to gain a better understanding of what is happening in China and how China is dealing with its immense power at a time when internal pressures (demographic, economic and social) are proving hard to suppress.

Spymasters are not Merlin or even Alchemists. They may not be the key piece of the puzzle but can give context, detail and interpretation to whatever evidence, data or accepted testimonials the West, the WHO or anyone else can muster to better understand the origins of the pandemic.

Sir Humphrey used to offer Jim Hacker always options – including the brave one. This was sure to steer the hapless politician from that direction or strategy. Today we might need to have politicians, business leaders and journalists embrace the unpalatable truths (as best we can establish) to enable us to tackle the challenges of a global breakdown in international affairs.

We are not at war yet … but we are in a warlike environment of hybrid grey zone conflict where the national interest and the broader global peace are precariously balanced between poor decisions and no decisions. This spymaster may hold some of the keys to our better decisions.

Noel Hadjimichael is a London based public policy consultant in the security, defence and civil society space with relevant experience working in politics, the civil service, industry and the charitable sectors.

Digital transformations on the wrong end of the stick


There’s a growing body of evidence demonstrating technology-led digital transformations are overpromising and under-delivering returns on investment for owners in asset-intensive organizations.

According to McKinsey & Co., 70% of digital transformations are failing to meet stated business goals. For industrial sectors like manufacturing, utilities, energy and mining the reports are worse, the rate can soar to 80%. That doesn’t mean these major projects aren’t providing any value, just that the ROI can and should be questioned as a good business decision.

Certainly, asset owners are spending millions or tens of millions of dollars on technology investments to revamp their enterprise solutions architecture. By no coincidence management consultants, systems integrators and solution providers are making millions or tens of millions from these improvement initiatives. 

What value are the asset owners realizing? The exact returns on these investments are often unclear, obfuscated and rarely published in investor presentations and annual reports. Despite research to the contrary, most companies believe what they’ve done is good enough, thank you very much. Nothing to see here. This is fine.

This, of course, impacts Canadian business competitiveness both domestically and globally. It adversely impacts productivity which lowers profitability in private sectors and increases the cost of service in public sectors.

It’s not all bad news. The technology-first approach to organizational transformation in the pursuit of operational excellence has provided infrastructure with tremendous potential. Access to data stored and managed in the cloud has grown exponentially. Analytics tools and platforms offer limitless analysis capability. Now, anything is possible!

Unfortunately, potential doesn’t pay the suppliers. Potential doesn’t pay the shareholders. Potential doesn’t deliver value to other stakeholders like customers, regulators, communities, etc. “Potential is like a summer crop. If it don’t rain, it don’t grow.” – Charles Oakley.

This is a classic case of Field of Dreams – build it and they will come. “Data informs decisions!” we shout. This is precisely where one should question – which decisions exactly? And how? Because that’s where the conversation usually ends.

Our digital transformations haven’t been working because it’s been technology first, people and decisions second. Few initiatives have included an appropriate organizational redesign and new competencies for its people. Fewer changes have been accompanied by revised operating and governance models that complement the new technology. There’s lots of talk about Industry 4.0 but technology isn’t enough when people and decision-making are not adequately supported. We’ve missed the boat on Industry 4.0.

Douglas Hubbard, a risk and decision expert and author at Hubbard Decision Research has asserted, “The most important decision you will make is how you will make your decisions.” This statement is profound in the pursuit of operational excellence as a business outcome. Excellence is an incredibly high bar without room for compromise.

One root cause in underperforming digital transformations is that in the face of massive investment, organizations collectively are still no better at decision-making than they were before the change took place. This is the battleground where operational excellence is won and lost.

Our technology investments have revealed an immediate bottleneck – our people’s capability to ask and answer the right questions resulting in more, better decisions. Data scientists can do almost any manipulation of the data but require capable subject matter expertise to ask and answer the right technical questions with the data and analytical tools. 

It isn’t just the practitioners; leaders are also at fault. What are the key management questions operations leadership is asking of its organization and to what quality are those questions being answered by its practitioners? How are these questions and answers leading to decisions?

What is a decision exactly? It is a choice made under conditions of complexity and uncertainty to meet business objectives.

A decision’s level of structure and rigour applied must be consistent with its degree of complexity and consequence potential. Some decisions are a simple yes/no choice where it is appropriate to use experience and intuition. Other decisions are very complex involving multiple solution options for multiple objectives requiring considerable data and analytical evidence. Good decisions must incorporate not only the best available knowledge but the uncertainty around that knowledge. This is why many decisions should be made with simple quantitative two-pass model frameworks. The first pass gets us into the ballpark while a refined second pass reduces uncertainties associated with the inputs.

There are many questions that should be considered in proper decision-making: What are the important decisions to be made? Who makes them and who is included to provide support? When should they best be made? What knowledge is required? Does knowledge come from experience, data evidence or both? What options, alternatives and scenarios should we consider? What business objectives do we value? How will we balance financial (production revenue, cost) with non-financial (safety, environmental, customer service and quality, social governance and sustainability) drivers? Is this a satisfying decision or an optimization decision? If optimizing, for what and over what period? What if we’re wrong? What are the constraints and can they be tested? What biases exist and can they be minimized? What if we’re wrong? Is the decision reversible? Can we live with the decision if the result turns out poorly?

This structured decision-making technique is rarely utilized.

What’s at stake? A lot. By definition, performance benchmarking allows only 10% of operating companies in the top decile and 25% in the top quartile. These organizations already have good management practices to get them there and believe in continuous improvement to raise the bar even higher. That means the remaining 75% of companies either stuck in the mediocrity of second or third-quartile (or worse) have a lot of work to do to keep up and catch up. The good news is it can be done. McKinsey & Co. say that 10% of companies can actually make the leap to displace an incumbent in the top quartile.

According to Solomon Associates, the difference between average and top-quartile performers can be a 6% increase in production and a 45% reduction in spending. That difference is massive in any organization and is largely due to the organization’s decision-making capacity. Decision management is the key to operational excellence results.

How good is the organization’s current decision-making? Hubbard says it is reflected in the organization’s decision track record. Unfortunately, most organizations are not very good at tracking their decisions, actions, and results. Sadly, many managers would prefer their decisions not to be tracked as the transparency can be uncomfortable. Ultimately, however, decision quality is reflected in operational performance. In the words of W. Edwards Deming, “Your system is perfectly designed to give you the results that you get.

Often the important decisions are obscured in our policies, standards and business processes. Or there is some expectation of some nameless decision to be made with data once analyzed. “Data informs decisions!” we repeat.

There is a principle, an acronym called DIKDAR adapted from data quality management that tells a story. Data > Information > Knowledge > Decision > Action > Result is a progression more than a process. Data by itself is not useful until the technical context is added. This may be done through analysis to synthesize data into information. Information is still not yet actionable until the business context is added to form knowledge. With knowledge, a decision may be made. The decision guides what action will be taken in the form of plans and tasks that deliver a result.

Everyone wants great results. Most people are predisposed to action so once the decision is made, execution is assured to follow so the ‘A’ and the ‘R’ are not the problem here. The key is to make the right decision. Many people will concentrate on the data and information with some notional idea of a decision. This discovery method yields mediocre results. A better way is to centre on the decisions to be made and work backwards. Start with a decision and determine the knowledge required to make the best decision possible at every opportunity. Then determine the information and analytics required to support that knowledge, and finally, determine what data is useful to support the required information. This more deliberate method provides superior results. Some data is more important than other data. The deliberate approach allows the distinction of valuable data to support the decision while the discovery approach does not.

What are the important decisions to be made in operational management? The ISO 5500x Asset Management family of standards provides guidance on how asset owners should coordinate the organization’s activities to create value from its assets to meet the strategic organizational objectives for its stakeholders. These expectations are communicated more practically in the Asset Management Landscape document by the Global Forum for Maintenance and Asset Management (GFMAM.org). This reference clearly and simply outlines the fundamentals of asset management and the 39 subjects of asset management in six subject areas. This set of practices cover the entire asset lifecycle from cradle to grave.

Formal asset management should be foundational for all asset owners but the adoption of this relatively new disciple and emerging profession has been slow globally, particularly in North America. The reason in part for the slow uptake is because of how asset management practitioners have tried to offer and deliver asset management as a heavy-handed standalone documented asset management system that does not integrate well with the asset owners existing operational management.

A more beneficial approach is to cut to the chase, go directly to the important decisions throughout the asset life cycle. Fortunately, there are a finite number of important decision types within those 39 subjects of asset management. A more effective management system framework would codify those decision types and offer a decision model for each enabling the best decision possible at every opportunity. Decision models can be standardized by decision type using simple and proven problem-solving and decision-making methods like the A3 PSDM. Now the knowledge, information and data required to make the best decision are revealed and made obvious. 

An interesting phenomenon happens when the perspective changes from managing the “tasks to be done” to the “what and how decisions are made”. Suddenly the overwrought business process becomes simplified. We no longer need volumes of policy, standards, processes and procedure documents that no one reads (TL;DR – too long didn’t read). Better decision-making can be accomplished with only a modest investment in our people’s competencies and simple tools to consistently make more, better decisions.

Data is the wrong end of the stick. Digital transformations laser focus on data and data management in its technology-led solutions has obfuscated the forest for the trees. Decision management is the right end of the stick. Leaders would do well to center themselves and their organization on more, better decision-making.

Decision-making doesn’t need to be perfect for perfection is not a reasonable expectation. In all decisions made by either commission or omission, there will always be good decisions with good outcomes, bad decisions with good outcomes, bad decisions with bad outcomes and good decisions with bad outcomes. Decision-making simply needs to be better than it was before and hopefully better than peers or competitors to realize more value through continuous improvement.

Digital transformations to date have left operational leaders greatly underserved for the job-to-be-done: to direct the organization’s activities to deliver more value from the same assets with fewer resources. There is a solution. An Enterprise Operational Management System (EOMS) as a simple and effective framework gives leaders the tools to manage, lead and govern the organization.

The EOMS is the lens through which leader see their organization. It is the space where they think about operational performance. It is the canvas upon which they decide where to disproportionately apply its vast and scarce resources. It is how they instruct the organization to act to achieve the desired business outcomes. See. Think. Decide. Act.

Intelligent EOMS design starts with first-principles decision management and also includes systems thinking, human-centred design, modern leadership attributes, choice architecture as well as asset management fundamentals and select operational excellence practices all wrapped in a low administrative burden framework.

The EOMS reframes the wicked problem of value leakage from suboptimal decision-making. It provides the right balance of structure and discipline with flexibility and innovation. It integrates all the activities of the organization to deliver more value than would the sum of its parts. It is built for leaders and first-principles decision-making. As a framework, EOMS fits any organization regardless of maturity or complexity.

An enterprise operational management system is the keystone apex solution that courageous operational leaders in progressive organizations need to manage, lead and govern their organizations. The EOMS is the technology missing from digital transformation projects and the enterprise solution architecture in the odyssey operational leaders are undertaking. Maybe we will get it right in Industry 4.1.

After the digital transformation, operational leaders now need a transmutation of their organization’s decision-making capability. Let it rain to nurture our crops. Step out of the cornfield onto the field of dreams. 

Paul Daoust is the Founder & Managing Director of Scio Asset Management Inc., www.scioam.com.

Penticton Toyota: State-of-the-art new and used car dealership

Penticton Toyota General Manager Larry Pidperyhora Jr in The Canadian Business Quarterly

Serving the local community for over 40 years, Penticton Toyota is a locally owned and operated dealership, offering next-level service from its recently-renovated, state-of-the-art showroom and cutting edge service centre.

General Manager Larry Pidperyhora Jr. has been with the dealership for nearly 10 years and is a second-generation operator, with his father Larry Pidperyhora Sr. currently serving as Dealer Principal. Mr Pidperyhora Jr. has served in many positions at the dealership, starting in sales, then Financial Services, Sales Manager, and now General Manager, and prides himself on being a hands-on operator that engages his team to always strive to grow, develop, and carry the business forward. He credits the dealership’s success to his team of loyal and dedicated staff and the relationships that have been forged with the dealership’s clients and community. Mr Pidperyhora Jr. spoke with us recently about his career path through the dealership, the issues currently being faced in the automotive industry, and the new state-of-the-art facilities that are helping the dealership remain sustainable into the future.

Family business

“We’re a family owned and operated dealership,” Mr Pidperyhora Jr. explains. “My father Larry Sr. is the Dealer Principal. He’s been with the dealership since 1992, when we moved back to Canada. He has grown through the business in the same capacity as I have – Sales and Sales Manager, and grown through all levels of the business.”

Mr Pidperyhora Sr. partnered with Tony Whiles who was his counterpart in parts and service, going through a complete buyout of a previous business partner in 2015 and now owning the business together.

“Penticton is in the southern part of the Okanagan valley, so we’re about 45 minutes from the US border. It is pretty well known I think throughout Canada, and probably even internationally, for being one of the most beautiful parts of Canada. We have amazing lakes, mountains, world-class skiing, wineries. Just so many amazing things.”

The allure of the city continues to bring people from all over Canada, with those retiring or selling their homes from the lower mainland. There has been a lot of development and redevelopment over recent years, creating more modern, high-density living.

“There’s a lot of growth happening, a lot of people moving to the area, they’re discovering it and deciding that’s where they want to be, once they’re done with their career, and just taking advantage of everything we have to offer. It’s an amazing city.”

Mr Pidperyhora Jr. became involved in the business after graduating business school at Okanagan College in Kelowna. He began working at a smaller dealership, and after interviewing with the management team at Penticton Toyota, made the decision to move.

Penticton Toyota General Manager Larry Pidperyhora Jr in The Canadian Business Quarterly
General Manager Larry Pidperyhora Jr. has been with the dealership for nearly 10 years and is a second-generation operator, with his father Larry Pidperyhora Sr. currently serving as Dealer Principal

“I wanted to make sure that if I was going to come aboard that it was a going to be a good fit for everybody and myself. So I started at the dealership in 2012 as a salesperson, then I started to progress and learn a lot of the different aspects of the business and various departments.”

It was important for Mr Pidperyhora Jr. to join the business and learn from the bottom up, and throughout the years he has passed through the roles of salesperson, Finance Manager, Used Vehicle Manager and Sales Manager, before finally arriving at his current role as GM.

“Knowing from an early standpoint that this was going to be what I wanted to do for a career, it was very important as a second generation to carry the torch so to speak from the success that my father’s had, taking the dealership to the next levels.”

Single point store

Penticton Toyota is a single point store, independently owned and operated. In today’s automotive landscape, a lot of dealerships are owned by dealer groups of various sizes, with some running as many as 50 dealerships or more.

“Being an independently owned and operated single point means that we are the only store within the group. That gives us a lot more of a hands-on culture, and given the fact that your Dealer Principal is in the dealership every day, you really get that feeling of knowing who you work for and knowing the message and the philosophy you’re carrying out.”

There is a lot to admire in the corporate culture of the bigger groups, operating impressively with so many moving parts, and it is becoming quite rare for single point dealerships to be operating, as much of the time it makes more sense to sell to a group.

“We love it,” Mr Pidperyhora Jr. says. “We can focus 100% of our efforts and energy on this location, knowing what’s going on inside and out and having a really strong ‘finger on the pulse’ type of management style.”

The Toyota brand is well known throughout the world as very high-quality, and Mr Pidperyhora Jr. has nothing but good things to say, recognizing that many people who buy Toyotas are owners for life.

“When I talk to a customer in our showroom, or to someone I’ve met for the first time, you ask them if they’ve ever owned a Toyota, and the stories come out about what their first Toyota was, or what they did with their first Toyota. We’re known for our reliability, dependability, quality and resale value.”

As an innovative automobile manufacturer, Toyota is regularly coming out with the newest technology, whether its safety features, alternate power trends, fuel efficiency, or environmentally-friendly building practices.

“I’ve seen more first-time Toyota buyers in the last three years than I ever had before that, so a lot of people are starting to open up to the brand, particularly through the avenue of hybrid and plug-in hybrid. We’re seeing those people trading in other makes and really understanding what Toyota is all about.”

Penticton Toyota General Manager Larry Pidperyhora Jr in The Canadian Business Quarterly
Serving the local community for over 40 years, Penticton Toyota is a locally owned and operated dealership, offering next-level service from its recently-renovated, state-of-the-art showroom and cutting edge service centre

Toyota remains one of the most recognized brands in the world and as such still commands a huge amount of respect amongst the public. Mr Pidperyhora Jr. and the team at Penticton Toyota are extremely proud to work with and represent the brand.

The automotive industry across North America is currently suffering from a parts shortage, with supply issues meaning new vehicles are sometimes not able to be built, which is creating a high demand.

“You have a sales velocity that is absolutely unprecedented. What we’re selling as a percentage of what’s available to us is just bizarre. When you have a scarcity of new vehicles, you’re not taking in as many trade-ins, so we’re now seeing the same thing happen with pre-owned vehicle market.”

This means that there is a huge jump in value on certain vehicles, which is forcing dealers to adapt in order to find ways to keep inventory levels healthy enough to meet ongoing sales objectives.

“The way consumers have changed their buying habits through COVID, they realize there’s a better way, that they don’t have to come to the dealership. They want to do as much of the process online, or contactless, or at their own pace, so a lot of dealers are adjusting to different buying behaviors.”

All of these changes come on top of the continuing move towards alternate power trends, whether that be electric, hybrid, plug-in hybrid, or in the case of Toyota, hydrogen, which is where the future focus is going to be.

“What we see happening today, we’ve never seen anything like it. There is all sort of speculation and talk about when things might correct, when will production catch up to demand. You’ve got to take it day by day and keep your eyes open for what’s going to happen in the future. There are a lot of real struggles because of inventory availability.”

Sustainable business

Servicing the communities within the South Okanagan including, Penticton, Summerland, Oliver, and Osoyoos. Penticton Toyota sells around 650 new vehicles and 500 used cars annually. Staff levels at the dealership have increased over 40% in the last eight years, and it currently employs 50 full time staff, with some working at the dealership for upwards of 30 years.

Penticton Toyota General Manager Larry Pidperyhora Jr in The Canadian Business Quarterly
With continued growth and a keen awareness of how to adapt to industry conditions, Mr Pidperyhora Jr. and the team at Penticton Toyota are committed to building a sustainable future for the dealership

“One of the biggest things in our business is parts and service; it’s not just when we sell the vehicle, it’s how we look after the customer after the sale. We needed more capacity in our service department, so in 2017 we underwent a massive renovation, doubled the size of our service facility, added more technology, more abilities to look after our service guests.”

The renovation was timely, as the demand for vehicles and servicing over the last few years has grown significantly, with huge increases of sales over a large section of different models the dealership offers.

“Pre-owned vehicles has been the same thing. We’re currently under construction of a brand new used-car facility right next door. So we’re growing our pre-owned operations, we’ve grown our parts and service operations, with increased volume, which hired more sales staff, more sales managers, more accounting staff. We’ve created a lot of jobs.”

The growth of the company has been exceptional over the years, and Mr Pidperyhora Jr. is confident that it is sustainable growth, with the capability of adapting to the business as it goes through changes.

“The big thing is, we want to look after our existing customers – the people that have purchased from us and serviced with us, get a repeat sale out of it – and in addition to that, to grow our business, we want to go after those new Toyota owners and earn their business, get them to buy into the product, and hopefully add them to our customer portfolio base.”

The future of the business is likely to see some structural changes, with Larry Pidperyhora Sr. looking to begin moving towards retirement, which would eventually see Mr Pidperyhora Jr. take over the dealership.

“As I mentioned earlier, we are building a pre-owned facility next door, about 6,000sqft on an additional acre of land, that is going to house all of our pre-owned vehicle operations and our reconditioning of used vehicles.”

This change will allow for more service capacity, so the dealership can utilize the property it currently works from to focus on new car sales, which will involve hiring new people, and adjusting processes and company structure to accommodate the changes.

“From there it’s just staying on top of everything Toyota is doing, waiting for the new product cycles to come out. We want to get even more ingrained in our community, and continue to be good corporate citizens and do everything we can to keep the business sustainable and have some fun.”

With continued growth and a keen awareness of how to adapt to industry conditions, Mr Pidperyhora Jr. and the team at Penticton Toyota are committed to building a sustainable future for the dealership. Find out more about Penticton Toyota by visiting www.pentictontoyota.com.

The new Silicon Valley: How Canadian culture is driving tech startup success

Certn Chief Revenue Officer Rory Capern in the CBQ

The geographic capital of tech innovation is changing. Once holding the monopoly over tech startup success, Silicon Valley is falling victim to a barrier faced by major hubs of the past — they have centralized similar innovative minds but are now unable to pivot fast enough with changing global markets. To combat this issue, Silicon Valley is now outsourcing to acquire the new skills and traits necessary in the age of rapid tech innovation. This is where Canada and our wealth of homegrown talent comes into play.

Often deemed the hub for technological innovation and production, Silicon Valley is globally recognized as the unofficial destination for upcoming tech entrepreneurs and startups. However, with the growing number of major tech companies setting roots in alternative regions such as Georgia, Florida, Ontario and British Columbia – it’s important for emerging tech startups to note why a variety of Canadian cities are gaining notoriety for their tech innovation and skill. 

As the global job market widens, companies around the world are looking to Canada for remote talent, leading to possible brain drain as our brightest and best are recruited for established opportunities in other countries. While remote hiring has ample benefits for both employers and applicants around the world, rapid and excessive outsourcing of Canadian talent will have critical and long-lasting effects, including a catastrophic reduction in tech innovation and development of local startup economies. 

A fine balance between global hiring of Canadian talent and retaining Canadian innovators is more important than ever before. Recognizing the talents and skills within Canada, as well as the unique opportunities afforded to tech innovators by remaining in Canada, our nation can hold on to talent and continue to strengthen our reputation as a tech innovation capital.  

Differences in character between Canadian and U.S. entrepreneurs play a significant role in the growth of Canada as a tech centre, specifically in how Canadian entrepreneurs face challenges and seek collaboration. 

With 20 years of Canadian tech experience across a variety of regions, I have seen firsthand how willing Canadian entrepreneurs are to align resources and cooperate with other innovators, driving international growth. Less access to capital compared to startups in the U.S. or Europe also results in Canadian tech innovators doing more with less, exemplifying a strong value for resourcefulness and creativity. 

Canadians are gritty by nature, often acting faster and recognizing new opportunities before our global competitors. Often still in the earthly stages of growth, Canadian offices of international firms tend to act as “labs” for their global parents. As a result, these Canadian locations are often willing to try new things quickly, opening up vital market opportunities for entrepreneurial companies. 

Canadian innovators exemplify a stronger tolerance to risk, more often than not taking the large, yet calculated bets on new innovation, approaches to business or partnerships required to scale. This keeps Canadian startups generally one step ahead of the competition and able to capitalize on new opportunities for investment and innovation.

Across the country, tech hubs are sprouting up, including The Corridor — spanning from Waterloo to Toronto, spearheaded by Shopify, Google and D2L — and the growing tech hub in Metro Vancouver

The first major advantage to organizations looking to settle in Canada compared to major U.S. cities is the economic boost. The tax benefits, lower rent and easy access to talent via expanding remote opportunities allows startups to operate at a lower cost while achieving similar revenue results to conducting business in the U.S. As all startups aspire to achieve significant profit growth, basing headquarters within Canada makes good business sense.

Canadian-based startups also offer a unique benefit to their local ecosystems and are known for their ability to connect with local industries to accelerate innovation. Perfect examples include Shopify’s ability to spark local ecosystems surrounding e-commerce and drive the development of new breakout companies. Canada’s ability to share, collaborate and support others as an innovation community allows our startups the chance to excel.

Looking to the future of Canadian tech growth, Artificial intelligence (AI) and machine learning, two integral technological innovations to solving a host of major global issues, are Canada’s strength. Continued innovation and funding within these ecosystems are vital and will ensure Canada continues to stake its claim as the new Silicon Valley.

During a time when global hiring and outsourcing of talent is growing exponentially, Canadian entrepreneurs need to be even more aware of the opportunities and talent present at home. National remote teams should be capitalized on, allowing diverse skills and ideas to be shared across growing innovation hubs, with the aim of increasing the quality of Canadian products and expanding operations. 

Recognizing and celebrating Canada’s ability to take on the identity of a new tech hub is not only beneficial in terms of topping the global ranking for tech innovation, but it solidifies what we already know — that we continue to be the underdog, able to excel with few resources and surpass the usual leaders. 

This also acts as a strong lesson for tech startups. If you have a great idea, it’s probably best to stay here. 

Rory Capern is the Chief Revenue Officer of Certn, certn.co.

Questions to consider when advancing your professional development in marketing

Jelly Digital Marketing & PR Founder Darian Kovacs

Getting started on your digital marketing career can be an exciting journey but can also be difficult to know which courses and certifications will be of the most benefit to you in helping you achieve your goals. There are many digital marketing bootcamps, courses, and programs to choose from, which can be a little overwhelming to understand which one will best propel you on your career journey. How can you know which course will help you land the job and have you feeling prepared when you’re actually working the job too? Well, there’s three questions you can ask and investigate when looking for a digital marketing bootcamp. 

These questions will help you understand the validity of the course as well as how useful it will actually be for you. Once you start looking at the courses available through this lens, it will be clear which ones you’ll walk away feeling great about or the others that will be more of a bust when it comes to enhancing your skills. Read on to find out what three questions will help you when searching for your digital marketing bootcamp!

What certificates will I walk away with when I’m complete?

When taking courses for digital marketing, your main goal is to walk away with certifications and recognition that will help you not only land jobs, but feel prepared for them. When you sit down to do your work everyday, you’ll want to feel ready and confident that you can navigate any task or project that comes your way. To ensure you receive this type of preparation, you’ll need to find a digital marketing course that provides qualified certifications that focus on the applied skills needed in your desired roles. This would include certificates such as Facebook Blueprint, Google Analytics, Google Ads and others that are highly relevant in the digital marketing industry. It’s important you do research on the types of jobs you want to land and succeed in, and which certificates will be appropriate for that position. 

In addition to developing the necessary skills, it’s important the course provides industry recognized certifications that you can achieve alongside your course as well as providing credentials that are external from the course itself. In the case of a school like Red Academy going bankrupt, it left students with nothing to show for their experience. By picking a course that uses evergreen and consistent certifications, it ensures you have those skills no matter what happens to the institution. Having evergreen certifications for digital marketing will be a key way to maintain a standing when the industry, and the bootcamps to educate the industry, are constantly evolving. 

How is the course taught? 

Is it live, on demand or a mix of both? How your digital marketing bootcamp is conducted will have a large impact on what you will take away from the course. The best way to take a digital marketing course is with a live format to get the most from the curriculum. Having a class that is live is great for the reason that you get fresh and current content that evolves with the industry’s needs. Digital marketing changes so much, even daily, and it’s important that these topics are live vs. pre-recorded so no important updates are missed. When taking a digital marketing course that is taught live, you’ll have an advantage when entering the job market by being knowledgeable on the current topics and trends. 

Additionally, by having a synchronous course, it allows students to participate and ask questions as the materials are presented. When you’re learning complex topics such as SEO, digital ads, PR, and social media, it can be hard to absorb all the content on your own without any additional questions. There’s many layers and additional teachings that go with each of these topics that could simply not be covered via a pre-recorded lecture. Jelly Academy is a digital marketing course that teaches all of these topics live and allows for interactive activities with students to participate in. This provides students with a well-rounded experience that has them feeling prepared and asking questions in class, opposed to feeling lost on the job.

Is there a good timeframe to complete the certifications? 

A reason to take a course in the first place is for accountability and assistance through the certifications and to successfully complete them. You should aim to finish all certifications while in your course in order to maintain the motivation and responsibility to finish. Otherwise you could be doing it on your own with free lessons you find on Youtube without the same educational value. Along with accountability, doing your certifications throughout your digital marketing bootcamp allows you to discuss questions, findings, or noteworthy pieces with your instructor. This is key for really digging deep and understanding the concepts of digital marketing. 

In addition to accountability and support in completing your certifications, if a course shapes the curriculum by finishing your certifications before graduation, this has you leaving the entire program completely ready to enter the job market. By the time you’ve completed your bootcamp, you will have various certifications along with the certification of the course itself, which will definitely be a boost to your resume!

These are the three questions that you should be asking before signing up for your digital marketing course. These specifics should help you find the right digital marketing program for you and your career goals and have you completing the course feeling positive and ready to get going in your career. The best thing you can do is research the course thoroughly and ensure it hits these three marks, along with any other goals you want to achieve by taking it. Once you decide on your course, enjoy the process and all the exciting tools you’ll learn in your education. Good luck on the journey!

Darian Kovacs is the Founder of Vancouver based SEO company Jelly Digital Marketing & PR, jellymarketing.ca.

The drastic changes occurring in corporate culture through Covid’s technology boom

Timereaction Co-founder Allan Diamond-in The CBQ

Management is currently scrambling to take a position into innovative technologies thanks to the cultural shift that has reared its ugly head over the past 18 months. The belief of the disruption in employee hiring and retention supported by the work-from-home movement has taken the facility away from corporations. Technology isn’t any longer a “nice to have”, but a requirement, and together with that, the fact that innovation initiatives frequently fail, or the “we’ve always done it this way” mentality hampers their performance.

From an administrative perspective, there could also be a transparent business strategy, but without the organization working in harmony towards a typical goal, the innovative strategy can fail. Success relies on three pillars to succeed; management’s will to speculate the resources, team leaders that evaluate the requirements to fulfil the mandate, and therefore the front-line workers who inevitably are required to utilize the technologies without proof of efficiency improvements.

In order to form an innovative culture, team leaders need to ensure that each one of the employees know that innovation is not an option. It must be woven into the culture of the business, with a transparent understanding within their performance descriptions and procedures, also because the perceived improvements that the innovation will help attain a higher life/work balance. Based on the changing work model, team leaders also are tasked with ensuring that there is not a decrease in productivity.

Innovative companies understand that success is not an on-the-spot result and must have the determination and endurance to adapt as the company evolves from the prevailing state towards the long run state. Failure is not the tip, but part of the educational process to implement further changes and must consider learning as an ongoing experiment.

Innovation is the resulting change in how the organization evolves and does not require changes in how people behave. For organizations to embrace innovation, teams must embrace the way that they interact at the local level, communicate across the created virtual workspace, and operate in a less structured environment.

With technologies that equal the playing field, management, team leaders and frontline employees must develop a sense of trust, eliminate the traditional hierarchy, and permit for a free flow of information across the corporation and celebrate risk and reward.

To compete on an ever-growing global scale, management must make efforts to inspire all levels of the organization to feel free to be creative where their voices are heard. With the scarcity of talented employees, organizations must learn to be lean, using the incredible technological advances we have seen over the past 18 months. Those who embrace this innovative strategy stand on the verge of becoming industry leaders at warp speed.

We now have the flexibility to permit employees to figure in a very reduced stress environment, contributing at every step of the process. Increased visibility across the entire supply chain creates a real-time communicative environment. This independence brings a newfound sense of purpose and community.

While most of the above has focused on the positive, as my subject line indicates, all is not as simple as it has been laid out. There are always individuals who fight change, are comfortable with the status quo, and do their best to sabotage the innovative initiative. My personal experience as founder of Timereaction exposed them to be the insecure employees, the ones that are just skating by, frightened that transparency will expose their inadequacies. This type of sabotage is discreet, whispering at the water cooler, referred to as workplace deviance, can destroy the efforts of months of planning, and engaged employee performance. These deviants may make up a minute percentage of the organization, but their impact cannot be overlooked. Like cornered rats clinging on to self-preservation, they seek out those that question the innovative intentions, and draw them into the dark side.

If such behavior is not detected and surgically removed like a cancer, workplace bullying can distract innovation throughout the organization, often targeting the best employees because they are the most threatening to their position. Of all the workplace environments that I have had the pleasure of participating in change management initiatives, these are the most dangerous of individuals, and the greatest cause of failure.

Allan Diamond is the Co-founder of Timereaction, www.timereaction.com.

Moving through organizational change together

The Outside Systems Change Strategist Tim Merry in The CBQ

Making an organization more equitable and inclusive is a process that goes beyond just agreeing with each other that ‘discrimination is bad’. With racial injustice, and therefore diversity in the workplace, being such a prevalent issue, it makes sense that the steps an organization takes to overcome these problems fall under scrutiny. Instead of putting emphasis on how we are different, there needs to be a focus on the work that brings everyone together. Organizations need to take action and encourage people to work together on a shared issue in order to overcome their differences. 

Through that “doing” we can bring about change, confront biases and stereotypes, and encourage growth and collaboration. If good processes are not followed, people can struggle to find what it takes to make a change. However, the right parameters can establish grounds that allow corporate and organizational cultures to make necessary changes and give people the tools to grow and develop. 

Focus on action to bring behavioural change 

Equipping people with tools and processes they can use is essential to achieving behavioural change. When people work together to overcome challenges, they put aside their differences and get to the task at hand. Being able to equip those within an organization with the knowledge and behavioral practices needed to come together in order to engage in shared work is key. Focusing on shared work will allow vested interests to flourish and ease friction that may have been shadowing them. 

Attitudes, behaviour, and structure are reciprocal 

Making an impactful change towards equity and inclusion doesn’t always start with changing someone’s attitude. While many see this as the first step, it is insufficient on its own for changing people’s behaviour. To make real change you also need to influence organizational leadership and impress the importance of a cultural shift. 

Statistically speaking, businesses get more white and male-dominated the closer to the top we look. This is where you need the change to happen. Changing behaviour comes from personal transformation and transformation within teams and departments. If the racist or biased issue is in the very fabric of the organization then it can be near impossible to change without leadership driving new policies and procedures at all levels of an organization. 

Moving through bias together 

It’s not uncommon for people to feel uncomfortable and judged when faced with addressing their biases. When we feel this way, there are two issues at play. One is the lack of access to information — understanding equity language and concepts in itself is exclusive. People can feel like the beliefs they were raised with are now being punished, simply because they didn’t have access to other points of view. The other is the idealistic way in which the move for change is often presented. When the need for change is presented as dogmatic, it will alienate those who fall into the “wrong” category, which automatically puts their defenses up and makes them want to reinforce their beliefs. 

If people focus on their actions and working together while collaborating with others, then you can change not only their attitudes and beliefs, but their work practices and relationships. To follow through, the focus still needs to be on the organizational structure to support those changes. 

Getting through “White Fragility” is necessary for change 

Issues with diversity and inclusion in the workplace aren’t a one sided issue. “Tackling these issues will require all of us to deal with things that are confronting and painful,” says Tuesday Ryan-Hart, Partner at The Outside, who leads organizations through systemic change

If work is at the center of what you’re doing, then problems become less personal. Instead of making each other the issue, give people a similar issue to focus on together. Shame is a tool of oppression, so remove the shame and get to work! Tuesday explains that “the best way out of guilt and shame is to take action.” So if someone is feeling attacked for being a white person with bias, they can be supported to embrace the discomfort of learning and change, and channel that feeling into working collaboratively with others. Making a lasting change takes a community effort and unwavering leadership and support. 

Don’t tell people, let them find their why 

When someone is intrinsically motivated they are more likely to believe in the changes they are trying to make. In order to help someone find their why you need to help them see the value in change by directing it through their work. Work only gets better when everyone appreciates the people they are working with and understand that they are all working toward something together. 

For those who feel uncomfortable with change, they need to find peace with what has been done in the past, whether by their forebears, their direct ancestors, or even themselves. Then, they can move forward with new knowledge. But acceptance around diversity is a challenging issue, and generally those who think they have the answer are missing something. More than just training, working together for a common goal can empower people and organizations to understand why it’s valuable to embrace change. Then, they will be prepared to take their own steps forward and create lasting, systemic change. 

The Outside brings together constellations of people from disparate teams, organizations, and jurisdictions to solve problems and scale impact. We have the missing piece of the puzzle: a practical understanding of the process and infrastructure of equitable systems change.

Tim Merry & Tuesday Ryan-Hart is the Systems Change Strategist of The Outside, www.findtheoutside.com.

How Brazilian cacao production supports local communities through sustainable farming


Canadian businesses are preparing to enter a post-pandemic world where environmental sustainability is of the utmost importance to consumers, paired with an increased desire to experience high-quality food and beverage products, whether that be at home or at a restaurant. Brazil has established processes that prioritize the protection of their native environments, economy and populations. Through inventive and tested policies and practices that lead to responsibly sourced products, Brazil has become an important exporter in the global market. In addition to offering products backed by environmentally sustainable and socially responsible cultivation methods, the fifth largest nation in the world also presents itself as a steadfast food importer as its vast and varied market for gourmet goods is hungrier than ever. 

Cacao and peanuts as examples of sustainable production

One of the products cultivated in the South American country that acts as an archetypal symbol of sustainability in agricultural production is cacao. “Not only does Brazil produce some of the planet’s highest quality cacao bean and chocolate – it also protects nature by doing so,” explains Andrea Mansano, Market Intelligence Coordinator at the Chamber of Commerce Brazil-Canada (CCBC), a non-profit organization that has been facilitating trade between the two countries for nearly 50 years. “There are different types of cacaos in Brazil, the seventh largest global producer in volume, presenting a great variety of flavours and characteristics. One of the most sustainable and unique ways to produce cacao in Brazil is the Cabruca system, a method that is as innovative as it is inveterate.” 

The Cabruca system is based on shade planting under the canopy of forest trees. This technique provides ideal conditions for cacao and promotes biodiversity (it’s the agricultural system with the richest native biodiversity in the world). The system which has been used in the Brazilian state of Bahia for 200 years is characterized by the fact that cacao cohabitates in the shade, thriving on 30% sunlight and 70% shade, with other native species. Producers must plant native trees which has led to 400,000 hectares of cattle pastures in the state of Pará having given way to cacao plantation and native forests, and 565,000 hectares of cacao in Bahia with approximately 70% being produced in accordance with the Cabruca system. 

Chocolate made with Brazilian single origin cacao therefore brings with it two crucial characteristics for responsible food production. The first is environmental sustainability, since the Cabruca system is unparalleled when it comes to the preservation of natural resources, as it protects the Atlantic Rainforest. The second characteristic is social responsibility, as, besides having strict laws against child labor and forced labor, Brazilian cacao production system promotes the development in small local vulnerable communities.

The country’s cacao is grown in various biomes, and each produces fruits with unique characteristics, just like grapes produced in different terroirs yields unique notes in wine. Chocolate made with Brazilian cacao is globally revered for its refined taste and unprecedented quality, with cacao produced in Pará featuring more butter (58% where cacao produced in other tropical countries typically contains 52%) and has fat with a higher melting point than other cacaos. Public policies also incentivize cacao cultivation in this Amazonian region that yields such a high-quality product. This, teamed with the fact that Brazil is one of the few self-sufficient countries when it comes to producing ingredients for manufacturing chocolates and candies, has contributed to its global reputation for producing some of the best cacaos in the world, used in chocolates of the highest quality at the hands of not only Brazilian chocolatiers but also those around the world. 

Peanuts are another local product that represent sustainable and responsible production and desirable high quality. Around 90% of peanut cultivation and processing in Brazil takes place in the Mogiana and Paulista regions, in a system that rotates with sugarcane: every five to six years, 10-15% of the crop is reformed and replanted to recover land productivity, incorporate nutrients such as nitrogen into the soil and interrupt cycles of pests and weeds. The Agronomic Institute of Campinas developed four peanut varieties with high oleic content between 2011 and 2015, extending the shelf life of these Brazilian peanuts and making them highly competitive on the global stage. 

Brazil’s unwavering gourmet food market

Brazil and Canada share a long history of close economic relations, both ranking the other among their respective top 10 major investors. With a GDP of $1.445 trillion and with a population of nearly 215 million people, Brazil is one of the largest consumer markets in the world. In fact, the country’s trade relations with Canada have been consistent despite the effect the pandemic has had on global trade – to illustrate this, Brazilian imports from Canada of edible vegetables and certain roots increased by 50% in the fourth quarter of 2020 when compared to the same period in 2019.

Canadian companies can turn to the largest country in South America as a destination for their high-quality, gourmet food and beverage products. Over 20 million Brazilians,  which represents 10% of the country’s population (over half of Canada’s population) – is hungrier than ever for imported gourmet goods. While increased unemployment during the pandemic resulted in a decrease in expenditure on gourmet food items in many markets, this wasn’t the case in Brazil. Consistent demand for premium products can be found in the aforementioned wide and varied group of financially resilient consumers who are willing to pay more for high-end goods as they seek innovative flavours, single origin products and unique experiences. 

This progressively sophisticated consumer culture creates an unwavering demand for upmarket Canadian food and beverage products that appeal to an appetite for elaborate culinary styles. This market, known in Brazil as the “High Gastronomy” market, includes cheeses from boutique dairies and imported wines. To illustrate this enduring interest, Brazil’s cheese market represented US$ 5.2 billion in retail value in 2020 and is projected to expand to US$ 7.4 billion in 2025. Similar projected growth can be seen in the country’s demand for wines as in 2020 the market size had a volume of 289.8 million litres and is expected to hit 390.8 million litres in 2024.

The hospitality industry in Brazil is also enjoying exciting growth with a rise in popularity in Japanese and other Asian cuisines (especially in São Paulo where there are more than 3,000 restaurants in this category). This expansion has generated an increased demand for imported Canadian seafood including saltwater fish, snow crabs, lobster and scallops, the latter of which has become a frequent feature on the menus of some of the country’s finest restaurants. In fact, Clearwater Seafoods, a Canadian company, has found success in exporting their products to Brazil by making them available to foodservice providers daily and providing support in incorporating the ingredient in restaurant menus.

There exists in Brazil a largely untapped market for other Canadian specialty items including jams, maple syrup, duck meat and foie gras. By connecting Canadian and Brazilian companies, helping them evaluate market trends and navigate bureaucratic procedures, the CCBC is uniquely equipped to help bring sustainable products to Canada and supplying Brazil with unique Canadian food and beverage gourmet products.

Paulo de Castro Reis is the Director of Institutional Relations, Chamber of Commerce Brazil-Canada, ccbc.org.br.