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Being competitive in a crowded market takes bold — even surprising — moves
By Linda Hasenfratz and Rebecca MacDonald, as originally published by Financial Post.
Linda Hasenfratz is CEO of Linamar and Canada’s 2014 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year. Rebecca MacDonald is the founder and executive chair of Just Energy Group and is Canada’s 2003 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year.
This summer, we attended the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year forum in Monaco – an annual gathering of top entrepreneurs from around the world, discussing such hot-button topics as artificial intelligence, talent shortage, geopolitical issues and more.
We participated in panels on growth in uncertainty and maintaining an entrepreneurial business. It was encouraging to see that although today’s uncertainty is challenging, it’s not debilitating. In fact, as confirmed by EY’s Growth Barometer released in early June, business leaders are up for the challenge. Middle-market executives surveyed across 30 countries said that despite Brexit, increasing populism, the rise of automation, artificial intelligence and skilled-talent shortages – or perhaps because of all that – 89 per cent of them see growth opportunities.
It is in times of uncertainty and change that the most interesting opportunities present themselves. That’s when businesses are often willing to do things they wouldn’t otherwise – take on new partners, outsource core products or invest in new technologies. This is when we need leaders who can unlock potential by focusing on competitiveness, opportunity and culture.
Being competitive in a crowded market requires harnessing innovation and efficiency. Innovation has been the cornerstone of the success at autoparts maker Linamar. Investing in new product designs – often for years before seeing any results – almost always paid off in the long run. It helped Linamar create new lines of business, attract new clients and cement a market-leading reputation.
Efficiency should be an ongoing effort. The little tweaks and adjustments that could make a significant dent in costs are rarely obvious from the top. At Linamar, for example, the global team aims to implement six ideas per person, per year. With 25,000 employees, that means we execute close to 150,000 ideas annually that come from employees around the world. We make it easy to find efficiencies by getting rid of unnecessary rules. Linamar has only nine global processes its employees are asked to follow – all other decisions are left to its people.
Despite the recent concerns about global trade, global markets are still a source of immense opportunity. Canadian businesses should step boldly into the global arena and find ways to grow, organically or through deals. Small goals achieve small things, bold goals achieve big things. So set big global goals.
Company culture is the foundation that makes it all possible. Demonstrate the behaviour you want to see in your company. The core values must be engrained into every fibre of your business. Doing that takes a long time, commitment and significant investment, but it will be the best investment. Develop your people relentlessly, motivate them to do better every day and make each hire a strategic one.
That brings us to diversity. As women in male-dominated industries – automotive and energy – we know first-hand the challenges women face in getting to leadership roles, as well as the tremendous amount of value lost when women are absent from boardrooms. If we prioritize diversity, we can tap into the biggest possible talent pool.
Women entrepreneurs, women leaders, women on boards, women in STEM – every one of these areas is seeing levels of representation 10 to 20 times that of the past, and momentum is growing. Don’t get left behind in this important business advantage. Build on the progress made so far and take conscious steps to carve a path to move women into decision-making roles. Having input from as diverse a group as possible will help you find opportunities in the most testing situations.
One leader who’s embraced the above principles is Murad Al-Katib of AGT Foods and Ingredients, who was just awarded the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year 2017 title at the Monaco forum – a commendable achievement. He grew his lentils, chickpeas and beans company to an international behemoth in a short time, thriving through the 2008 economic crisis and sticking to his unwavering mission to feed the world. Murad is an entrepreneur to emulate.
The world as a whole is experiencing change at a very rapid pace and no one person knows the sure way forward. We see obstacles and opportunities emerge in our path as icebergs – suddenly, overwhelmingly and largely unknown. What we do know is there are green pastures ahead, but it takes a strong leader to get there. You can learn to be one of those leaders.