Canadian business leaders respond to COVID-19: Michael McCain

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Today’s guest is Michael McCain, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, one of North America’s leading food producers with 13,000 employees and operations in Canada, the United States and Asia.

Also joining is Michael Burns, President and CEO of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation in Toronto.

These two guys have really stepped up to help front-line health workers and the fight against COVID-19, so let’s talk about what they’re doing and how others can help.

 

 

Transcript

Goldy Hyder:
Hi, I’m Goldy Hyder, of the Business Council of Canada, and you’re listening to Speaking of Business, conversations with Canadian innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. The scale of the COVID-19 pandemic is unlike anything we have seen in this country in at least a hundred years. During this extraordinary time, we’re reaching out to Canadian CEOs to find out how their companies are being affected by the emergency, and how they, as leaders, are responding. We kicked off this special series with Michael McCain, president and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods. We talked about the fantastic new initiative to support frontline health workers, starting with a two and a half million donation from Maple Leaf itself. Next, I spoke with Dax Dasilva, founder and CEO of Lightspeed. Under Dax’s leadership, Lightspeed is helping independent restaurants and retail stores cope with what is truly an unprecedented disruption to their business.

Goldy Hyder:
My guest today is Stephen Liptrap. Stephen is president and CEO of Morneau Shepell, the leading provider of HR services for more than 24,000 clients across North America. The company has about 6,000 employees engaged in helping employers support the mental, physical, social, and financial well-being of their people. Stephen, welcome to the podcast.

Stephen Liptrap:
Thanks for having me, Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:
Look, I’m really glad you’re here because, from what I can tell, you were one of the first business leaders in Canada to recognize that COVID-19 is not just a physical health emergency. It’s also a significant threat to the mental health of Canadians and Canadian workers. When did you realize that?

Stephen Liptrap:
Well, it actually goes back to the pivot that we made around our business a number of years ago, where we are fully focused on the total health of employees around the world. And when we think about the total health, we think about not only the physical health, but we think about the mental health, the financial health, and the social health of employees. And that really builds on our foundation where we’re leaders and innovators in the mental health space, developing employee assistance plans for employees around the world. And then from there, from our pension and benefit background, we focus a lot on the financial health. So it was really about pulling those things together. So as we moved into this pandemic and we’re talking to our clients, it was a perfect fit with what we have focused on in the last few years, which is looking at total health of employees no matter where they are.

Goldy Hyder:
That’s a very good context and very good background. Obviously, at a time like this, CEOs have so much pressure and so much pulling in directions and so forth. How responsive are you finding the clients that you’re speaking to, who recognize the importance of mental health? And I speak specifically because one of the things that you know CEOs are really trying to do through this crisis is hang on to their talent, keep them on the payroll. But I would suggest to you one other very important consideration, is keep their benefits flowing so that the issues that you and I are discussing and will discuss today, are still available to the employees. What are you hearing?

Stephen Liptrap:
No, you’re 100% right, Goldy. And if I go back to total health for a second, when you think about people obviously facing physical health issues related to the disease and everything else, but then you start thinking about the stress that gets caused every day. So again, that comes into mental health and how do we help people. You then think about social isolation. Everyone’s used to being in an office, working with colleagues, and getting things done in one way. And all of a sudden they’re at home, quite often without other people around, with different supports, maybe in isolation, maybe with their families, maybe not, and they’re having to work in very different ways. And all of those things can lead to tremendous stress.

Stephen Liptrap:
And then you layer on top of that, people looking at what’s happening in the markets, people looking at their own savings, people worried about either their clients, or colleagues, and what’s happening to those organizations. And you think about unemployment. So all of those things come together in so many different ways. That, obviously, has huge impact on employees of all of the companies that we support, and also the different economies that we operate and work in as well.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, I’d read an article just a couple of days ago that talked about the very likelihood, and I say this with hope that everybody’s dead wrong about what I’m about to say, but great concern about the rise, potentially, in child abuse. You’ve got all your kids at home. You’re working from home. Domestic abuse, depression, anxiety. And so I think the key here is, certainly, as employers, we’re trying to do everything we can to limit that stress that you speak about. And a lot of businesses have been all over this issue long before the virus itself. Bell Canada, of course, is the gold star when it comes to the mental health issue. Cisco and others.

Goldy Hyder:
And, in fact, I think over the fall and winter, you and I were talking about the launch of a new CEO task force, which we had announced, in terms of workplace mental health. But I got to admit, Stephen, I never thought that we’d be talking about this subject in the context of a global pandemic. Now, what does that mean for this issue and what are the unique challenges that a pandemic would impact your business on and your ability to serve the needs of your clients?

Stephen Liptrap:
The first thing I would say, Goldy, is I think you’re exactly right. I think the CEOs that you and I are talking to, and I think Canada has been leading in many ways here, really have been understanding the issue around mental health, and the fact that it is important, and it’s something that if we want to help people in society and we also want to improve productivity as a whole, we really do need to help people with mental health issues. So I feel like, in the last few years, we’ve really gone down that route. You talked about the great work that was done by Bell Canada in terms of raising awareness, reducing stigma. We see, every single day, more organizations coming to us for support around how do they help the mental health of their employees, and the financial health, and social health, and all of those things as well.

Stephen Liptrap:
I do think, though, this pandemic has only accelerated that. The number of phone calls, the number of organizations that have reached out to us in the last couple of weeks, be it businesses, but also governments, asking for help and support for employees. I think there’s a real awareness that this pandemic is only going to significantly increase the stress that’s on people, and we need to get in front of that, or else we’ll have a whole slew of other problems that are going to face us when we come out of this on the other side of it. It’s really encouraging seeing the business leaders step up and take mental health as important as physical health and some of the other things, and governments as well. I don’t know if you would have seen it, but we announced just a few hours ago that we’re going to provide support for every single citizen in Manitoba dealing with mental health issues, and I think those are things that we really need to get on.

Goldy Hyder:
Oh terrific. Thank you. I had not seen that. I’m glad you mentioned it. But something I just saw is the unfortunate news that now more people have died in Canada through COVID-19 than did through SARS. And of course, SARS and 9/11 and other natural disasters, whether floods or fires, are things that have tremendous psychological impact and they’re traumatic events, and you work, obviously, with a network of therapists across the country who are experienced in dealing with these kinds of challenges. What are you doing now, specifically, to deal with this issue and ensuring that your therapists and others have all the expertise that’s necessary to deal at a time, Stephen, where we don’t really know how this is all going to unfold. I mean, we’re all optimistic and hopeful that things we’re doing is going to make this a short tour of this virus that’s very much on the road these days. But we don’t know. So how are you managing this, and what are you hearing and seeing from the experts and the professionals on the ground?

Stephen Liptrap:
Yeah, I think you’re exactly right, Goldy. We don’t know where this is going. A couple of things that we do know for sure, though, is when we go back to what we’ve been having to deal with in society, starting, call it 9/11, moving into SARS, moving into MERS, moving into this, in addition, a number of years ago, we decided, as an organization, that every time there’s a disaster in the world, we would open up our lines and make our counselors available at no charge in those communities. So we did that in the Alberta wildfires. We did that in the California fires. We did that in the shootings that took place in Vegas. And all of those different situations that came up, we knew that society would be drastically impacted and they would need some help and some coaching to get through mental health issues.

Stephen Liptrap:
So our folks, on every disaster, I would say, for the last six or seven years, have been having to deal with employees in those situations. And even though this one will be different, I think a lot of the issues will be very similar. When I think of the panic that took place in Vegas around the shooting, when I think about the fires that took place in Slave Lake and people losing their homes, people having to explain to their kids what was happening, when I think about the marathon that took place in Boston and our counselors needing to help people that either witnessed it on the phone, or were there in person.

Stephen Liptrap:
So the one good thing, for not good reasons, is our folks, our direct counselors, our staff counselors, and also the network of thousands of people that we work with and we train on a monthly basis, I think have been dealing with at least the outcomes of this and dealing with what people go through in a very similar way than what they are on this one. And again, we don’t know where this will go, but I do think that we know the feelings that people are going through today, and the stresses they’re going through, and our folks do have a lot of expertise in that field.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, thank you for sharing with us, Stephen. It’s very enlightening. And before I let you go, one final question. As a leader, what advice do you have for other leaders in terms of what’s the one thing that they can do to really help people get through this challenge?

Stephen Liptrap:
I think the number one thing, Goldy, is just to be visible, be out there. You can never communicate enough. I know, with our own employees, and the priority we set was make sure our employees are safe first. Second, focus on our clients’ employees. And then third, let’s see if we can take the amazing set of assets we have and actually create new products to make a difference. But the first one, really, is making sure that we’re talking to our employees, making sure that we are not talking to them just by email, but we’re doing videos, we’re doing audio, we’re just trying to get to people, and reassure them, and get the facts in front of them so that they’re able to stay safe every single day. And I think if we all do that, as a starting point, the rest will follow from there.

Goldy Hyder:
Well said, Stephen. Thank you so much for joining us.

Stephen Liptrap:
Thank you very much for having me, Goldy. I really appreciate you doing these because it’s another way to get the message out to communities and that’s really important.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, we appreciate how busy CEOs are, and I know how busy you are, so thanks for doing this, and thank you to the audience for listening to another special edition of Speaking of Business. Today’s guest was Stephen Liptrap, president and CEO of Morneau Shepell. We’re going to have more of these coming up, so stay tuned.

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