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Thriving in turbulent times: What business leaders need to compete in a new world

By Eula Mengullo, January 5 2020—

The year 2020 has provided a unique set of challenges to societies around the world. In the new global reality, businesses are compelled to adapt and pivot. A joint webinar between the University of Calgary’s Executive Education and Global Business Futures Initiative (GBFI) at the Haskayne School of Business provides insight on how businesses can adapt during these turbulent times. 

The virtual discussion began with opening remarks by Jim Dewald, Dean of the Haskayne School of Business, followed by a brief introduction of keynote speaker, Adam Legge, President and CEO of Business Council of Alberta, and former Director of GBFI.

The webinar was hosted by Oleksiy Osiyevskyy, Academic Director of GBFI, and Loriel Anderson, Manager, Learning and Development Programs Executive Education at the Haskayne School of Business. 

According to Legge, some of the trends that were accelerated by the global pandemic were digitization, rising inequality, growth of societal issues and the rise of nationalist agendas. 

He remarked that contemporarily, there have been increasing demands for the domestication of supply chains manufacturing — such as Canada’s desire for a domestic vaccine manufacturing — that demonstrates a reversal in globalization trends. 

After the webinar, Osiyevskyy echoed the same sentiment in that “Canada will have to move towards the localization of manufacturing” as a result of heightened border restrictions affecting international trade. This will start with critical goods such as personal protective equipment and vaccines, but will also include other consumer products as the situation evolves. As for Alberta, Osiyevskyy remarked that “this might stimulate economic recovery and diversification.”

When asked about the future of Alberta and Canadian businesses in the post-COVID-19 realm, Legge approached the question with optimism. He put an emphasis on how Alberta, and Canada more broadly, should “recognize that the world has a lot of challenge-driven opportunities,” and urges entrepreneurs and innovators to go after them.

“We need a challenge-driven industrial strategy for our province and our country,” said Legge.

Speaking specifically of Alberta, he said that this means building on our strengths, and aligning it to the challenges of the world and what the world needs.

“First we need to build on those strengths, define the challenges that we’ll take on and marry them up to the strengths of Alberta’s economy, its people, its landscape, its resources, whether that is energy, food, travel, tourism, technology — [followed by] building the policy regulatory and innovation structures to make those happen,” said Legge.

He also outlined the significant role that the Haskayne School of Business plays in developing the innovators of the future, as well as encouraging the entrepreneurial thinking necessary to solve grand challenges. 

In discussing Canada and Alberta’s place in the emerging global world order after COVID-19, Legge advises Canada against over relying on its trade partners. 

“For Canada and Alberta, the key message is that we really can’t rely on the trade partners that we always have, to the magnitude that we have in the past,” Legge remarked.

He also mentioned that although we need to rekindle the trade relations with the United States after the four-year policy of the Trump administration, Canada has to balance and diversify its trade relations with its closest ally. Additionally, Legge encourages Canada to seek and develop trade relations with other emerging and expanding economies around the world such as Africa and Asia. Overall, he urges Canada to be hypercompetitive, diversify its key markets and build the right relationships. 

In ensuring that business leaders can find their place in this new reality, Legge spoke of three concepts: adaptation, collaboration and preservation. Firms must be constantly assessing and adapting to avoid disruptions. They must prepare relentlessly to meet and solve any challenges that may arise. Secondly, establishing strong collaborations that challenge the status quo in order to break down conventional walls that hinder innovation. Finally, preservation of the vitality and prosperity of people that enables creation, connection and collaboration. “We need to take care of people, we need to ensure they have the opportunity and pathways to prosper,” said Legge. 

Ultimately, Legge heavily emphasized the cultivation of a challenge-driven standpoint in order to ensure success in this new reality. 

“Focus on the challenge you want to solve in the world and build your skills and capabilities around that,” he said, responding to a question of what advice he would give to graduating business students today.

This is the third of the joint webinar series hosted by the GBFI and Haskayne Executive Education. Together, they aspire to create a safe space where business leaders can learn about the future of their business, as well as ways in which they can attain corporate longevity and prosperity. 

Recordings of this webinar, and others prior, are available online.

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