Entrepreneurs share stories at memorable event
Havingsat through more than my fair share of speeches and presentations over the years, few stand out as being particularly memorable. The North Saskatoon Business Association event that was held this past Tuesday evening, titled Lessons I Have Learned, was a clear exception to the rule for a couple of reasons. The content was outstanding and the businesspeople, local ones at that, proved to be a big draw.
One of the rules of thumb that I have observed from my time as the manager of the local chamber of commerce through to present is that politicians draw crowds and business leaders simply don’t seem to have any traction when it comes to filling a room. It was always perplexing to me that even second-tier political figures could cause members of the business community to attend their speeches, while the opposite was the case for business speakers no matter what they had accomplished.
I always believed the opposite should have been true. At this particular NSBA event, it was. More than 300 business people, many of them sitting at a table filled with their staff members, showed up. It was a heartening sight.
Perhaps the organizing committee picked the right title. Lessons I Have Learned implies the panel of speakers — Jim Yuel of the PIC Group, Les Dube of the Concorde Group, Russ Marcoux of the Yanke Group and Trevor Hewison of Fibreglass Canada — were going to share some valuable information. Not just about their successes — and between these four business leaders there is no shortage of those — but about their mistakes and business gaffes as well. They didn’t disappoint. Yuel shared his strategies for assembling strong management and advisory teams. As he put it, “hire people smarter than yourself.” It’s easy to say but much harder to do, he explained, because one’s natural instinct is simply not to go out and find managers who exceed the owner’s expertise in particular areas. But failing to follow this advice by hiring average managers leads to one thing — average results. It’s the same story with hired expertise, says Yuel. Lining up accounting and legal advice that is second rate is the worst money you will ever save.
Russ Marcoux related stories from a decade ago about losing one of his trucking firm’s major accounts and experiencing driver turnover that would make a business owner lose more than their fair share of sleep. But Marcoux’s management group learned those hard lessons and focused much more attention on how it hired, trained, motivated and shared information with their staff. The result of learning from earlier mistakes? The Yanke Group has been recognized as one of Canada’s top employers in successive years.
Les Dube, founder of the Concorde Group, shared his company strategy of limiting its high-risk ventures to areas in which the company has core expertise to minimize that risk. Trevor Hewison had been a partner with a very high-profile business success named ShuttleCraft, only to see it become an equally high-profile business crash and burn. Today, Hewison heads up a much more diversified company that manufactures a full range of Fibreglas industrial products geared to divergent markets. Lesson learned.
Watching the crowd at this event was almost as interesting as listening to the speakers. Never in the history of speeches at business functions have this many notes likely been taken by members of the audience.
While many people left that night with some great ideas for their own companies, the real win for the business community may not be felt for some time, however. Hopefully, this event will be the forerunner to a process in which the business community treats locals like they are as deserving of a platform as a speaker who arrives on a plane. Hopefully, this is the start of a process whereby business failures can be held out as a lesson waiting to be learned, rather than the way they are so often treated — as evidence that we just don’t have the right stuff to really succeed after all. Clearly, we need this form of cultural transformation. Events such as this are the thin edge of the wedge for that type of change.
Dwight Percy is a Saskatchewan-based business writer, commentator and strategic planner. His e-mail address is percy[email protected]