En­trepreneurs share sto­ries at mem­o­rable event

Saskatoon StarPhoenix - - World - DWIGHT PERCY

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]

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