WMC Leadership Breakfast Told Resiliency is the New Normal; Do Things Differently the Best Response

posted by wmcuser

As part of WMC’s 40th year celebrations, we recently held another event in our Leadership Breakfast series at the Petroleum Club in Calgary, with Deborah Yedlin as our Guest speaker.  Paula Arab covered the event on behalf of WMC.  The “new normal” is lower commodity prices, the end of mega projects and a low Canadian dollar, says business commentator and columnist Deborah Yedlin. “It’s not going to be pleasant for the next 12 to 18 months but it will get better,” she told some 200 business and community leaders attending a recent breakfast hosted by Western Management Consultants (WMC).

“Crisis is always an opportunity… Interest rates will remain low and we will come through this. It will get better and there will be another downturn – if we don’t learn the lessons from this one,” said Yedlin, a columnist for the Calgary Herald.

The former Wall Street/Bay Street investment banker dispelled myths about a low Canadian dollar being good for the economy, warning that it gives a false sense of competitiveness and takes away the incentive to invest in capital and long- term competitiveness.

That’s one of the mistakes she says was made the last time Alberta was booming and oil – and the Canadian dollar – were sky high. “We did not invest in capital equipment last time, we didn’t take advantage of a strong Canadian dollar and invest, even though we knew the dollar wasn’t going to sit at parity forever.”

Yedlin’s keynote address was sobering, and ironically delivered on a morning when the price of oil hit a new six-year low of $43.70 a barrel. “We were really pleased with the event,” said Mauro Meneghetti, WMC Director. “It went remarkably well and the attendance was excellent given a snowy Monday morning. People genuinely went away feeling like they had something to think about and share,” he said.

Guests included former Alberta Energy minister Ken Hughes; ConocoPhillips Canada President Ken Lueers; United Way President and CEO Lucy Miller; Stephen Smith, President and CEO of Strike Energy; and Jim Dewald, the Dean of University of Calgary’s Haskayne School of Business. Also in attendance were politicians Richard Pootmans, a city councilor; and Alberta Party Leader Greg Clark.

The purpose of the WMC’s leadership series is to foster discussion and help organizations and leaders be more successful. That it did, with guests mingling around well after the talk ended, to discuss what they had just heard.

Some of the other takeaways from Yedlin’s speech include:

  • The commodity super-cycle has ended. The wealth effect and 30,000 jobs are gone. So is access to capital. Yedlin says Alberta’s triple-A credit rating is at risk. “This isn’t just an Alberta problem, this is a Canadian problem,” with an impact on equalization payments and the value of the Canadian dollar.
  • Strategic workforce management, not the wholesale layoffs of the 1980s. Yedlin warned we can’t let experience, institutional knowledge and talent walk out the door, because if they leave, they will never come back. “It’s
    really important those people stay in some way so that when things rebound, we have the people to do it,” she said.
  • Premier Jim Prentice was right, “Albertans have to look in the mirror too because we elected the government… We didn’t hold our government to account.” The Ralph bucks, the lack of a plan, the failure to invest in infrastructure to pay off the provincial debt, are all contributing factors from previous administrations to what Yedlin called “the perfect storm.”
  • The oil patch can and should take action. This includes creative, innovative and long-term thinking. Now is the time to solve the industry’s market access issues and to diversify so that “we stop making ourselves subject to the whims of a cartel that acts in its own best interest.”
  • Leverage and harness the technological expertise of the industry. It has much broader applications beyond Alberta and the oil sector. Innovate and diversify.

And rebound they will, said Yedlin, who has witnessed six economic downturns, this being her third as a journalist. Many in the room had also experienced at least four or five previous economic downturns.

In lieu of payment to the keynote speaker, WMC made a donation to a charity of Yedlin’s choice, in this case the Calgary YMCA. Some attendees noted that investments in engagements like this show WMC’s leadership and action orientation.

Paula Arab March 19, 2015

The opinions represented here do not necessarily represent WMC’s views as a whole.