TO ACHIEVE LONGEVITY in business, strong leadership is needed not only during a crisis but in times of prosperity as well. Grain Farmers of Ontario’s 2018 March Classic theme “Leadership for tomorrow” featured a line-up of speakers who focused on key issues that will impact our ability to do business in the future and who shared their personal experiences with leadership.
CALM UNDER FIRE — DARBY ALLEN
The first speaker was Darby Allen, the former fire chief of the Regional Municipality of Wood Buffalo, Alberta, who is known for his calm and level-headed response to the Fort McMurray wildfires in May 2016. The fires forced the evacuation of 88,000 people, destroyed 20 per cent of the homes in the community, and challenged the efforts of 540 firefighters.
When it came to the evacuations, Allen had to decide who needed to go, when they needed to go, and where they would go to. At one point, 25,000 people who had gone north had to be re-evacuated south because the fire turned and was moving in their direction. That led to an escorted convoy of cars driving along the only highway through town with fire burning on either side.
He had to make similarly difficult choices with the firefighting resources under his command. With hundreds of fires burning at the same time, he had to strategically set up firefighting efforts, leading to difficult choices about what could be saved and what couldn’t. He also had to deal with knowing that some of the firefighters who were doing what they could to save property and important infrastructure were doing so while knowing their own homes were being destroyed.
“What I have realized since the fire is that everyone relied on everyone else,” says Allen. “The grit, determination, and perseverance that everyone showed — I have never seen anything like it. I learned if you trust the people who work for you, they trust you.”
Allen says the whole firefighting operation was like a puzzle, and they needed all of the pieces to fit together in order to successfully handle the emergency.
“I told my crew you just need to do your job and do it properly, do it well, and it will be the little things that make a difference,” says Allen. “Even the most menial task is important to complete the puzzle.”
CLIMATE SCIENCE — DR. LAURENCE C. SMITH
“Global warming is not always global and not always warming,” says Dr. Laurence C. Smith. However, the effects of a changing climate are being seen around the world — most noticeably in the north. The arctic is seeing temperatures rise at double the rate of other regions and for the first time ever, the North Pole was above freezing in February.
Smith, a leading climate scientist, is a professor and chair of Geography and professor of Earth, Planetary, and Space Sciences at UCLA. He says four global forces are impacting our world today: demographics, natural resources, globalization, and climate change. “It’s not effective to talk about climate change alone, these things have to be considered together.”
For more than a decade, the majority of the population has lived in urban centres, and this trend is increasing now in the developing world. To meet this shift in demographics, agricultural production needs to increase 70 per cent by 2050. However, water stress is expected to be a significant global issue over the next 30 years and that could limit the potential for crop yield growth.
Smith says societal choices will make a difference over the long term. But on the current trend we can expect to see some significant changes. Land surface temperatures are increasing, which could be seen as a positive within agriculture for the longer growing seasons created. The downside is that those same warmer conditions are also speeding up the life cycles of insects and milder winters also mean that the winter kill normally relied on to control insect populations isn’t happening. The changing temperatures are also leading to species extinction and a loss of biodiversity.
The changing climate is also opening up the Northwest Passage. There is a reduction in sea ice during the summer months being seen across the north and also a reduction in sea ice thickness. This increased access to northern oceans is not only opening up new shipping routes, it’s also opening up the potential for new oil and gas exploration. Smith explains that eight northern countries are already making their territorial claims. Canada is basing their claim for a sovereignty extension on the natural geological extension of the sea floor. Future trade agreements and the global economy could be impacted by the results of these claims.
“Global pressures are driving up commodity prices and creating prices that make it possible and economical to exploit resources in the most remote corners of the earth,” says Smith.
GLOBAL OPPORTUNITY — GORDON CAMPBELL
“The headlines say the world needs more Canada. But I have news for all of us — Canada needs more of the world,” says Gordon Campbell, the former Canadian high commissioner to the United Kingdom (UK). “We produce more than we can sell in Ontario or in Canada, that’s why we need global markets. And that’s why you need to recognize the world as it is and not as you would like it.”
In politics, we have seen dramatic changes around the world — from the Scottish referendum, to Brexit, to Russia, to stresses in the Middle East, and the election of Donald Trump in the U.S. — and Campbell says those who were surprised by these changes couldn’t see the world as it was. With Brexit specifically, he says voters suffered from a combination of willful blindness and wishful thinking.
“One of the things I think we should learn from Brexit, is the politics of expediency, saying something because you think it’s going to get you somewhere, aren’t going to last much longer. It’s time for politics of principal and purpose,” says Campbell.
New trade agreements such as the Comprehensive Economic and Trade Agreement (CETA) between Canada and the European Union and the Trans Pacific Partnership are a good first step in establishing ties with the rest of the world but Campbell says we need to tell our story in a way that people will hear it and recognize what we offer to them. People in other parts of the world don’t know or understand our regional differences, but they do know about Canada.
“Most people don’t know what you do, but they take advantage of what you do and they benefit from it. But you have to tell your story because your story is a good one of quality, increased productivity, responding to open markets and demands in other parts of the world — your story is one of building a trading bridge between the rest of the world and Canada,” says Campbell. “The big Canada story is we have some of the best products in the world to deliver and agricultural products are a big component of what the world is looking for.”
Our food, our energy, our water, and our minerals are incredibly important natural resources. And Campbell says they aren’t just important to us, they are important to the world. We have to look to the future as global changes are taking place and figure out how we are going to cope with them.
“You should demand quality and value from your public representatives. You need to elect people who understand what the grain farming business is all about, who understand the challenges and opportunities, and who work with you,” says Campbell. “The politics of principal and purpose will serve you well. Speak up. Carry your message forward. Think anew. Act anew. And then you will build a future that all of you can be proud of.”
INNOVATIVE OPPORTUNITY —KIRSTINE STEWART
Partnership, collaboration, and empathy are important leadership values that Kirstine Stewart has relied on throughout her successful career in media and technology.
Currently the president of a Toronto tech start-up that provides international digital strategies and product development support, Stewart is best known for her former executive roles at Twitter, including head of Twitter Canada.
“Innovation sees the problems and turns them into opportunities,” says Stewart. “As Canadians we are known for being innovative but are we really willing to embrace what it means to be innovative, or are we going to play it safe?” Companies have set aside money to invest in new business development and growth, but Stewart says we haven’t yet tapped into the talent and capacity that is available.
“There is something about us as Canadians that I think keeps us firmly within these guardrails. We need a better belief in our own future and what we need is leadership that will support change and innovation.”
Stewart says a lot of businesses think innovation is risky, “but the bigger risk is staying exactly where you are.” She also notes that innovation often gets confused with technology with most people thinking they are synonymous. But innovation isn’t just technology, it’s an approach and a mindset that needs to be embraced by entire sectors, companies, and employees. You need to invest and trust in the skills you know your employees have and give them the authority to take calculated risks to succeed.
“When you are introducing change you need to make sure you are creating a trusting environment. People are scared of change. They need to know if you are going to take that leap you will be there for them. So if you are the boss, you need to lead by example and that example is I am there for you. Trust in me and I will trust in you,” says Stewart. •