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Kunal Gupta is the chief executive officer of Toronto-based Polar.
Kunal Gupta is the chief executive officer of Toronto-based Polar.

LEADERSHIP LAB

Why I don't put Canada on my business card Add to ...

This column is part of Globe Careers’ new Leadership Lab series, where executives and leadership experts share their views and advice about the leadership and management issues of today. There will be a new column every weekday. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.

If you were to look closely at my business card, you would notice that it does not list my office address or phone number – or contain any association with Toronto or Canada.

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Why? Because it is unclear to me whether it is an asset or a liability being a business from Canada.

Canada is an accessible and exciting place to start a business. Yet competition in the technology world is fierce and fast, and coming from all directions, so technology businesses like mine need to quickly grow into the United States and overseas markets.

Canadian business leaders seem to want to wait for their companies to become big enough at home before making the leap to the global market. We need to actively and intentionally get ourselves onto an international stage sooner in order to become big – anywhere. Making this shift starts with a fundamental change in the way we think. Here’s some advice that has stood me in good stead.

Stay nice but get bold

People do business with people they like, and Canadians are likeable. We are well respected and our corporate leaders are not often caught up in scandals and corruption (that prize goes to our politicians). However, that niceness can also lead to the perception that Canadian business leaders are not assertive. Let us be more confident, bold and decisive in our business ventures and decisions.

Get a Nexus travel card

I was once asked: “Are you a Canadian business going global or a global business that happens to be based in Canada?” This question really got me thinking and has influenced where I spend my time. These days, I travel weekly to the United States and regularly overseas to meet with current customers, future customers and business partners outside Canada. I would like to run into more Canadian chief executive officers while I’m out of the country.

Bring on the showmanship

Richard Branson likes to put on a show. Love it or hate it, the British billionaire founder of Virgin Group is effective at attracting attention to his new business ventures. Canadian businesses, big and small, have interesting stories to tell but need to get better at going out of their way to tell them. Our business leaders can start by grabbing their own microphone and surrounding themselves with talented and bright marketing teams.

Import talent – don’t export it

Canadian talent is bright, educated, ambitious and creative; we need to do a better job of keeping them in Canada and contributing to our own economy. Canada is a desirable place to live, so why aren’t more businesses “importing” experienced talent from the U.S. and international markets? International talent brings with it global networks and perspective. New York, Dubai and Singapore have benefited greatly from large expat populations that contribute in meaningful and lucrative ways to their businesses.

We have every reason to be proud of our businesses in Canada. Yet we need recognize that we have to play an active part in placing Canada on the global business map. I look forward to the day when putting Toronto and Canada on my business card is an asset to running and growing my business both at home and around the world.

Kunal Gupta (@kunalfrompolar) is the chief executive officer of Toronto-based Polar. (@aboutpolar) and has been recognized as a Top 30 Under 30, a United Nations Global Citizen and Ernst & Young’s Entrepreneur of the Year.

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