In the wake of the global downturn, we've heard much discussion around what free enterprise has to contribute to the greater good in order to remain free.
We are compelled to look more closely at the day-to-day mechanics of our businesses and gauge whether we are acting responsibly for the greater good.
Responsibility means managing risk in complex global markets. It means adhering to clear ethical standards and governance practices. Even more fundamentally, it means helping customers flourish in a more complex world and acting in their long-term interest.
How do we fulfill our responsibility to help Canadian businesses compete in a world where the movement of goods and services - of people, information and capital - is no longer constrained by borders?
To quote a report from Deloitte: "Globalization has gone from the purview of the largest multinationals to an imperative for mid-size and even small companies. For many, going global is not a future growth strategy, but rather a near-term survival mechanism."
On the positive side of the equation, globalization - helped along by the revolution in digital communications, as well as worldwide improvements in distribution channels - has opened up unprecedented opportunities to reduce costs, win new markets and tap into a deep talent pool of innovative thinkers.
There's one insight, however, that frames any discussion of going global: The economic centre of gravity is shifting rapidly from the developed to the developing world.
Over the past 20 years, China's stunning growth has propelled it from 10th place to become the world's second-largest economy.
Over the same period, Bank of Montreal has gone from making commercial introductions for clients seeking inroads in China to handling more than $1-billion (U.S.) of foreign exchange transactions in China every day. Last October, BMO became only the third North American bank to incorporate in China, joining Citibank and JPMorgan.
We've built these unique advantages with one overriding purpose: To help customers pursue their growth ambitions beyond their domestic markets. To help them succeed.
We must all also look for steps we can take here at home to help Canadian businesses succeed abroad.
This means ensuring that our policy makers keep on making the kinds of decisions that allowed Canada to weather the financial crisis and recession relatively unscathed.
For example, we do need a single, national securities regulator - using existing provincial personnel. Without that clarity and focus, Canada will be at a marked disadvantage in the global trading arena. In short, thirteen securities regulators in Canada is twelve too many.
Similarly, the proposed merger of TMX Group and the London Stock Exchange will help Canadian companies raise capital more effectively - capital for investment and job creation. It will also give a key national exchange vital opportunities for growth. The combined entity will have unparalleled expertise in metals, mining, energy and clean technologies.
Canadians should encourage our companies to take on the world. We have success stories across a whole range of sectors - RIM, CN, Power, Sun Life, Bombardier, Four Seasons, Magna, to name a few.
The third and final dimension of responsibility is our obligation to help Canadian businesses go global within an international policy framework that clearly spells out the ground rules for corporate governance and accountability.
We need a level playing field.
But as the crisis of 2008 recedes in the public consciousness, we're seeing international solidarity start to erode as national interests diverge.
We can't afford to let this happen.
Canada has a critical role to play here. Our potential influence far exceeds our share of the world marketplace, and that's due in large part to the health and stability of our financial system.
When it comes to the difficult job of influencing global regulators, we have the unique advantage of coming from a country that's admired as a model of economic stability and prudent fiscal management. Let's live up to that admiration and be clear about how we believe a global framework should operate.
It's important that Canada be a visible participant in the Basel Committee on Banking Supervision. And while many Canadians were disappointed that we didn't win a seat on the UN Security Council, arguably it's more important to our future global clout that we're a leader within the G20.
Finally, we could be doing more to create a climate in which senior people can cross over easily between the public and private sectors, to gain the benefit of exposure to both. People like Mark Carney, Paul Tellier or Kevin Lynch - are all too rare.
Responsible management extends further - to every aspect of what makes an enterprise sustainable. Helping our customers succeed in a rapidly changing world is at the core of what Corporate Canada does. We're responsible to our own shareholders, who benefit from our customers' success. And we're responsible to an entire country that counts on us to provide the fuel for Canada's ascendancy in the new global economy.
Bill Downe is president and CEO of Bank of Montreal