Last year I was approached by a director at EllisDon to participate in EY’s Entrepreneur Of The Year program. I quickly came up with several well thought out (and completely lame) excuses for ducking the whole thing. As it turned out, that would have been entirely idiotic, because next week I’ll be representing Canada at the EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year awards in Monte Carlo, along with fifty sixty other entrepreneurs from around the globe. So there you go.
I’ll tell you this from my experience so far: Anyone who thinks entrepreneurship isn’t thriving in Canada needs to pay closer attention. Over the course of five months, I’ve met several founders of tech startups I barely understand, a robotics pioneer who happily sends his products into all sorts of global peril, an entertainment company that produces high quality theatre in ‘small town’ Ontario and a ‘gourmet’ hydroponic greenhouse operator with an environmental focus; and that’s just a small sample. There’s a huge buffet of ideas, enthusiasm and profitability.
EY’s national event, which took place this past November, was even more fun. There’s a guy named Frances McGuire, whose Moncton-based Major Drilling Group International Inc. tackles the toughest mine drilling challenges on any continent. Frances pretty much rescued the company from insolvency and freely exchanged cash-flow crisis stories with me within about two minutes of introducing himself. Quebec’s Marc Dutil of Groupe Canam Inc. spoke passionately about the difficulties young people face in today’s tough economy, and Glenn Johnson described how his Endurance Wind Power team exports wind turbines to the world.
Shortly after that, we were all in the bar with Dale Wishewan’s Booster Juice team from Alberta, who were clearly having a blast celebrating their own success and ours as well, and being gracious to everybody. Everyone we met was successful, friendly, determined but also humble; not taking all this pomp too seriously. Throughout the evening, you had the sense of being with people who were genuinely enjoying each other’s company. Nobody was boasting, everyone was congratulatory. In short, it was too Canadian for words, which left me feeling optimistic, though it just took me a bit to figure out why. Then I did.
I’m convinced that the Canadian ‘entrepreneurial personality’ (for lack of a better phrase) is destined to do very well in a globalizing world. The business values that we take for granted at home (specifically, the honesty and openness in the way Canadians generally operate, the lack of arrogance and entitlement, the straightforward competence) are much rarer outside this country than many people realize. We have a habit of looking in the mirror and seeing weakness, but those exact values represent just the opposite; they’re Canada’s sustainable competitive advantage. They’re the reason why people everywhere inherently trust Canadians and want to work with us. Perhaps if we can learn to have confidence in our humility, faith in our values and let that drive a broader global perspective, Canadian entrepreneurs will enjoy huge success as the world shrinks. That may sound contradictory but I don’t believe it is.
There’s a challenge, however. Either we champion these values or we lose them. My experience has been that as the big global players come to Canada, some of them are inclined to attempt to confidently impose their own approach on our marketplace. It’s even tougher internationally, when we don’t have home-field advantage. We can win big, but we will have to be more than merely Canadian. We will have to be resolutely Canadian. At least that’s my (humble) opinion.
Geoffrey Smith is President and CEO of EllisDon Corporation and Canada’s 2013 EY Entrepreneur Of The Year. He will represent Canada in Monte Carlo from June 4 to 8 amongst 650 of the world’s best entrepreneurs, vying for the title of EY World Entrepreneur Of The Year.