This column is part of Globe Careers' Leadership Lab series, where executives and experts share their views and advice about leadership and management. Follow us at @Globe_Careers. Find all Leadership Lab stories at tgam.ca/leadershiplab.
It's time to take your company global. Or is it? A recent Aimia survey of business leaders found that half of companies considering expanding into a new country didn't know how to determine if their company was ready.
For the C-suite, it's not a simple decision; there are many barriers to taking on that challenge, such as knowledge gaps, resources, talent and risk exposure. But for many mid-sized companies, expanding internationally is a logical step in growth, bring with it opportunities to diversify risk, access new customers and top talent, capitalize on competitive advantages and increase revenue.
Global expansion of Canadian companies, and success on the international stage, can be an abstract ambition for an individual business leader. Some leaders aren't even convinced that a global footprint fits their business – 63 per cent of the companies that weren't planning to go global couldn't identify with a single suggested benefit in research we did. But as we think about the Canada of tomorrow, one that is more reliant on knowledge-based companies, that balances its export of goods with more services, fostering an ambition for global scale amongst Canadian companies is one element of a prosperous tomorrow.
Aimia's recent research looked at the factors that are weighing on leaders' minds as they consider expanding internationally, part of our work to encourage enough companies to go global so that we build a 100 Global Champions – one hundred companies that are the best in the world at whatever they do.
In that research, leaders from companies that were already global provided some insights that are helpful to those considering it now. The starkest data point is this: 90 per cent of those companies that are global reported their expansion a success, including 64 per cent who say that they are more influential in Canada because of their global footprint.
So how do you as a business leader approach the sometimes daunting task of building a global expansion strategy?
First, mindset matters. I draw from my own experience here. When I took the helm of Aeroplan, the Montreal company that formed the base of Aimia, I had spent the majority of my career working internationally. I was raised in Great Britain, and worked in Asia, Europe and the United States for other international companies. A global perspective was ingrained in me and was an important element in Aeroplan's expansion into the global data-driven marketing and loyalty analytics company that Aimia is today.
Our research tells us that it's not just me: leaders of global companies have a different mindset.
Leaders of global companies see more benefits to being global. They worry more about competitors overtaking them if they don't expand than they do about being blamed personally for a failed expansion. They view expansion into markets outside of North America as a key measure of a company's success.
Second, relationships matter. Personal relationships play a significant role in supporting a company's expansion efforts. This is, of course, not isolated to companies that want to expand internationally, but when facing that prospect, knowing whom to call to ask for market intelligence, advice or an introduction can substantively ease market entry.
I maintain many personal relationships through participating in global events such as the World Economic Forum's Annual Meeting in Davos, where business leaders from our top partners and prospects regularly attend. From my experience there and in building our own business that the strong Canadian brand opens doors and engenders trust.
Leaders of the global companies that we surveyed said their business network was the top place they would seek counsel, above that of government agencies and consulting firms.
And last, to build an international company, build an international team. It's certainly true for me – Aimia's leadership team has executives in Singapore, Britain, and Canada, and half of those executives were born in different countries from where they live today.
From our research, global companies are significantly more likely to have leaders who have studied, lived or worked abroad, and have new market entry experience than companies that are not considering going global.
So what should a business leader do with all of this? Start by considering – really considering – whether your company is a good candidate for global expansion. There is a wealth of government and not-for-profit agencies that can help. Stack your team with leaders who do have international experience. Take advantage of Canada's competitive advantage of a diverse workforce – we have people with intimate knowledge of markets – and personal relationships – around the world. Build your own set of relationships on the international stage. It doesn't have to be a major conference. Friend-of-friend introductions can work, too.
But most importantly, put the belief in possibility. The global economy of tomorrow will look very different from today. Canadians need to make sure they are well-positioned to keep up and stay competitive. Through Aimia's 100 Global Champions initiative, we want to inspire the next generation of leading global companies that are the best in the world at what they do. Building the global leaders of tomorrow requires a different type of leadership.
Rupert Duchesne is group chief executive of Aimia, a data-driven marketing and loyalty analytics company.