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competing to win

Canadian flags from a boat in the Victoria harbour is framed with the Legislative building Victoria, BC on Canada Day.

Last year, in advance of our nation's 144th birthday, I launched the Competing to Win blog. My goal: to provide Canadian entrepreneurs, managers, employees, students, and policy makers with "grass roots insights" into our highly integrated and competitive global economy.

The argument being, the path to profits for Canadians enterprises – small, medium and large, and across industry – is increasingly complex. As any entrepreneur or manager that has, or has had, top and bottom line responsibilities can attest, this path is rarely straight or 100 per cent certain. There are absolutely no gimmes in business. As we approach Canada's 145th anniversary, I am going to build on this original theme, but I am now going to make the discussion more granular. Competitive advantage and its associated economic rewards are attained if a number of elements come together that enable the enterprise to effectively compete and prosper (i.e. make money).

Over the years, I have had the opportunity to work with, compete against, and analyze hundreds of companies in Canada and abroad, across industry, on matters pertaining to exporting, sourcing, direct investing, and market and project development. While each enterprise, industry, and market is unique in its own right, there are a set of factors that are common to all firms that have a direct and material impact on the ability of the enterprise to realize revenue and earnings growth. I refer to these factors as the:

10 C's of Global Competitiveness

In an increasingly integrated and global economy, the objective is to ensure that all 10 C's are at levels that meet or surpass industry benchmarks. Similar to the Own the Podium philosophy that guided Canada's 2010 Winter Olympic and Paralymic efforts, there is really only one standard in the 10 C's world, though, and that is the global standard.

A brief synopsis of each C is as follows:

1. Competitive Products and Services

Price, quality, commercial and delivery terms, customer service support – the list goes on – are all component parts of a buying decision. Whether a company is selling goods or services domestically, or to clients abroad, they must have a clearly defined value proposition that meets or exceeds their customer's requirements.

2. Critical Mass

Canada is a nation of small and medium-sized enterprises. Of the approximately 1.1-million employee businesses in this country, over 99 per cent are small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs; defined by Industry Canada as companies having less than 500 employees). To compete effectively over the long term means having sufficient human and financial resources, and operational capacity to do so.

3. Commitment

In this case, commitment refers to the demonstrated commitment by management and employees in planning for and implementing commercial activities. If the director of business development in Company X, for example, is spending more time selling the benefits of Market Y to his/her superiors versus selling the company's products or services to prospective clients in the Market Y, the chances of Company X succeeding in Market Y are limited.

4. Capital

The availability of, and access to, capital is a critical element in building a healthy and viable enterprise. Not surprising, one of the main areas that is always cited by SMEs as being a particular challenge in their operating environment is access to financing. This challenge will impede business growth – domestically and internationally.

5. Connected

Connected in this case has two component parts:

a) Business connections/networks

b) IT readiness or "connectedness"

Building a globally competitive enterprise requires both.

6. Country Acumen

As an exporter, importer or direct investor, it is important to have more than a superficial understanding of the country that your company is doing business with or in. Successful management of business risks and the ability to effectively penetrate a particular market requires in-depth knowledge and appreciation of the country's history, culture, political and economic structure and direction, industrial profile etc.

7. Company Plan

Building a globally competitive enterprise does not happen by chance. The plan is the foundation upon which the company will successfully grow. It will also vary, depending on what the specific commercial objectives and goals are of a particular enterprise.

For each new market that a company is planning to enter, in Canada or abroad, a market- specific plan should be developed.

8. Continuous Innovation

Innovation is a key driver in creating productivity. In the case of the 10 C's of Global Competitiveness, this translates in to sustained and profitable sales. In the global economy, the speed at which business takes place is accelerating, so Canadian companies must keep the wheels of innovation rolling if they hope to remain competitive.

9. Competence

Competitive advantage in the global economy is driven by knowledge, but knowledge that goes well beyond the acquisition of information to include tacit knowledge or know-how. In this case, the issue of competence starts at the managerial level and flows downward. If a company's leadership does not have the necessary skills and acumen to compete at a world-class level, the company will not be positioned to realize sustainable and profitable sales.

10. Confidence

In building a globally competitive enterprise, the management and employees of the company must have an unwavering belief in the company's ability to compete at a world class level. This belief is not based on blind faith. It is confidence that is created as a result of the 9 other C's coming together. While a particular enterprise may have limited to no experience in competing internationally, it can create the winning conditions for commercial success.

Over the coming weeks, I will build on each of these Cs - all elements in helping build a Nation of Traders, not just a Trading Nation. Happy Birthday Canada!

William Polushin is Founding Director of the Program for International Competitiveness at the Desautels Faculty of Management, McGill University; Vice President, Global Expansion and Strategy at Vortex Aquatic Structures International; and President of AMAXIS, an international business and operational development services firm.