Canadian companies need to "think bigger" and aim investments at Asia and other fast-growing regions of the world to improve the country's international business success, Canada Pension Plan Investment Board chief executive Mark Wiseman said Monday.
Mr. Wiseman, who oversees the management of $235-billion in assets held by the Canada Pension Plan, told a business audience at the Toronto Region Board of Trade annual dinner that Canada needs to grow its sparse population through immigration and use its diversity as a competitive advantage in doing business in other countries around the world.
Canadians have to think more about "the scale of the world in which we live" and realize how "puny" the country is in terms of the global population and global markets, Mr. Wiseman said in an interview prior to his remarks. More people are entering the middle class in China and India each year than live in Canada, he noted, but many Canadian businesses still do not aspire to tap those markets.
He pointed to the example of Chinese smart-phone manufacturer Xiaomi Inc., which has become one of the world's largest handset makers within just five years. The company designs phones, but contracts out all its manufacturing, and has aggressively taken on giants such as Samsung Electronics Co. Ltd.
"There's no reason why a company like that couldn't exist here in Canada, selling handsets into China and India," Mr. Wiseman said. "But we don't think that way. We think about our own market, and we think about defining success within a much smaller realm than the world that is around us."
He said all companies need to understand their competitive advantages and exploit them, and Canada's multicultural and multilingual population is one of the country's most under-tapped competitive advantages. Employees from around the world can help Canadian companies understand global markets.
"We have people here in this city, in this country, who understand those markets, who have operated in those markets," he said. "They come from those markets and have now come to our shores, and we should be exploiting that much more extensively and thinking much bigger on how we apply it."
Mr. Wiseman urged business owners and managers to aim beyond the United States to countries where long-term growth is forecast to be far better.
Using a hockey analogy, he said Canadian companies have focused too much on "where the puck has been," referring to developed business markets such as the United States and Europe, and are not thinking enough about where the centre of action will move to next, notably faster-growing developing markets.
"The world's fastest growing economies are the emerging markets of Asia," he said in a written version of his speech. "Yet, despite this stark reality, 90 per cent of our current trade is with the OECD, and less than 5 per cent is with China. In other words, our trade relationships are overwhelmingly in places where the puck has been, not even where it is today, let alone where it is going to be in the future."
He said CPPIB has adopted the advice itself, focusing increasingly on trade relationships in developing countries. More than 70 per cent of CPPIB's assets are now invested outside of Canada, he said.
Mr. Wiseman noted the fund's first international office outside of Canada was set up in Hong Kong – not in New York or London – because CPPIB wanted to take a long-term stake in Asia's growth.
He said CPPIB will open an office in Mumbai later this year to help grow investments in India, which is also expected to be a faster growing market over the long term.