Lisa Kimmel is the president and CEO of Edelman Canada, a communications marketing firm.
As the world watched Elon Musk's cherry-red Tesla embark on an elliptical orbit around the sun, it was hard not to be in awe of not only the effort, but his vision to change the world and humanity. Regardless of your take on his latest endeavour, there's no question that Mr. Musk is a disruptor who is making us think differently about the role of business leaders in the world. However, in his example, I'm forced to admit it's difficult to name many Canadian CEOs who are willing to lead the charge for change both in Canada and around the world.
The 2018 Edelman Trust Barometer tells us Canada is a nation of distrusters. While we're holding our own against the winds of discord and instability in the United States, our overall trust levels in institutions and most of our industry sectors continue their steady five-year trend downward.
Now, more than ever, there is an imperative for Canadian businesses to lead on the global stage. But from newly introduced U.S. tax reforms, to the uncertain future of the North American free-trade agreement, to a lack of progress on the Canada-China trade talks, the Canadian business community has been virtually silent. The data tell us Canadians want chief executives to step it up. Yes, we have many philanthropic CEOs who put their money and influence behind important causes, but these are largely personal efforts. We're missing an opportunity to harness the strength of our brand and to build an even better brand for Corporate Canada.
In fact, the Trust Barometer found that 68 per cent of Canadians say CEOs should take the lead on change in this country, rather than wait for government to impose it. This is not surprising, given that close to half of Canadians (46 per cent) believe that government is the most broken institution by far in this country, compared with media (16 per cent), business (10 per cent) and NGOs (8 per cent).
This isn't the first year I've been calling on Canadian business leaders to step up and be true agents of change coming off the heels of our findings. But that call has historically fallen on deaf ears despite the urgent and increasing need for action on pressing social and economic issues.
Business must focus on driving both meaningful business results and contributions to society. The work cannot simply be made for the sake of attention but a commitment to move society forward and drive real change.
First, Canadian business leaders must demonstrate a genuine commitment to the long term. More than half of Canadians (51 per cent) in our survey agree companies that only think about themselves and profits are bound to fail. A further 68 per cent believe CEOs are driven more by greed than a desire to make a positive difference in the world. Being a true change agent is about doing more than what's good for the bottom line.
Second, for the first time in the history of our study, global companies headquartered in Canada are the most trusted in the world. We must leverage the attributes that have made Canadian companies so reputable in the first place – our values and sense of purpose – both domestically and on the global stage.
Finally, it is time for Canadian business leaders to stand up. To connect and engage. Canadians want it and if we want to increase trust in Canadian institutions, they have an obligation to step into the spotlight and lead. Trust in the CEO has risen a staggering 11 points in this year's survey. While it is still among the lowest of authority figures at 36 per cent, there is a clear appetite for CEOs to fill a void as Canadians search for truth.
The past year has shown us how important the protection of trust and truth is, not just for institutions, but for the very fabric of global society. Our global CEO, Richard Edelman, presents the challenge starkly as the world searches for stability and truth: "Silence is now deeply dangerous – a tax on truth." The responsibility and, indeed, the opportunity for Canadian business is clear. The challenge remains: Will Canadian business leaders step into the spotlight and lead the way Canadians expect them to?