We need bold and ambitious business leaders to invest in our province

This is the title of my column in the Telegraph-Journal this morning.  I trace history back to the 1940s with an interesting quote suggesting that NB business people (with some notable exceptions) were not particularly ambitious even back then.

My basic thrust is that we need our business leaders – particularly those with export-oriented businesses – to invest more here, create jobs and expand.

I got an email from someone suggesting that I can’t just cajole business people into investing -they will invest if there is an opportunity and they will not invest if the time isn’t right.

While I understand that is the textbook answer, in the real world business decisions are a very human and subjective process.  How is it possible for Medavie Blue Cross – in little old New Brunswick – to have something like 1,500 employees and be providing services across Canada?  That was a deliberate decision from the leadership to take a calculated bet and thoughtfully invest and expand.  Why would ExxonMobil put more employees in New Brunswick than anywhere else in North America – as a percentage of the overall labour force (I am not sure about Texas…)?   Someone made a decision – however unlikely.

How could a small non-oil and gas drilling firm set up and expand from Moncton?  Major Drilling – I think is the largest or second largest – in its segment in the world.  Improbable would be an understatement.

It seems unlikely that a place like Fredericton could have the highest concentration of engineers in Canada – as a percentage of its workforce.   How is this possible?  Because firms built an expertise in New Brunswick and then built it into an export business.

My point is there are many examples – but not enough.  I think now would be a good time to ramp up our game.  I heard yesterday that something like half of the Fortune 500 firms were started in an economic slump.  Many of New Brunswick’s important industries were built during tough times.

My fear is a lot of business leaders – in their late 50s/early 60s – are starting to see retirement and Bermuda in their future.

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3 Responses to We need bold and ambitious business leaders to invest in our province

  1. I agree that the textbook answer is way too simplistic. Business leaders will often favour starting companies or expanding existing companies to areas that they have attachments or personal preferences for.

    For example Hewlett Packard is known for having located some of its divisions near ski areas due to the leaders love of skiing. Boise Idaho, Fort Collins Colorado and Grenoble France all got HP factories in part due to their proximity to great skiing.

    I think that the issue goes back to your post on culture and making NB a desirable place to be through a mix of culture, innovation and investment.

  2. Mat Trevors says:

    @Danny D’Amours
    Ha…never knew that about HP…We should try to get Patagonia clothing set up in NB. Yvon Chouinard, with French-Canadian roots, loves to fly fish…unfortunately most of his staff prefer climbing & surfing, hence their HQ in California :)

  3. Michael Edwards says:

    David needing and getting are worlds apart, separated by vision and strategy.
    Ambitious business leaders are seldom altruistic, they can’t be. The textbook is right that their responsibility to shareholders requires that they invest to the advantage of those that put up the money. The family run businesses of New Brunswick were built, for the most part, on natural resources that dictated the location for development. Ambition may have been part of who did it, but location and comparative advantage played a bigger part. As long as those resources; potatoes, fish, lumber etc. remain and the means to convert them are economic, we’re in luck.
    Anything else requires some intervention through public policy. That’s the reason Fredericton has some many engineers and Exxon is in Moncton…

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