BREAKING THROUGH IN A GLOBALLY COMPETITIVE MARKET
As published in the Telegraph-Journal on Saturday, June 15, 2013
Being an entrepreneur can be lonely, confusing and, at times, downright scary. I know this first-hand. So, when I was scheduled to meet someone who has been described as a “tireless champion for entrepreneurs in our province,” I had very high expectations. After meeting and getting to know Susan Holt, CEO and president of the New Brunswick Business Council, my expectations have been exceeded. I can report that she is truly a tireless advocate for not only entrepreneurs but for all New Brunswickers.
Before joining the council, Susan’s career took her around the globe in sales, human resource and management roles with some of the world’s most successful firms, including Xerox, Manpower, HP, Cognos and Research In Motion. In 2007 her high school sweetheart, who became her husband, helped her find her way back to New Brunswick (she grew up in Fredericton) and she eventually found herself in the role of CEO of the Fredericton Chamber of Commerce.
In 2011, Susan saw an opportunity to combine her work experience and passion for New Brunswick when she became the president and CEO of the business council. This was her chance to collaborate with 23 of New Brunswick’s foremost business leaders, who make up the council, and support their mission “to help build a competitive and growing economy that provides opportunities for all who invest, work and live in New Brunswick.” When we met I was curious to learn more about how the business group wants to champion the idea of New Brunswick as a great place for ambitious, globally focused entrepreneurs.
I started my interview with Holt by asking her what has been the most challenging part of her role.
A: Consensus building. I have 23 very smart, very strong-minded individuals who are my bosses. They each have an idea of what needs to be done and how it needs to be done. Identifying the middle ground, or a place where they can all agree, can be really challenging, especially in some areas where they have dramatically different views. It is hard to find any one topic that we can come close to consensus on and it doesn’t have to be unanimous, but there needs to be a kernel of consensus there in order for us to move forward.
Q: What attributes are critical to being successful in consensus building?
A: Listening is number one in this job. I also have to ask the 23 members the right questions and then I have to really listen and understand their answers to be able to find in those 23 conversations the threads of similarity and the things that we can build on. I have to listen carefully to what they’re telling me about their own businesses, their own leadership challenges, where they want to see the province go and how they want to support entrepreneurs.
Q: What have you found most surprising about the business council members?
A: It is only somewhat surprising to me – but maybe a lot more surprising to some of your readers – how social it is. The people around the business council table care very deeply about this province and about the people of New Brunswick. Many of them sacrifice profit for the greater good, or the individual employee in their organization, on a daily basis. I think people would be surprised to see how socially motivated these leaders really are.
Q: What are some examples of social issues that are important to members of the business council?
A: They are interested in issues like poverty-reduction strategies, health and dental insurance for social assistance recipients and youth unemployment. These are people who care about people and have built successful businesses by making hard decisions, by being strong managers and by caring for the people who work for them.
Q: How would you characterize business leadership in New Brunswick?
A: The business leaders that I’ve encountered in New Brunswick are generally pragmatic, if I can stereotype that way. Historically, as a province, we have thrived in traditional industries through hard work. We’re less sales and marketing and hype and more substance in a quiet way.
Q: What is unique about business leaders in our province?
A: The particular aspect that is unique is that we are much more connected and collaborative now as a business community. I see business leaders reaching out beyond their organizations.
Q: What are examples of business leaders reaching out beyond their organization?
A: What the Wallace McCain Institute is doing in terms of building a network of entrepreneurs and what the Business Council is doing by bringing business leaders together are examples of finding space for a collaboration and connection. We are becoming more highly connected and more collaborative, partnerships are forming.
Q: To be successful, what do you feel is required from today’s entrepreneurs?
A: What we really need today to break through the noise of a globally competitive marketplace is the entrepreneur who has the confidence to sell and market her/himself. This is why the business council’s mandate specifies clearly that we want to celebrate and champion the ambitious, globally focused and ready to compete business leaders, people who aren’t as afraid to market and promote their business and themselves as we might have been decades ago.
Q: It sounds like helping business leaders tell their story is a huge opportunity for New Brunswick?
A: Yes, because storytelling is something New Brunswickers have an affinity for. We have a deep and rich history here with our Acadian and our aboriginal population. The distinctiveness of New Brunswick society is that there are great stories and we have great storytellers famously from New Brunswick. This is something we can certainly leverage to support sales and marketing.
Q: Can you tell me about the two programs being offered by the business council that are important for the business community to know about?
A: We have two initiatives that we’re acting on right now. The first is called the Council Passport Service and the second program is the Early Adopters Team.
The intent of the Council Passport Service is to support entrepreneurs who are exporting and running into snags out of the country. I have 23 business people around the business council table who have done business all over the world – they’ve been there and they’ve done that. We bring an entrepreneur in so we can offer valuable exporting advice. We offer troubleshooting advice and possibly contacts that can help the entrepreneur successfully export. We want to reduce the burden on the entrepreneur and get those export dollars into New Brunswick.
The second program is the Early Adopters Team. There is a clear gap for entrepreneurs who have an idea, are building a solution and need to test it. They need companies to help them so they can have their solutions validated before they get it to market.
There is a role for business council members to play in helping entrepreneurs get to market faster. Council members have embraced the idea of wanting to make themselves and their companies available to be the first customer – the beta customer – of a New Brunswick-born idea.
Q: Where do entrepreneurs go to find out more?
A: Go to our website (nbbc-cenb.ca) for a description of the programs.
Q: What is the message you want to send to existing and/or budding entrepreneurs?
A: That we care about New Brunswick and we care about New Brunswick entrepreneurs. We want to help them. We want to see New Brunswick thrive. We want to encourage and challenge entrepreneurs to dream big. We want to look for those entrepreneurs who are really ambitious and competitive. We want to help them be successful to help grow our economy, which will benefit every New Brunswicker.
Q: How would you finish the following sentence: “A leader’s job is to .
A: Inspire. This can be done in a lot of different ways. For some people it is with words and motivating speeches. For others, it’s by the example of their work ethic and their determination.
Dave Veale is a leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com or via Twitter@Dave_Veale . To read past columns and watch videos go to LeadershipUnleashed.ca