About Brad Ferguson

Private citizen focused on building the economic competitiveness of Canada.

Time to Expect More

Not all, but many in the public service have forgotten the larger mission, have become demoralized, and have adopted a behaviour of mediocrity.

How could they not? 

Politicians are stuck in ideological dogma. Leadership is based on polling, not principles. Open discussion and debate has been replaced by social media rants. Organizational strategy is developed among only the chosen few. The average front line employee is six levels removed from the decision-making table. Risk-taking has been abandoned because of the fear of making a mistake. Career advancement comes through internal politics and lateral moves. Unions have considered innovation to be a threat to membership. Professional development is rudimentary, underfunded and ineffective. And no coaching is provided to uplift and challenge the next generation of leaders.

No wonder high-performance isn’t talked about within the public service. No wonder employees are lulled into complacency. And no wonder we don’t talk about leadership in the public service.

Given we have over 5.6 million people employed in the high-purpose calling of the public service, over 30% of the employed population, this culture of complacency and mediocrity needs to be identified as a tragedy of the human spirit across our country.

  • As public service employees, we should demand so much more;
  • As public service leaders, we are capable of so much more; and
  • As citizens and taxpayers, we must expect so much more.

As a nation, we need a fundamental change of perspective and attitude in what we expect from our public service organizations. We need to embrace a new philosophy of leadership for our institutions. We have big topics to tackle, like how to educate our children, care for the elderly, house the homeless, treat our environment, strengthen our economy, narrow the income gap, reduce our debt levels, and so many others.

These topics are not new, but they are not being solved. We continually try to solve these complex issues by approaching them as the same situation with the same mindset and with the same leadership philosophy as before.

And it isn’t working.

We now need a new generation of leaders to step up and change the out-dated ways in which we operate our public service institutions. We need to unleash the talent within that wants to make a difference, wants to solve problems, and wants to change the world. We need to challenge the performance of our bureaucracies, and realize that our current approach is only self-perpetuating a culture of non-performance.

We deserve so much better.  No more excuses.  It is time to expect more.

Calling All Leaders!!

Featured

Our system is broken, and we know it’s broken. Our public service – those bureaucracies, institutions, universities and healthcare systems – who once gave our country a massive advantage over others, are fast becoming the Achilles heel of our competitiveness.

We are not getting major projects approved. We are not reducing wait times for surgeries. We are not improving our education rankings. We are not helping the middle class. We are not improving workplace productivity. We are not attracting the smartest people to public service. And we are not building the next generation of public service leaders.

In fact, we are getting worse.

An intervention is needed. And I’m resurrecting this blog to start the conversation.

The root cause of the problem is that we have become complacent about our expectations of these institutions, our bureaucratic leaders are leading with antiquated management philosophies, and the good people that work in the public service are surrendering to a system that perpetuates and rewards mediocrity.

Most have given up on the topic, shake their heads and say that things will never change.

I disagree. It will change. Slowly. It may only change one ministry, institution or agency at a time, but it will change for three reasons:

  • The next generation of public service leaders – Gen Xs and Millennials – are far too altruistic, connected and impatient to settle for continued non-performance;
  • The next generation of public service employees – Millennials and Gen Zs – will not tolerate antediluvian leadership models, will not suffer in uninspiring work environments, and will not accept the eventual erosion of their aspirational goals and their human spirit; and
  • The next generation of the general public – the private sector and private citizens – can no longer afford the cost of government and will no longer sit quietly and politely when they see poor performance in exchange for their tax dollars.

Change requires leadership, and it is time for a new generation of leaders to be properly armed with the strategies and courage needed to make change in our public service.

I look forward to the discussion ahead.  I promise to be provocative, as it is too important of a topic to be left not discussed.

Where Credit is Due

Every time I tell the Edmonton story, from Hangzhou to Helsinki, from roundtables of 10 to audiences of 1100, people are fascinated how we evolved the Edmonton brand and engaged our whole community in the process. They ask, “How did you guys do it? How did Edmonton manage its way through the recession so well? How did you evolve the brand in such a short period of time? How did you grab the attention of the media? How did you rise so fast in the rankings?”

Every time I’m asked, I stop and give pause, and I share an important story that seems to be forgotten – a story that gives credit to those who took the risk to fundamentally change the face of our city.

Five years ago, our city was at an impasse. City Council was divided over whether a downtown arena would generate the economic benefits that were being claimed, and Edmontonians were divided as to whether a partnership with Daryl Katz could be trusted and whether it would be in the best interest of our city.

Five years later, we should all be celebrating. What’s been accomplished in downtown Edmonton is a model for public / private partnerships that has attracted envy from cities across North America, and has transformed the mindsets of local and institutional investors looking to invest even more into the Edmonton economy.

Edmonton has forever changed.

And, no one wants to change back.

The partnership between the City of Edmonton and the Katz Group sparked $5.5 billion in new investment, created over 30,000 new jobs, generated over $750 million in new taxes, increased residential density by 20%, added 15% more restaurants and bars, all while improving the brand and reputation of our city and the pride of Edmontonians.

And Daryl Katz delivered. What was originally a $100 million commitment (subject to commercial efficacy) in the Arena Master Agreement has now turned into more than $2 billion of personal investment in our downtown. And he kept investing in Edmonton while oil prices plummeted and margins were squeezed, building confidence in our city as we told this story around the world. Katz Group delivered the tallest tower in western Canada (Stantec Tower), the Edmonton Tower, the JW Marriott Hotel, Rogers Place Arena, the Winter Garden (Ford Hall) with excellence, and they continue to invest with more buildings planned in our near future.

Yes, these investments result in a return for the Katz Group, but they also carry significant commercial risk. The bigger winner in this partnership has been the City of Edmonton. With the ICE District development already at 75% of the original 20-year projection, and trending better than ever expected, the Community Revitalization Levy (CRL) has generated property tax revenue from new development and rising property values that has allowed the City of Edmonton to green light more than $230 million in new capital investment projects in the downtown core – a direct result of the arena partnership. That’s huge after only three years, and it puts the City’s investment of public tax dollars in the downtown arena project into a very positive view.

But we are not done. Downtown is not done. Edmonton is not done. Partnerships like these need to continue in order to accelerate our growth, to create a city that is built on excellence and to position us as an exciting city to watch. Additional partnerships are needed to continue investing in our public spaces, like a world stage Plaza in front of Rogers Place, public art on our streets or new hotels attached to our conference centres. Partnerships work, the CRL works, and they should form the foundation for the next phase of our downtown vision.

City of Edmonton and Katz Group is a partnership between City Builders. No party could have created what’s been created on their own. It took cooperation, trust, wisdom, vision and courage. And we need more as we keep growing.

So, as I reflect back on the past five years, on the shoulders which carried us through the recession and on the foundation which helped us shape our brand, I give credit to the City Builders behind the City/Katz Partnership, and I encourage us all to continue investing in, and honouring, these partnerships for years to come.

Let’s Talk Brand & Reputation

What are the first images that come to mind when people think of the word Edmonton? Are they images of festivals and events? Images of young entrepreneurs? Images of blue skies and river valleys? Images of Rogers Place and PCL cranes in the sky? Or are they images of a cold, isolated city? Images of an industrial town? Images of Gretzky crying while being traded? Images of big shopping malls?

Whatever images come to mind shape the Brand of our city.

What are the words that people use to describe Edmonton when you are not in the room? Are they words like young and energetic? Progressive and compassionate? Open and tolerant? A city of opportunity? Or are they words like tough and unsafe? Boring and uneventful? Dirty and slow? Unwalkable and unapproachable?

Whatever words are spoken form the Reputation of our city.

Many words and images have been used in the past to describe our city – words and images often left to others to contrive. And many have had negative associations because we never managed our brand, our reputation, our story with intention.

And we know now that if we don’t tell our story, someone else will … their own way.

So, we set out to change that. To take control of our brand and reputation. It started four years ago, under Mayor Stephen Mandel and has since been championed by Mayor Don Iveson. We needed to change the brand and reputation of Edmonton, and we needed to do it by telling our story … which is the summation of all our individual stories, past and present.

In fact, the Master Story goes back thousands of years, well before European settlers arrived. As the ice receded, this particular bend on this particular river is where various indigenous peoples gathered to trap, to trade, to learn, to heal and to celebrate. An isolated community, open to the elements, where people had to support one another in order to survive, to grow, to be entertained and to get ahead. It was a community with characteristics of being open, inventive, courageous and cooperative – the very brand characteristics that describe our city today.

Todd Babiak of Story Engine began doing the research into the Master Story. He was inundated with examples of how people came to our city, were welcomed here, took a risk and tried something new, only to find that they had the support of the entire community and that their journeys were filled with an unusual level of success. The Master Story was filled with anecdotes from Edmonton building the first Mosque in North America, to starting the first Food Bank when times were tough, to starting the first Fringe Festival in North America where theatre groups could test their productions before launching them across the globe. Stories of my alma matter, Procter & Gamble, using Edmonton as their test market for new products, to the PCL story, the Running Room story, the Booster Juice story, the Henry Marshall Tory story, the Cal Nichols story, the Karl Clark story and the Sandy MacTaggart story. Everyone he interviewed was filled with anecdotes that reinforced our Master Story and our brand promise that “If you have the courage to take an idea to reality, to make something, Edmonton is your city.”

And it’s a beautiful story. One that is unique to Edmonton. And one that we can sell around the world.

And we are all in the selling business. We need to constantly be communicating and positioning our city to attract the seven (7) drivers of economic wealth –investment, business, visitors, conferences & conventions, major events, talent/students and direct flights. These are the things that generate wealth, expand prosperity, provide jobs for our kids and improve our standard of living.

Each of the seven drivers has a different kind of target customer, each with different reasons for taking an interest in Edmonton.  From our same Master Story, we shape images and stories and value propositions into targeted campaigns to: (1) Create awareness about our city; (2) Allow them to experience our city; (3) Help them see the opportunity in our city; and hopefully (4) Encourage them to make a decision to invest in our city.

That’s the goal … whether it be an investor, an entrepreneur, a tourist, a meeting planner, a student, a professor, a family or an airline.

To shape those campaigns, we create a series of digital assets, stories, value propositions, presentations, wordmarks, brochures, trade show booths, promotions, advertisements, meeting agendas, introductions, blogs, tweets, Instagram photos, WeChats and Snapchats that are unique to each target audience and can also be used across different campaigns, and can be used by organizations, institutions and businesses in the region. That’s why you see the Edmonton Original campaign when you arrive at the Edmonton International Airport or the FIFA Women’s World Cup images in our international investor presentations or high-resolution photos of the ITU World Triathlon in the Stantec Annual Report. Unlike consumer product companies, we don’t have $100 million to build a brand, so we need to work as one and get more leverage for each marketing dollar spent.

And externally, the Finnish wood home manufacturer that we are trying to attract to set up North American operations in Edmonton becomes interested in our brand through various mediums. She gets familiar with our embracement of winter through our Explore Edmonton winter tourism campaign. She is interested in exploring Jasper because we’ve linked Beaver Hills Dark Skies with Jasper’s Dark Skies. She has an employee that graduated from the University of Alberta’s Faculty of Engineering, and loves Connor McDavid because she remembers Jari Kurri was once with the Oilers. Our images and stories all come together, self reinforcing, to build our brand and our reputation – consistently and with intention.

At EEDC, we have responsibility for telling the Edmonton story, globally. We do so with key partners like the City of Edmonton, our Regional counterparts, our Post-Secondary Institutions, Edmonton International Airport, Northlands, the Edmonton Chamber of Commerce Oilers Entertainment Group and others to attract those seven economic drivers. That’s why we spend $1.5 million per year of taxpayer dollars on brand and reputation assets, stories and campaigns, leveraged 1:1 with industry funds, and work to generate between a 7x and 10x return on every dollar spent.

Sometimes we use wordmarks with a little Maple Leaf (see image at top of page) to help foreign customers make the connection between Edmonton and Canada. As Canada is currently the #1 Nation Brand in the world and our Prime Minister is out aggressively marketing our country for foreign investment, we would be crazy not to connect ourselves closely with it.

I’m not a fan of city logos and taglines. They are typically uninspiring, overpriced and look like they are done by committee.  And, at the end of the day 1/3rd of the people will love it, 1/3rd will hate it and 1/3rd don’t care, so I question the undertaking.

The wordmark used in my presentation this week is the one I use when overseas, typically in Europe, where target businesses have a growing interest in investing in Canada. I realized the power of the city/nation connection a couple of years ago, and had our internal graphic designer do up something I could put on my slides. The cost was nothing, and if it looks like the MacLean’s Magazine logo – oops, I didn’t realize they had a trademark on our country’s Maple Leaf.

Top-tier cities in the world are all one-word brands – Tokyo, Sydney, Paris, Berlin, New York, London, etc. – while second-tier cities need the nation name beside it – Melbourne, Australia or Manchester, England or Helsinki, Finland. If you introduce a third word, you have lost your customer. So, instead of Edmonton, Alberta, Canada as we have talked about ourselves for years, I use one-word which is Edmonton and simply connect it with the Maple Leaf. It works well for our foreign investment customers.

Our job is to get Edmonton on people’s radar as Canada’s 5th largest city, Canada’s youngest, fastest growing city, and Canada’s best city for their investment opportunity. That’s what we are, and will continue to be, focused on. While I appreciate all the range of comments on the Maple Leaf wordmark, we know it works for our target customers, so we will continue to use it as part of our overall story.

Canada’s Budget for Edmonton Businesses

Last night at dinner, the discussion on the federal budget was deafening. Everyone was focused on the escalating debt and the deficit, all with spirited and good intention. But beyond the big looming debt number, not one business owner knew much about the details … the details of which are actually quite interesting.

Edmonton-based businesses have never cared much about the Federal Budget, and I totally respect the reasons why. Budgets have been for government folks, easterners, institutions and non-profits. Why would the federal budget come up in conversation, aside from taxes? What does the budget have to do with my business making money? How is the budget relevant to our day-to-day free-enterprise lives.

Part of me would love to continue asking those questions. But part of me knows that the world is changing and it’s not the smartest strategy to be left behind.

Every Edmonton-based business should read Budget 2017. I don’t mean read to simply find their new personal or corporate tax rates. But read it to understand the underlying policy and directional changes that will shape our country for the next decade or more. Budget 2017 doesn’t do much for the energy sector or for our current economic downturn, but the budget is unusually specific about the path forward and the emerging sectors that are expected to move Canada’s economy ahead.

Read it and engage; or ignore it and be left behind. Because in it, Budget 2017 has significant positive implications for Edmonton – Canada’s 5th largest, youngest, fastest growing municipality – that is being recognized as a major hub for new federal investment.

Beyond the significant support for affordable housing and predictable long-term investment for transit and infrastructure, as successfully championed by Mayor Don Iveson, this budget focused on building our economy through the solid combination of innovation and job creation. Of specific interest to Edmonton-based businesses should be:

  • $400 million over three years to be made available through the Business Development Bank for a new Venture Capital Catalyst Initiative to increase last-stage venture capital available to Canadian entrepreneurs (who submit proposals);
  • $1.4 billion in new financing support for Canada’s cleantech sector (equity finance, working capital and project finance) to promising clean technology firms who want to grow and expand;
  • $125 million to fund a pan-Canadian Artificial Intelligence collaboration between Montreal, Toronto-Waterloo and Edmonton, with UofA’s AMII (Alberta Machine Intelligence Institute) recognized as one of the leading programs in the world;
  • $950 million over 5 years to support a small number of business-led innovation “superclusters” that have the greatest potential to accelerate economic growth;
  • 10,000 new Co-op positions for STEM (science, technology, engineering, math) students;
  • Priority sectors for investment will include Advanced Manufacturing, Agri-food, Cleantech, Digital Industries, Health and Biological Sciences and Clean Energy Resources;
  • $7.8 million over two years to implement a new Global Talent Stream under the Temporary Foreign Worker Program, as part of the Global Skills Strategy;
  • No changes to capital gain taxes or taxes on stock options, which will benefit the tech sector;
  • $50 million over two years for teaching initiatives to help children learn to code; and
  • $37.5 million per year funding made permanent to Destination Canada, Canada’s national tourism marketing organization, to continue its strong collaboration with industry partners to maximize the impacts of its marketing campaigns to draw in more tourists from abroad.

Now, I’m typically one of the first people to call for balanced budgets. However, if a fiscal stimulus and low interest rates are required to keep our national economy on a positive growth curve, which they are, then these are the areas that have the ability to stimulate a long-term change to business innovation and competitiveness which we so desperately need across the nation.

The programs listed above are very much in line with our priorities at EEDC, through our Investment & Trade, Tourism, Startup Edmonton, Tec Edmonton, Edmonton Research Park and Shaw Conference Centre teams. And these are our teams that connect with local businesses on a daily basis to help Edmonton-based companies understand and benefit from these new programs and sources of funding.

Fiscal stimulus and support programs are needed across the country for our businesses to grow and evolve, adopt new technologies, access new talent and new markets and improve competitiveness. It is part of a larger transition we need to be embracing, otherwise others will and folks like my dinner guests will be left behind.

Please take time to become informed, and see each of these programs as opportunities for your business. Once informed, please connect with us at EEDC to help connect you with some of these new opportunities.

http://www.budget.gc.ca/2017/docs/plan/toc-tdm-en.html

http://www.budget.gc.ca/2017/docs/bb/brief-bref-en.html

http://www.budget.gc.ca/2017/docs/speech-discours/2017-03-22-en.html