RBC's Shawn MacDonald on the resilience of Manitoba businesses
The following is a Q &A interview with RBC's Shawn MacDonald, Regional Vice President, Business Financial Services, Manitoba, Saskatchewan, Nunavut, and Western Ontario. Portions of this interview were used for an article originally published in The Winnipeg Investor magazine and released at YES! Winnipeg's Investor Breakfast in November, 2020.
What advice does RBC have for businesses as they continue to deal with the realities of COVID-19?
We know that this pandemic means different things to different businesses just as it does to different industries and sectors. And so while we all share in the macroeconomic outlook, our industry-specific advice at RBC is what sets us apart in providing unique and tailored advice to businesses relevant to where they are right now on their own journey.
It’s important to recognize relief programs available to businesses in need while it’s also important to make decisions in the short term to benefit the long game and that includes making tough decisions related to talent management while prioritizing investments in the business that reflect this new world.
But there’s also an African proverb that has resonated with me throughout this pandemic that simply states “Tomorrow belongs to those who prepare for it today.”
While this situation continues to evolve, there are things that we can be doing to prepare for the unknowns of tomorrow.
Photo: RBC Royal Bank
It begins with the recognition that we are being forever changed by this current environment from how we learn, trade, heal, shop, share, work, travel, how we receive information and are entertained. Through leveraging data and insights, RBC’s report on 8 Ways COVID is Transforming Economies and Disrupting Businesses helps create a line of sight to the future. Observing both the subtle and significant swings and trends are the indicators we need to help prepare for what may be waiting for us. By anticipating the future we are better positioned to rise up to meet it.
That is why, in the RBC Thought Leadership report Small Business, Big Pivot, A devastating downturn, and how Canadian enterprises can transition, we explore how the pandemic may impact different industries and sectors and how by knowing this, can guide our decisions on when to push, pivot, or let go in the current environment to be best positioned for the long game. But we also explore how we as a business community alongside government can rally around one another.
And, just recently we launched the report, Navigating 2021: 21 Charts for the Year Ahead. This highly visual report leans further into data and insights to understand how we are being changed across a number of economic indicators, industries, and sectors and the special roles that the economy, consumers, policymakers, and the business community all play in responding to these changes.
Never before has a sense of community, a digital strategy, and a deeply rooted focus on the safety and wellbeing of customers and employees been so relevant to a business’s brand, immediate prosperity, and overall longevity.
Tell us how RBC is helping businesses reemerge?
In addition to the role we have played with administering government programs such as CEBA or CERB and in addition to providing industry expertise, we have looked to how we not only can help businesses respond to today but also plan for tomorrow.
RBC Disruptorsis an ongoing podcast series that reimagines Canada’s economy in a time of unprecedented change. With the pandemic as a backdrop, this series features thought-provoking conversations with Canadian business and innovation leaders on approaches to reemergence.
In addition to our continuous stream of economic reports, the 10-Minute Take podcast provides insights from RBC economists and market experts on events unfolding around the globe. These short, focused podcasts may include industry specific topics or economic updates for various geographies.
With RBC support, Tony Chapman, Canadian marketing and business leader, launched a new #SmallBusinessMatters podcast series as part of his Chatter That Matters podcast — bringing together owners and business experts to share insights, advice and tips for survival. In this podcast series, Tony Chapman talks with Canadian entrepreneurs about how their lives have changed since COVID-19. Joined by a panel of experts and thought leaders, #SmallBusinessMatters dives into the challenges facing entrepreneurs to provide timely insights, ideas and much-needed inspiration.
But we also know that this pandemic isn’t only impacting business owners but their families as well which can created added concern for business owners as well as their employees. That is why we are supporting the education and career journeys of young Canadians with a new, online resource hub dedicated to youth-focused virtual programming and learning opportunities – RBC Future Launch at Home. With the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to impact schools, communities and available in-person programming for young people, RBC Future Launch is dedicated to ensuring that youth across Canada have access to resources, tools, events, and jobs that will help them navigate through this difficult time and exit the pandemic better prepared for the future world of work.
It’s important that we don’t only rally around the business but around the individual and those they care about. It is why we collaborate across all of our teams to bring the full scope and scale of RBC to our business owners creating a plan and providing tools that enable full reemergence.
What has RBC learned through the pandemic?
While region to region and industry to industry are in different places through the lens of economic recovery, what has remained consistent is the resilience of Canada and Canadian entrepreneurs.
We have seen how some businesses have reimagined themselves moving brewery to sanitizer producers or fashion houses to PPE production specialists. We have also seen how other businesses have had to make tough decisions regarding employees to better ensure the long term survival of their business for the employees to eventually come back to.
This nimbleness also extends into the other aspects of running the business. Not always are these things within the business’s control. For some businesses, vendors and suppliers have been impacted affecting the business’s ability to provide its core services or products once again resulting in having to pivot or make strategic decisions in the moment.
We at RBC have learned first-hand what is involved in mobilizing a large number of employees to suddenly be working from home. This includes ensuring employees have access to equipment, technology, and even bandwidth while still ensuring they feel connected and informed. But the impact of this pandemic goes beyond the physical network and we have seen across all industries the critical importance of supporting the mental well-being of employees and their families. It is by dedicating resources and a focus to this that we can better ensure the long-term resilience required to thrive in response to this situation.
This extraordinary disruption has shown the importance for many industries to have a strong digital strategy for both employees and in how customers may engage with you differently. It has also shown us the importance of a strong workplace culture, a nimble environment able to pivot correctly, and a strong set of core values to guide key decisions.
And so while the world is still learning how we will all be changed by this situation, it is that resilience that will position us all to be stronger together…even when apart.
How do you see our community/businesses building back stronger together?
What I know to be true is that individual businesses, sectors, or industries can’t go it alone. We need to reimagine how we come together as a business community and a city to help one another thrive in these difficult times.
The pandemic is creating new economic trends and accelerating others. It is offering a roadmap for an altered economy that compels more digital delivery and consumer caution. But this altered economy is where our community can be best positioned to rally around one another through strategies such as more domestic procurement and more dependency on local markets.
This is the premise behind RBC’s recent initiative Canada United where we brought together over 60 Canadian brands and partnered with government, chambers, along with a call to action to all Canadians to eat and shop local. This is not only about protecting Canada’s businesses, this is about protecting Canada’s employers and the integral role that local businesses play in employing millions of Canadians.
And so while smaller firms may be reimagining their business model, larger businesses have a unique opportunity to be a convener and rethink supply chain to ensure we are supporting our local communities.
Organizations such as the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, local business and industry associations, and our friends at Economic Development Winnipeg have traditionally played the role of conveners and connectors and never has this role proven more important than now. I think initiatives such as Yes! Winnipeg’s Talent Hub or even how EDW and RBC are coming together to share information and advice meaningful to us all are tremendous examples of what is possible when we put the focus on the prosperity of our city.
It’s not only the big things. It’s the simple things as well where we all can make a difference. I recall early in the pandemic how one of our teams who traditionally ordered in lunch each Friday made the conscious decision that they were going to be thoughtful and deliberate in selecting a different locally-owned restaurant going forward as a way to show their support. Every effort matters.
What opportunities do you see for the Winnipeg market in the future?
To quote Economic Development Winnipeg’s video, this is our comeback story. This continues to be a fluid and evolving situation and where we are today is a dramatically different place than just six months ago. Historically, we are a city that knows what it means to rally around people and communities in need and this is demonstrated each year by community giving to United Way and the many fundraisers, events, and causes that never seem to be short on volunteers or generous donors. What if we were to channel that same mindset in how we rally around our business community and do what is right to curve the spread and protect our more vulnerable populations?
But we can’t stop there. Let’s take it one step further and ask ourselves how we can all be storytellers about this thriving, innovative, and community-minded city? Let’s leverage our networks so that, as the world reopens, we as a city are positioned to welcome top talent, investors, new businesses, and visitors who have heard our story. Let’s tell one another’s story to those beyond our borders.
Why is Winnipeg an ideal place to do business?
There is something very special about Winnipeg. Geographically, we are at the cross roads of the country and, historically, we have been the birthplace of movements and changemakers. We are the home to world class museums and gathering places like RBC Convention Centre where the world comes together to share ideas and explore new thinking.
But that is just the beginning of our story.
We are enriched by our diversity where people from around the world come to find belonging, build a new life, and give back to their community.
We have seen through important movements like Black Lives Matter the criticality of truly listening to one another and turn what we learn into meaningful action. Winnipeg, while still learning and growing, has the capacity and the desire to look to the future and explore what is possible.
Winnipeggers are willing to stand on the edge of tomorrow and ask perhaps the most important question - what if? We have heard incredible stories of businesses and leaders throughout our 150 year history who have asked that question and found incredible success in the answer.
But perhaps it is a sense that we have as Winnipeggers that ensure we can thrive in times of challenge whether economically or in the face of a pandemic - and that is a sense of community. You experience it through our vibrant arts scene. You see it when we come together to help communities overcome floods, fires, and moments of need. And you find it where our business community comes together to rally around one another in the spirit of collaboration and mentorship.
Why is Winnipeg ideal? Because we know what community means and we humbly dedicate ourselves to deliver on the responsibilities and accountabilities that come with that knowledge.
There is a resiliency, kindness, and a respect when it comes to Winnipeggers. It is the best kept secret from anyone who has never travelled here and the worst kept secret from anyone who calls this city home. We aren’t only friendly Manitoba, we are flourishing Manitoba.