Worldwide, the profession of executive search and leadership consulting reflects the economy, culture and characteristics of each market in which it operates. To understand the profession in Canada, one must first consider its geography.
Canada is vast, crossing six time zones and bordered by the Arctic, Atlantic, and Pacific oceans. English and French are the official languages, as well as Inuktitut, the official language in Nunavut. Keith Sinclair, President and CEO at Harris Leadership Strategies in Winnipeg, Manitoba explains, “Because Canada is the second largest geographic country in the world (10 million square kilometers), we are spread apart, and we have multiple centers of economic activity.”
Cathy Logue, Stanton Chase Managing Director, Toronto, adds, “Canada is certainly vast, but we also can’t ignore the vast border we share with our closest neighbor and trading partner, the US. We share a border from coast to almost coast, and are further united through the Great Lakes and the St. Lawrence River.”
Canada is comprised of ten provinces and three territories that can be grouped into five distinct regions: The Atlantic Provinces, West Coast, Northern Territories, Central Canada and the Prairie Provinces. The economy of each region is directly tied to its resources.
- Atlantic Canada includes the provinces of Newfoundland and Labrador, Prince Edward Island, Nova Scotia and New Brunswick. The east coast of the country thrives on fishing, forestry, ship building, shipping, oil and gas, and mining.
- Central Canada includes the provinces of Quebec and Ontario, and is the country’s most populated region. Due to its proximity to the US and the Saint Lawrence River, the region is a financial, industrial and manufacturing center, producing about three-fourths of the country’s manufactured goods.
- The Prairie Provinces include the provinces of Alberta, Manitoba, and Saskatchewan, which are resource-rich with abundant farmland, large cattle ranches, minerals, and oil and gas.
- The West Coast region is the province of British Columbia, which includes a massive forestry industry, a large park system, and the country’s largest and busiest port. Tourism is a growing industry in the West Coast region.
- Northern Canada includes the Northwest Territories, Nunavut, and Yukon Territory. The region is the most sparsely populated, has significant mining and fossil fuel resources, and is rich in aboriginal culture.
Canada is known as a net exporter, with a strong resource and agriculture economy, a robust high tech and manufacturing economy, and a growing service and technology economy. “We’re 10th in the globe in terms of economic production, and we’re 38th in population. So we do punch above our weight,” Sinclair says.
Cleo Kirkland, Senior Client Partner with Korn Ferry in Toronto observes, “We tend to be far broader and absolutely more regionally focused. So for instance, Calgary is an oil and gas town and so all of our search partners in that market work in and around oil and gas. Vancouver is a bit of a split between tech and mining. In Montreal, there will be generalists. They do a bit of everything. So, Toronto is the biggest city in the country and the biggest search market in the country. We are the most specialized and our major practices there are financial services.”
From Logue’s perspective, “My observation is that in Canada, industry expertise definitely matters. True, it doesn’t necessarily trump regional expertise and knowledge of the local market. Clients want to know that as a search partner, in addition to experience relevant to their industry, you also have experience and an understanding of their specific province, region or city. Maybe that’s because historically, Canadians have been less transient and an appreciation of the cultural differences from sea to sea is incredibly valuable.”
“While I agree that there are many regional differences across the country, one thing that is consistent is the need to provide clients with the right team of experts to meet their specific needs,” says Carl Lovas, Chair and CEO of Odgers Berndtson in Canada. “For instance, we may be working on a technology search in Vancouver that brings together a local partner on the ground, our CFO practice leader and our National Diversity Leader. The marketplace is more competitive than ever so generalists need to be working with specialists to attract the best talent for each mandate.”
An additional layer of complexity for the profession in Canada is that some placements require candidates to be bilingual. More than 20 percent of the population of Canada speaks French as their first language. In the province of Quebec, that percentage rises to 77 percent. Many provinces have francophone populations, with sizeable communities in Ontario, New Brunswick, and Manitoba.
Roger T. Duguay is a Managing Partner of Boyden Canada based in Montreal. He is the Global Leader of Boyden's CEO & Board Services Practice. He says, “Many of the high profile positions we complete—the government positions, large national institutions like Bank of Canada, they need executives to be bilingual.” He adds, “Montreal is a bubble. In my view it is the most perfect bilingual city in the world, and bilingualism here is 5-10 times more important than it is in Toronto or any other city.”
The Welcome Sign
Like much of the developed world, declining birth rates have the potential to impact economic growth in Canada, which relies on immigration to off-set the trend.
Sinclair explains, “In many provinces, our net population growth is immigration, as in most places our birth rate is not replacing the population. We’re about neutral. But we continue to bring in over 200,000 immigrants a year and we’ll continue to do that. Immigration masks, in some ways, the productivity challenge we have.”
Canada’s reliance on immigration, according to Sinclair, “means our economy and our population are only going to become more diverse. And, as we have learned in OECD studies, the first two generations of immigrants (at least) tend to be more productive than the people on the ground. And so we’re benefiting from that.”
What does this mean in terms of top talent? “There’s no question that we are very pro immigration, and we do get a lot of phenomenally bright candidates that are looking at Canada as an appealing place to be because of our acceptance, diversity and inclusion,” says Shaun Carpenter of PFM Executive Search/ Panorama Search in Vancouver. “It doesn’t come without challenges, but there is a win that we get in terms of the quality of people that come this way. Canada ranks very high as having some of the best places in the world to live: our healthcare, our social services, those things. Our taxes are very high, but as a result there are really phenomenal social services that are provided.”
The State of the Profession
“Higher immigration has the potential to increase the growth of Canada’s labour force over the long term and generate higher economic growth. A larger Canadian population cannot completely offset the effects of an aging population on the Canadian economy, but it does help soften the impact.”
—Julie Ades, Daniel Fields, Alicia MacDonald, and Matthew Stewart. A Long-Term View of Canada’s Changing Demographics: Are Higher Immigration Levels an Appropriate Response to Canada’s Aging Population? Ottawa: The Conference Board of Canada, 2016.
Twenty-three Canadian executive search and leadership consulting firms are members of AESC. Across Canada the profession is mature, sophisticated, and evolving.
Amy Reid is Partner and Vice President for Recruitment at Royer Thompson in Halifax. “In Atlantic Canada we feel that the profession is healthy and it's growing. Obviously we’re all in new territory with the impact of COVID-19 on businesses. We really believe that there's a lot of opportunity for the profession here.”
Do Canadian organizations recognize the value of the profession? “We are seeing that clients are really intrigued and attracted to the trusted advisor relationship, and the rigor and the diligence that we offer in our process,” Reid says. “There are many organizations here that do yearn for that. We haven't had any challenges maintaining a healthy repertoire of assignments. We see the C-suite, we see the VP levels, Director and board searches."
Duguay has witnessed the increasing sophistication of the clients of search and leadership advisory services. “Clients today are much sharper, more aware, and educated on talent; the pressure to be effective, efficient, and relevant is extremely high,” he says. “You cannot conduct a mandate the way it was done 20 years ago. If we’re being honest—back then you land the assignment, you go to your list, and come back with three names. Now, clients want to see everything you’ve done. They know the market, they expect transparency and they ask such good questions you cannot improvise. You cannot be just a surfer and be successful. You need to be smart and relevant because your clients are smart and relevant. The business is fantastic, there’s room for everyone, a lot of mandates are out there, and the firms are busy. The profession is evolving like never before.”
The demands of clients are changing, as well. According to Kirkland, “The executive search offering is morphing into something else.” For example, regarding psychometric assessment she says, “We always use that in the context of our searches, but there’s been a real demand for bringing it into high potential assessments for internal succession planning. The other demand that our search partners are responding to is more around market intelligence and market mapping.” Kirkland explains, “There seems to be an almost insatiable appetite for clients to understand what competitors are doing, how they are organized, and what their org charts look like. What are their pain points? And so, in the context of doing searches and getting to know any particular space, you accumulate a ton of intelligence that clients find really interesting.”
Clients today are much sharper, more aware, and educated on talent; the pressure to be effective, efficient, and relevant is extremely high.
Another trend we’re seeing in the Canadian marketplace is the growing need for agile on-demand talent. “Organizations are feeling a growing pressure to rapidly respond to market conditions and increasingly disruptive forces,” says Lovas. “We are working with our clients to rapidly deliver highly-specialized executive talent and interim solutions that can help organizations execute the transformations required to compete globally.”
On whether Canadian executives appreciate the value of retained executive search, “I would say that’s true in the major centers. As you move out across the country, there are pockets that I would say are highly evolved and appreciate the value (of retained search), and then there’s still some educating to do,” Sinclair says. "I find AESC tools are helpful for advancing the value proposition for retained search."
Carpenter sees a competitive but growing marketplace. “The executive search businesses are still expanding and hiring people and growing their practices. There certainly is a diversification happening into other professional services, based on client demand, for example consulting and advising, board assessment and board recruitment work. ”
Why is Canadian search expertise so important? Logue explains, “Ultimately, clients want to partner with executive search consultants who understand their business, their leadership needs and their corporate culture. In Canada, much more so than the US, we truly are a ’distinct society’, and unless you’re immersed in that, you can’t fully understand it. So that is where Canadian firms, with ‘boots on the ground,’ and deep local market knowledge, can add value.”
The state of the profession is also relative to the state of Canada’s clients and their unique challenges.
While many challenges that clients face are global, firms are helping clients with matters more specific to Canada.
Reid sees that, “In the next two years we are going to need over 84,000 new workers in Atlantic Canada, including people for leadership and managerial roles. Organizations are really taking ownership over succession planning and the development of their future leaders. They are attracting immigrants to the province. We’re seeing record numbers, but even at the pace it’s moving today, one of the big concerns is that we can't keep up. It's a very tight labor market.”
Perhaps a redistribution of the Canadian labor force would address that need, but mobility is also a challenge in the broader Canadian talent market.
Duguay says, “It’s very hard to move people in Canada. I see it all the time and it’s supported by data. It’s a challenge and a risk—challenge because you need more effort to convince the candidate and their family. The risk is a higher rate of failure. This is why we spend so much time with candidates.” He adds, “People from one coast are often not interested in moving to the other coast. If you’re from Montreal, you’re very European—you want to stay there.” In terms of moving people from outside of Canada, he says, “We have a strong technology play in the Quebec (Montreal) market. We connect with a lot of talent from Silicon Valley but the language, government, taxes, weather make it complicated. If a candidate is alone and young—okay, but with children and a spouse who cannot work, we see a higher rate of failure.”
Carpenter agrees. “One thing I think that’s unique to Canada is that candidates aren’t as willing to move from one place to another. It is challenging to get people to move across the country. And there are two markets in particular that are hard to recruit into, and that’s Toronto and Vancouver, just because of the cost of living.”
That’s when we can truly add value as a search professional, understanding and being able to tell our client’s story and communicate the unique value proposition.
This may be changing, according to Logue, “as a new generation of leaders recognize the opportunities that come with the willingness to be more mobile. But the reality is, Canada’s economy is still focused on three major financial centers—Toronto, Calgary and Montreal. Vancouver and Ottawa are secondary players. So anytime an executive contemplates a move to a smaller market, say Vancouver or Ottawa, he/she has to consider, what’s next? That’s when we can truly add value as a search professional, understanding and being able to tell our client’s story and communicate the unique value proposition.”
Cost of Living
Carpenter explains that in Western Canada, “The biggest city that’s closest to Vancouver is Calgary, and the cost of a home for somebody moving from Calgary to Vancouver is almost double. In the US there are a few markets where we’ve had success recruiting: San Francisco, New York and Boston, some of the more expensive cities to live in. But if we’re looking at a low cost of living city or state in the US, it’s really challenging to move that individual into Vancouver.” To put the cost of living in context, after Hong Kong and Sydney, Vancouver is the third most expensive city in the world. For clients trying to recruit candidates from the US or Europe, an added cost is the exchange rate. Carpenter explains, “For any American who’s looking at a role here who then plans to move back to the US, there is that loss of 32 cents on the dollar for a position that pays the same. So that’s a big challenge that we face.”
A challenge for clients in the province of Quebec is the bilingual requirement. “We often have to have every document in two languages!” Duguay explains, “They have to be bilingual. When firms are searching for high profile roles, the bilingual mandate is difficult. But it’s important, and this is what makes the work so interesting.”
Sinclair identifies the challenge of access to top talent. “There appears to have been a net reduction of head office opportunities overall in Canada. Since the early 2000’s, Canadian corporations have slid in the Fortune Global 500 rankings, with only 12-13 companies making the list and only one company cracking the top 200. So that means to access to some of the top talent, we have to go outside the country.”
A specifically Canadian challenge for clients of search is the requirement to try to hire a Canadian first. Kirkland explains, “It’s always difficult when we are doing global searches. There is a very high regulatory burden in Canada that essentially requires us to satisfy the government that there is not somebody in this country who could do the job, which is why we are going outside. That is a labor-intensive process both for clients and for the search firms. You add in the exchange rate, you add in the tax burden, you add in the cost of living in Toronto…” It adds up to a challenge.
The regulatory environment is also impacting the number of head offices in Canada, from which to recruit. Carpenter says, “Several Canadian oil and gas companies are relocating their head offices into the States for different tax and regulatory regimes that are more beneficial to them. It is a really challenging thing for those firms that are not only directly in the oil and gas business, but those that support them. Calgary’s market is largely based on oil and gas. Toronto is more diversified, but the Prairie provinces: Saskatchewan, Manitoba, Alberta and the Maritimes are very focused on oil and gas.” As reported in The Economist, “Office vacancies in downtown Calgary, Alberta’s business capital, have jumped from zero in 2007 to over 25%. International oil companies such as Exxon, Total and Royal Dutch Shell have either delayed projects or are pulling out.” (Special Report: “The environment is Canada’s biggest wedge issue,” July 25, 2019)
One way firms address many of their clients’ challenges is through innovation.
The business environment is one of constant change, and the search profession changes with it, adapting and innovating to meet clients’ emerging needs.
Around compensation, Kirkland says, “In some cases, a client says, ‘we don’t know the space very well,’ or ‘we’re new to this function,’ or ‘we haven’t hired a CFO in 20 years. Help us think about comp.’ Our executive pay and governance partners do this for a living and they have databases with hundreds of thousands of data points.”
We see the growing importance of digital innovation... The profession is doing as much as we can to experiment with different platforms & networks to help improve our efficiency & speed, and access talent pools.
From a digital perspective, “Certainly you’re seeing a leveraging of technology both from a research, data-mining point of view as well as the fact that LinkedIn has emerged as as a tool,” Sinclair says. “The need to be connected digitally is critical. We are seeing the expectation that we’re going to do video interviews before we fly someone across the country. Technology has enabled us to do a more efficient job of reaching and connecting with people who are not readily available.”
Reid adds, “We see the growing importance of digital innovation in the executive search world. The profession is doing as much as we can to experiment with different platforms and networks to help improve our efficiency and speed, and access talent pools.”
“There is an interesting shift happening at the Board level, as directors face greater scrutiny and a broader range of responsibilities than ever before,” says Lovas. “This has put a fresh spotlight on board composition and the talent around the table, and an even greater focus on talent planning for the organization. While CEO succession is not new, Board oversight of the talent agenda has become much more critical to ensure the long-term success of the business strategy, which means that boards are looking to us much more for support on how to plan for their future.”
Kirkland describes how the profession has been broadening the service option. “We’re getting a lot of questions around diversity and inclusion. For example, I’ve done searches that range from wanting 50% women on a long list to where they only want to see women—a 100% female search. Providing data on the demographics of a particular candidate pool can really help educate clients at the outset. In some cases, for example private equity or mining, there are certain industries that are not reflective of the general population. The whole firm goal should be having a short list that is more diverse than the general population, but in some cases it may not be realistic. So, we provide as much as we can around the demographics of particular candidate populations. And if in fact, if it’s still a very white male-dominated industry, we think creatively with the clients about tangential candidate populations that may have transferable skills.”
Reid agrees that “an important piece is supporting employment equity, diversity, and inclusion. “We have on our team a subject matter expert in the area of unconscious bias, diversity and inclusion.
We can offer our search committees and clients unconscious bias facilitation sessions at the onset of an engagement, to educate the committees and to elevate their awareness.”
Some of the opportunity in the marketplace lies in the demand for gender balance in organizations. “Canada is truly diverse by virtue of our population and geography,” Logue says. “When we talk about ‘diversity’ in an executive search context, it’s more about gender than ethnicity. Ethnic diversity is simply the reality of our populations, so from that standpoint, diversity is an afterthought. But gender diversity remains an issue, on Boards as well as senior leadership roles. We still have a long way to go, and I firmly believe that as search professionals we are uniquely positioned to ‘move the dial’ in advancing this important issue.”
For example, Logue adds, “In Toronto, we have witnessed certain key sectors—financial services for example—to achieve gender balance on both their leadership teams and boards, through a concerted focus on these issues. It’s a mindset shift, and the reality is some traditionally male-dominated industries just aren’t there yet. Remarkably, even emerging, disruptive industries like technology and cannabis are very male dominated. But the tides are turning… and I’m optimistic we’ll see some significant progress over the next three to five years. We’ve witnessed some meaningful wins in 2019, and I look forward to what the future brings.”
“In 2017, Toronto created nearly 29,000 technology jobs, more than Silicon Valley, Seattle, New York and Washington, DC, combined, according to CBRE, a property-services and investment firm. Canada’s lower costs and relatively liberal immigration regime help. A “global talent stream” programme allows firms to bring in a foreign worker and family within two weeks. Yung Wu, CEO of MaRS Discovery District, calls it a “game-changer”. American tech giants such as Uber and Microsoft have boosted their research and development activities in Canada.”
Special Report: “Redistribution and innovation drive Canada’s changing economy.” The Economist, July 25, 2019.
Bright Spots in the Canadian Economy
While the country’s economy has been growing at around 2%, information-technology services have been expanding at triple that rate since 2016.
“There's a real entrepreneurial vibe and buzz in the innovative tech sector,” Reid says. “The technology sector is important to our region, and we're seeing a lot of progress with wonderful success stories coming out of our startup communities.” Reid cites “clean tech and the ocean sector as examples locally, nationally and globally.”
“One thing we're keeping an eye on is environmental sustainability,” she says. “If you look at what's happening with the current climate emergency, I don't think any organization is ignoring how that affects them today. We are definitely seeing boards taking increased responsibility for environmental and climate matters, and it's now becoming central to how organizations operate. That goes back to that technology sector, the innovation sector, and an organization's ability to work in that circular economy and have that component of sustainability, to have that corporate competitiveness. That’s table stakes today, quite frankly.”
Quebec is enjoying a resurgence. Duguay says, “In the technology sector, Montreal is now a big hub. It attracts a lot of students, so the city is very young and vibrant, and it attracts startups so that vibrant circle is very bright right now. Young people are talking about how it is more exciting to work for a tech company that has young people as opposed to old retail and manufacturing sectors.” It’s good news for the tech and creative enterprises in Quebec, however, “The war for talent doubles the complexity for traditional organizations dealing with attracting top talent.”
From her perspective in Toronto, Kirkland observes, “We have been overwhelmed with cannabis work over the last 18 to 24 months. We did have a bit of a battle with our US-based parent company to get that kind of work. We fought to have that happen, and it’s been an absolute boom. Organizations are building from the ground up, staffing executive teams, and our recruitment process has been heavily leveraging candidates where we’re staffing entire plants and call centers, etc. It has been really exciting. We have a tech practice not just servicing technology, but tech proper, and consumer retail as well. So those have been the major buckets in Toronto.” Central Canada is also a hub for financial services. “We have big, very strong banks that weathered the financial crisis extremely well. They are increasingly global and we’re proud of them,” Kirkland says.
The Prairie Provinces
Sinclair recognizes sustainable practices as a particularly bright spot in the region, specifically “the resourceful utilization of our natural resources.” He explains, “We’re producing what we need with a lot less waste. In Winnipeg, we have a Composite Innovation Center that uses flax to produce composites that go into buses and airplanes and on cars and in other uses, where they’re using the waste from the flax, not just the fiber itself. It’s the same thing with pulp and paper. We used to throw out the waste, which was quite harmful. We’re now utilizing 99% of what we take, rather than taking the 60% that we need and throwing out the rest.” Sinclair adds, “The fact is that, 90% of the solutions that we need to ensure a sustainable environment and economy are actually either in research or have been developed. They just need to be applied. I think that that goes back to recruitment. If we’re recruiting leaders who think long-term and want to build a sustainable business, that can also be a sustainably profitable business.”
In British Columbia, the bright spots according to Carpenter are many. “Green energy, green technologies, tourism, film and TV, agrifoods, those are the areas that have the biggest growth in the last couple of years. Clean energy is in there with technology and it’s all moving away from fossil fuels. Forestry will always be a big part of BC’S economy, but it is also struggling with fiber supply issues and other places where there are lower costs. That’s historically been a really significant part of our economy and it’s waning. So, the diversification and strength of other industries has to make up for those fossil fuels and those natural resource industries. And here in Vancouver, tourism is huge. The Canadian dollar is not worth as much as the Euro or the US dollar, so we’ve got a lot of tourists who come here to experience the mountains and the natural resources.
No overview of the Canadian economy or current search landscape would be complete without some perspective on cannabis. Logue says, “By the end of last year, the contribution of the cannabis industry to Canada’s GDP eclipsed every other major category of the Canadian economy (Statistics Canada).” She adds, “Almost two-thirds of my own practice last year was focused on the cannabis industry, with half of that resulting from working with cannabis clients to bolster their Boards. Just like the tech startups in the 1990’s, cannabis has had its growing pains, and part of its evolution has been strengthening leadership teams and governance to position it for the next stage of growth. It’s tremendously rewarding to be part of that.”
For example, Carpenter adds, “We did some recruitment for a company that is in the controls business, so they manufacture control systems for greenhouses. Historically their business has all been in the hot house business for tomatoes and other vegetables, and lately, their biggest growth area has been in cultivating marijuana plants; using their control systems for those greenhouses that are just there for marijuana plants. So, it’s a massive boom area.”
Logue says, “Legalization has legitimized it and the stigma has slowly dissolved, so perhaps the cannabis industry’s revenue projections are not that farfetched after all. Will it really be a $200B industry by 2027? I think so. To think that Canada is the global leader, at the forefront of this highly disruptive industry, is pretty exciting,” Logue says.
In a globalized world, virtually every market depends on relationships with other markets. Canada is tightly connected to its neighbor the US culturally as well as economically. Logue says, “This is a critical North American trade corridor, with over $75B of goods flowing through these lakes and waterways each year.”
“The US is such a big partner,” Duguay says. “We are also connected to Europe, especially the France-Quebec relationship is very strong. We have a strong relationship with the Paris office; it’s a natural gateway. In terms of banking and finance, the New York—Montreal—Toronto corridor is a strong connection. Boston—Montreal—Silicon Valley is a new gateway of talent transfer for people in tech that didn’t exist ten years ago.”
For the Prairie Territories, according to Sinclair, “We are net exporters, so regional and bilateral trade agreements will always be important.” He says, “Our largest trading partner is the US, and vice versa. That continues through the US-Mexico-Canada Agreement (USMCA). Europe has always been an important market for Canada. We’ve had less interaction and involvement with South and Central America, although I think our trade with Mexico has grown through the USMCA, and we’ve done less in Africa. Asia has become an increasingly important market for Canada, though we were late into China and India.”
Carpenter agrees, “Canada is definitely a strong resource-based economy, largely for export. Our trading partners are critically important for us, the US being our largest partner in trade.” He adds, “The US for sure is number one, and China and other Asian countries are huge, especially for the province of British Columbia because we’re the gateway for goods coming in and going out. So, our ports and the container traffic that goes through them is massive for us. Australia and New Zealand, the UK and Europe to a slightly smaller scale.”
The State of Talent
According to Reid, “For us here in Atlantic Canada, to retain our great talent or to attract talent who have left the region and who we would love to see come back, we have to ensure that leaders in this region (and across Canada) are creating workplaces that will attract and truly engage and inspire these new generations of employees. In my mind, that requires a caring, thoughtful, and purposeful leadership approach.”
The Canadian talent pool is incredibly deep and it is a dynamic & changing economy. The talent we have in the financial services, industrial & technology sectors is really world class and second to none.
“Canada is a very stable, liberal country, so executives born here are multicultural, and we have so many multinational corporations,” Duguay says. “Canada is very liberal, open-minded, and multicultural. Our homegrown talent is ideal for international assignments.”
Speaking from Toronto, Kirkland observes, “The Canadian talent pool is incredibly deep and it is a dynamic and changing economy. The talent we have in the financial services, industrial and technology sectors is really world class and second to none.”
“What makes a great leader is changing, and not just in Canada,” adds Lovas. “A recent study we conducted with Harvard Business Review Analytics, which surveyed close to 2000 global executives, confirmed that the mindset and traits required for strong leadership is quickly shifting. Organizations must seek out and develop leaders who can thrive despite uncertainty; leaders who are adaptable, curious and have the courage required for continuous change. This requires a shift in how we recruit and assess talent.”
How Can Talent Position Themselves?
With this perspective on Canadian talent, then, how would search and leadership consultants advise candidates to position themselves for new opportunities?
Reid says, "In this world of everyday change, globalization, digitalization, Canadian leaders can position themselves for the best opportunities by immersing themselves in environments where they can explore and live through change. That is an increasingly sought-after competency, that ability to adapt and lead through change and uncertain environments. The ability to lead and develop through unchartered waters is not going away.”
In terms of hard skills, Sinclair says, “One of the most important needs going forward is the ability to understand and utilize artificial intelligence and machine learning. Partnering with artificial intelligence still trumps either artificial intelligence alone or people alone.”
He adds, “I don’t think we can continue to expect that English is going to be the language of commerce forever. It’s a benefit for people to be not just bilingual, but multilingual, if you’re working internationally. Many of us in Canada did take French in school such that we can communicate, and that’s really beneficial. Are you going to work internationally? It’s helpful, but I think being both culturally and linguistically multilingual is helpful if you want to work internationally.”
“The caliber of Canadian leadership is truly outstanding,” Carpenter says. However, he adds that “Canadians have to be more mobile. When I meet people from the US, it astounds me how much they’ve moved all around the country. I think Canadians could benefit from doing that a little bit more. Just taking on more international assignments and getting that global scope of experience would really be beneficial to them and would make them more marketable candidates.”
The Last Word
Canada is vast—in terms of landmass, resources, and possibilities.
From Reid’s perspective in Atlantic Canada, “We are not bound by geographic barriers, but because we are a smaller firm, we can’t specialize. Our specialty is supporting organizations with high stakes, complex mandates. Canada is facing labor shortages, and organizations need to focus on their employer brand and their culture. They need to understand what is required to build a healthy organization that will both attract and grow a future generation of talented leaders.” She says, “We see opportunity everywhere.”
Canada is vast—in terms of landmass, resources, and possibilities.
For Duguay, Canada holds ample opportunity for clients and candidates, as well. “If you think about our international leadership, thinking and creativity, Montreal is an epicenter of creative talent that can bring your organization to a different level. We have demanding, game-changing clients who think out of the box—for those clients, Canada has extremely good talent. And for candidates, Canada has extremely good opportunities. We have strong business talent and creative artistry, together. That’s our portrait of Canada.”
Sinclair reflects, “We’ve gone through a major review of our continued poor treatment of indigenous peoples. So, we’re not perfect by any means, but generally our society is inclusive and accepting. We still continue to bring more immigrants into the country while other parts of the world are turning a different corner. I would say we’re an example of how a society can be inclusive and accepting and collaborative. And I think that in the long run, that’s what we need for the global economy and society to function. It’s not just about tolerance, it’s more about acceptance, and I think we can be a role model for collaboration and acceptance and inclusion.”
Getting candidates to consider Canada requires a calculation beyond the math. Carpenter explains, “Look at it from a candidate’s perspective. Unless you have family in Canada or you plan to move to Canada for good, if you come here and let’s say you work for five years and you earn the same amount of money that you would be earning for the same job in the US and then you return to the US, you’re moving back with basically 32% less money when you do the exchange rate. So, it benefits our companies being an effective trade partner because it’s basically a deal to do business with Canada. It’s a deal for people to come here and be tourists and enjoy hotels and restaurants and entertainment and adventure. Looking at it from a business standpoint, it makes it very challenging to recruit people here, especially those who are only looking at Canada temporarily.” A top search firm is able to help candidates look beyond the exchange rate and identify the intangibles that make being in Canada so attractive.
Ultimately, Canada is a pretty nice place to be.
“We make a point of keeping fairly accurate lists of highly talented Canadians that have gone off to do x, y or z, and we check in with them periodically,” Kirkland says. “In many cases, we’ll be able to repatriate them. That’s always a factor of timing. But eight, nine times out of 10, they will find their way back to Canada, eventually. Almost everybody does come back. And in the case of executives who have been very hard to recruit here, more often than not, once they get here they don’t want to leave. It can be a tricky thing to transition and you’ve got to have a lot of conversations in order to find the right person who will work. But when it does, it works beautifully.”
This is truly an unprecedented time for all organizations and industries—including our own. Few leaders have ever dealt with this much ambiguity and they are looking for support in figuring out how to both pivot and continue moving forward. This pandemic has organizations across Canada and globally rethinking their talent needs, but many still need to fill critical leadership roles. We are working with them to identify top needs—like finance, risk, supply chain and IT—while evaluating which growth roles will be necessary on the other side of this. Interim executives are also filling gaps in areas like crisis communication, HR and digital transformation and provide a quick, low-risk solution for organizations facing growing uncertainty. We’ve moved to conducting 100 per cent virtual interviews and are helping boards and executive teams make the shift to online recruiting with clear processes and enhanced referencing to help organizations feel confident about bringing on new executives. Leaders are also looking for support on how to build resilience for themselves and their teams, so they can successfully manage through the crisis. Executive search firms need to be more nimble than ever in adapting to this new reality, so we can provide thoughtful, expert guidance to our clients where they need it most, and ensure they have the talent to weather this storm, and to come out strong and healthy at the other end.
-Carl Lovas, Chair & CEO, Odgers Berndtson Canada