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Manley doesn’t see innovation in our DNA

July 28, 2009

John Manley thinks we need to adapt to quickly changing economic conditions or our country will suffer – and he doesn’t seem to like our chances. Nonetheless, he’s going to jump into the fray when he takes over the leadership of the Canadian Council of Chief Executives (CCCE), an exclusive club which includes the chief executives of Canada’s 150 largest companies. In an interview with Maclean’s columnist Paul Wells (who has been consistently good and interesting on research issues in his blog, inkless wells), Manley summarized the challenge facing today’s Canadian corporations: “innovate or perish”.

Manley had some interesting thoughts on why Canadian companies present such a poor track record of innovation and competitiveness:

I don’t think you could say that innovation is deeply in the DNA of our Canadian business enterprises. We have built prosperity, up to and including this decade, on a fairly basic paradigm: we are rich in natural resources. We’re good at harvesting them. And we have built a manufacturing and processing sector, and to some degree a services sector, which has been quite successful in exploiting access to the U.S. market.

As paraphrased by Wells, the Canadian model has been to build build factories close to the US and then lob products across the border. This strategy relies on a cheap loonie, which has disappeared. So why hasn’t this model been replaced with small, vital start-ups? “What you see, especially in small, technology-driven businesses, is a shortage of people who know how to grow them, how to manage them,” according to Manley.

When Manley takes the helm of the CCCE, he’ll be representing the leaders of Canadian industry. These are the very companies who have long sustained the “lob it over the border” mentality in Canadian business. It remains to be seen whether Manley can lead them in a new direction and evolve the Canadian mentality to a more dynamic and innovative strategy.

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