Celebrating the resilience of Canadian businesses and what gets them through the tough timesJuly 1, 2021
The past year has brought an enormous amount of economic uncertainty. Businesses of every type and size have suffered through a challenging year. At the same time, many have evolved and innovated to adapt to shifting norms and have emerged stronger. As Canada slowly reopens and begins to return to normalcy, we celebrate the important ways that Canadian businesses have shaped and improved our day-to-day lives and enhanced the economy as a whole.
Brands we call our own
Whether they are longstanding fixtures or new arrivals, Canadian businesses help the country’s economy thrive through their significant contributions to the country’s GDP and employment. Here is a look at a few brands that have been instrumental in putting Canada on the map as an economic leader.
Retail giant George Weston Ltd. has been entrenched in the Canadian consumer experience over the past several decades, establishing roots as far back as the late 1800s. The company has adapted to a changing retail environment by making major acquisitions and expanding into new areas. Like many other retailers, it has accelerated its rate of digital innovation, with a focus on improving the customer experience, in the wake of the global pandemic.
Bombardier, born out of Joseph-Armand Bombardier’s entrepreneurial spirit and passion for invention, transformed the world by shaping the way people travel. Its legacy includes the railway business, aerospace sector, and recreational products such as personal watercraft. Though the company has struggled financially in recent years, its rich history is a vital piece of Canadian history.
Originally created as an online store, Shopify is the epitome of the Canadian success story. Often touted as one of the country’s more innovative companies, Shopify has helped small businesses conduct e-commerce since 2006 and now powers over 1.7 million businesses worldwide.
What it takes to survive
Canada’s culture proudly includes iconic Canadian businesses that have survived over many decades, with some even passing the century mark. How do these businesses survive and thrive in the face of uncertainty? And what can they teach their newer counterparts?
The simple answer is that they’ve leapt beyond the status quo. According to the PwC Family Business Survey 2021, 82% of businesses list “expansion and diversification” as key priorities over the next two years, while 80% list “digital, innovation, [and] technology.” As the economic landscape continues to shift and evolve, businesses must keep pace by diversifying, innovating, and embracing an increasingly digital world.
Companies like Empire Co. Ltd. have proven their ability to stay current and in tune with shifting consumer preferences with their recent acquisition of Farm Boy, leveraging the popularity of the up-and-coming grocery chain. Furthermore, an agreement with Ocado Group plc enabled the company to introduce online grocery delivery through Voilà by Sobeys. Another example is Canadian Tire’s 2019 acquisition of Party City, which enabled the brand to expand its presence into the party-goods space.
The word “pivot” has become a business buzzword for good reason. Organizations must shift traditional thinking to keep abreast of changing times. Streaming services like Netflix, for instance, threatened the revenues of traditional cable services such as those offered by Rogers Communications and Shaw Communications. These Canadian telecommunications giants responded by turning their focus towards creating their own streaming services. This is just one example of how companies constantly adapt to their evolving industries.
The importance of succession planning
One of the key factors distinguishing companies that remain strong over the long term from those that burn out is succession planning. According to a 2019 survey by PwC, 27% of family businesses haven’t involved the next generation in preparation for these steps. High-profile corporate conflicts include those that afflicted the families behind McCain Foods and Irving Oil. These conflicts permanently reshaped the way these empires operated over the long term.
By contrast, when Power Corp. CEO Paul Desmarais passed away in 2014, his sons André and Paul Jr. seemingly underwent a smooth transition into their roles as co-CEOs. The same can be said about the Galen Weston’s appointment as CEO of George Weston Ltd. in 2017. What these businesses likely had in common was a well-communicated succession plan.
A sound succession plan not only ensures continued business operations, but invites the opportunity for new perspectives. As KPMG’s Global Family Business Report notes, “Many now see that younger generations of the family have innovative ideas for the future of the business and they’re examining the mechanisms that need to be in place to keep bringing fresh ideas to the surface.”
Whether they are deeply rooted in Canadian history or gradually making their mark, Canadian businesses have proven their strength and resilience. Taking the steps to build out a sound succession plan is one important way to build resilience and ensure that these businesses thrive for years to come.
 PwC Family Business Survey 2021. https://www.pwc.com/gx/en/services/family-business/family-business-survey.html
 PwC Once in a lifetime. https://www.pwc.com/ca/en/private-company-services/assets/pwc-canada-once-in-a-lifetime-report.pdf
 Mastering a comeback: How family businesses are triumphing over COVID-19. https://assets.kpmg/content/dam/kpmg/xx/pdf/2021/03/family-business-survey-report.pdf