I suppose it’s only fitting that I write this blog after attending a disappointing hockey game the other night where the Calgary Flames beat the Minnesota Wild 5-2. Watching teams from Canada and the U.S. duke it out in hockey reminded me of the story told by General Mills Canada President Dave Homer during his recent presentation at a “Focus on Canada” event in Minneapolis hosted by Invest in Canada and the Financial Times.
Dave, a U.S. citizen living in Canada, told the audience he had the privilege of attending the U.S.-Canada gold medal hockey game last year when General Mills Canada was a sponsor of the 2010 Vancouver Winter Olympics. The game was tied at two goals after three periods and went into overtime. Dave recalled how Canada’s national honour was at stake: “You could cut the suspense with a knife.
“So there I was, wearing a Canadian team sweater given to me by my Canadian business team and a U.S. team cap given to me by my boss at General Mills, who was also in town for the game,” said Dave. “Talk about divided loyalties!”
Dave went on, however, to emphasize that in virtually all areas of business and society, a win for Canada is a win for the United States, and vice versa. “That’s just how close these two friends and neighbours are, and have been, since they laid down arms against each other almost 200 years ago.”
Canada is an exciting business for General Mills, reporting growth of 8 percent in the first quarter of fiscal 2012. General Mills’ brands have been marketed in Canada for nearly 75 years, including Green Giant, Betty Crocker, Pillsbury, Nature Valley, Big G cereals and more. In fact, in Canada, General Mills is leading the growth of the cereal category.
Dave was invited to give the keynote address at the “Financial Times Global Investment Series: Invest in Canada.”
His presentation, “Small Differences, Big Opportunities – An American’s Experience in Canada” drew both laughter and applause from the audience.
Dave aimed to set aside all that had been written and said about American companies doing business or investing in Canada, and just “tell the story from my own perspective – one American’s experience in Canada.”
He outlined five reasons why Canada is a good place to do business:
1. Canada’s strong and stable macroeconomic fundamentals.
These fundamentals include a commitment to sound public finances that was born out of the painful experience of reducing public debt during the 1990s.
2. Canada’s natural resources.
Canada produces and exports oil and gas, hydro-electricity, lumber, potash and minerals. The development of these natural resources has been a huge boon for American investors and companies, in such areas as manufacturing, engineering and construction, who supply the Canadian market or do business there.
3. Canada’s top-quality human resources.
Canadian employees are highly educated and trained. Canada has the highest percentage of adults aged 25 to 64 having completed post-secondary education – at almost 49 percent in 2008 – among the group of eight major economies (G8) and Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member countries. This is well above the OECD average of 28 percent and the U.S. figure of 41 percent. Canada’s universities produce quality graduates and attract top researchers and professors from all over the globe.
4. Canada’s pro-business climate.
Its economy and supporting financial system are among the soundest in the world. The banks in Canada are stable, well-funded and well-regulated, such that the financial crisis and credit crunch that brought down many financial institutions, businesses and individuals in the U.S. did not spill over to Canada.
5. Canada is a great place to locate your business and your family.
This reason, Dave said, is “close to home for me, my wife and our six children.” Canada’s cities have strong neighbourhoods, numerous public and green spaces, excellent public and private schools and low crime rates.
He also discussed some of the cultural differences between Canada and the U.S., using license plates as cultural emblems in one example.
“New Hampshire’s license plate slogan is ‘Live Free or Die.’ The slogan on your northern neighbor’s plate is ‘Friendly Manitoba,’” said Dave, drawing laughter from the audience.
“But wait, it gets better!” he explained. “From 1971 to 1975, Manitoba’s plate slogan was “Sunny Manitoba: 100,000 lakes.” It was changed to “Friendly Manitoba,” likely because it conflicted with Minnesota’s slogan, “Land of 10,000 Lakes.”
“What does this say to us?” he asked. “Canadians are hard-wired to find a friendly compromise – to the extent that they’ll change their license plates before offending their neighbors!”
After five years of working and living there, Dave said he is bullish on Canada.
“While its economic prospects are to a large degree tied to those of the United States due to the vast cross-border trade, the key fundamentals are all in good shape,” said Dave. “That augurs well for Canada’s ability to weather any storms ahead.
“But on the hockey rink, the battle lives on, and so I guess I will continue to be a conflicted fan!”