The five most important lessons about leadership from 2016

From Fort McMurray to Frank & Oak, this year demonstrated how important it is to have someone with vision at the top—and how high the stakes can be

Planning changes everything

The wildfires that devastated Fort McMurray in May will go down as Canada’s costliest natural disaster—both when measured by property damage ($3.6 billion in insured losses alone) and in its effect on the GDP. And yet no one died in the sudden conflagration, testament to the culture of safety that pervades the oilsands capital. (Imagine how much harder it would be to rebuild had there been a significant loss of life.) The episode serves as a sharp reminder that training and contingency planning really do make all the difference.

Those who ask, get

Canada’s tech leaders got two big items on their wish list from the government this year: In March, Finance Minister Bill Morneau spared stock options from a proposed tax hike, and in November, Immigration Minister John McCallum outlined plans to help “high-growth” firms recruit foreign workers. These changes didn’t come from air: the new generation of founders (and VCs) are increasingly bold in asking for what they want. Tobias Lütke of Shopify spoke out on the stock options issue, as did Wattpad’s Allen Lau and Thalmic Labs’ Stephen Lake on immigration. The feds, keen to keep tech happy, are all ears.

Turnarounds need leaders to stay put

September is the cruelest month for Sears Canada. The beleaguered department store chain has lost four head honchos in as many years, and three CEOs have quit towards the end of the third quarter. The most recent ex-executive, president and chief merchandiser Carrier Kirkman, was shunted into an advisory role in July, before she had even a full cycle of seasons under her belt. It’s doubtful any leader could fix the real problem with Sears Canada: The middle of the retail market, a space it’s occupied for decades, is fast eroding. But installing a revolving door on the corner office surely cannot help.

Creativity wins

In the U.S., there have long been venture funds devoted to not, especially, high-tech startups in health care, food, financial services and social enterprises. Angel investors here, too, have increasingly been willing to venture beyond IT and biotech, as long as the idea is scalable. In Canada, non-tech financiers have been rare, period; good luck finding one with some scale. Enter Campfire Capital, a new Vancouver-based VC focused on the retail industry. Run by former Onex Corp. executive Manica Gautam and Brooke Harley, previously director of business development at Lululemon Athletica, and with $30 million from 82 investors (many of them current or former Lululemon employees) in its first fund, it’s not to be sneezed at. The fund’s holdings so far include haberdasher Frank + Oak and home juice-making system Juicer: innovative businesses few others are eyeing.

No one likes a retiree who doesn’t actually retire

When Cyrus Mistry took over the Tata Group in 2012, he became the first non family-member to run India’s biggest conglomerate. Mistry was no outsider—his own family’s business is among the largest shareholders in a number of the companies that comprise the empire. But he was supposed to bring some fresh perspective to a sprawling, unwieldy group with interests in everything from tea to telecoms. Mistry sold off assets and scaled back an automotive effort. But in October, he was pushed out, reportedly at the urging of Ratan Tata, his predecessor. The front, financial and gossip pages of Indian publications have been taken over by the boardroom battle for months, and the stocks of publicly listed entities within the group have cratered. The group must now find a leader willing to take over despite Tata’s continued, looming presence. The former boss better let the succession stick.