The backdrop for this year’s CEO Summit was a nail-biter, quite literally: As we convened hundreds of (very!) accomplished executives from this year’s Growth 2020 cohort, the world at large was captivated by another decisive moment in global leadership: the American election. (Maybe you heard?) Whatever the result, and spurred on by the catalytic effects of COVID-19, those at the helm of Canada’s organizations will need a new roadmap — one designed with diversity, resilience and, yes, innovation in mind.
Fortunately, this year’s CEO Summit provided no shortage of wisdom, courtesy of a wide and diverse array of Canadian talent (and talent-seekers). While we’ve made all recorded sessions available here, we’ve also summarized key learnings from some of the CEO Summit’s best moments:
1. A CEO survival plan
Having cut her teeth as something of a crisis savant to John Tory and Kathleen Wynne, the noted Raptors fan and former Executive Director of Toronto tech hub OneEleven111 is a woman with a plan — one she generously shared with the CEO Summit attendees. With her comprehensive five-point strategy (Triage; Reset; Communicate; Implement; Focus), Agrell outlined the must-dos for any exec facing down organizational peril. She also provided a survival guide for CEOs themselves, underscoring the importance of shoring up one’s own mental health in the pressure cooker that is the 2020 economy.
2. A new definition of resilience
First citing activist luminary Nelson Mandela, Dr. Brett Belchetz shared the exciting (and at times complicated) trajectory of Maple, the virtual platform revolutionizing the Canadian healthcare landscape. Despite its amazing success, Belchetz said it wasn’t a straight line to the top: Belchetz wisely noted that the company’s greatest opportunities for failure, like COVID, ended up being its biggest success stories (the business grew six-fold in recent months). Two key takeaways, per Belchetz: Have a cause that others can rally behind and ignore the haters.
3. A demand for diversity
The organizational upsides of inclusion are manifold — and need not merit a business case to be taken seriously. But that didn’t stop panelists Avery Francis (Bloom), Lauren Griffith (Canadian Tire), Emily MIlls (How She Hustles), and Amad Abdullah (KW Signs) from making one. The foursome discussed how the explosion of awareness, activism and desire for structural accountability in 2020 has provided no shortage of growth opportunities for companies, from tiny startups to large retailers, keen on evolving. “What we’ve been seeing,” said Francis, “is that organizations are being held accountable by the communities that work with them and those that they serve. They’re being called to take sustained action, not just a couple of posts on social media.”
4. A 10-step program
Staying afloat during COVID is undoubtedly priority one, but according to BDC executive advisor Clare Waters, there’s a wide berth for growth opportunities as well. From augmenting your mindset towards surrender (simple, right?) to keeping an eye on emerging needs and accelerating technology, Waters provided 10 salient tips for thriving in and after the pandemic economy, plus five key qualities of authentic leaders: humility, courage, openness, compassion and wisdom.
5. A(nother) word on the election
By now, we’re all aware of the impact of the U.S. election on our nerves, but how will it affect your business? Maryscott Greenwood (Partner, Crestview Strategy), Christopher Sands (Director of the Wilson Center’s Canada Institute) and journalist Paul Wells had a stimulating tete-a-tete-a-tete on the subject. Their wide-ranging discussion involved everything from trade policy to cyber sabotage to how the future president’s secretary selections could sway the trajectory of cross-border commerce. “This really [marks] a sea change in American politics,” Sands said, noting the rising profiles of younger faces in American leadership. “This was a strange election: For such a diverse country, you’ve [had] two 70-year old, white men running for president. I don’t think that will be the case in 2024.”
6. The balance of power
How does this sound: In his eye-opening keynote, Wes Hall — executive chairman and founder of Kingsdale Advisors and the Black North Initiative — illuminated the experience of Black Canadians in life and, crucially, at work. Providing eye-opening statistics on topics like discrimination in the workplace, unemployment rates, and c-suite representation, Hall’s talk came at a critical inflection point as broader cultural awareness of the Black Lives Matter movement has spurred Canadians to take stock of their prejudices and how they ripple outward into the employment sector.
7. A growth mindset
Tiffani Bova — Title: Global Customer Growth and Innovation Evangelist — is something of a growth guru in her role at Salesforce, and she imparted some of her evolutionary wisdom to week two’s attendees. In her COVID-appropriate session, “Preparing Your Business to Adapt, Respond and Grow,” Bova called growth a “thinking game,” explaining that with an agile combination of beginner’s mind, small pivots over time, and an emphasis on company values, trust and transparency, businesses will be able to navigate the pandemic’s choppy waters intact.
7. A rocket man
In his spirited keynote, “How to Build a Rocket Ship,” Rajen Ruparell — CEO and founder Endy — explained exactly how one of Canada’s biggest names in bedding has moved so many mattresses in its relatively short life. The secret sauce, according to Ruparell? A combination of laser-focus, marketing efficiencies and, chiefly, employees who are curious, risk-tolerant and purpose-driven. The result? Annual revenue in excess of $100 million, which undoubtedly helps Ruparell (and many Endy-loving Canadians) sleep better at night.
It wouldn’t be the Growth 500 CEO Summit without recognizing the amazing business minds that populate our list, and continue to contribute in innovative ways to Canada’s economy. Below, the 2020 Growth Award Winners (congrats!):
Fastest-Growing Company Award: Marlin Spring
Fastest-Growing Start-Up Award: Steel River Group
Business Pivot Award: CoPilot AI
Employer of the Year Award: Ahava Digital Group
Excellence in Diversity Award: KW Signs
Female Entrepreneur of the Year Award: Judith Fetzer, CEO, Cook It
Global Business Award: STEMCELL Technologies
Philanthropy Service Award: D-Squared Construction
Technology Trailblazer Award: Ecopia.AI
Thanks again to our amazing sponsors for making the Growth 2020: CEO Summit possible: Presenting sponsor, Salesforce, Category sponsor, BDC, Awards sponsor, Johnnie Walker Blue Label and Gifting sponsor, Herbaland.