CANOE Network

The Toronto Sun CareerConnection

Words of wisdom

By Sharon Aschaiek
Special to The Sun

In this country, when we first hear a reference to a great Canadian success story, we most often think of a hockey player, comedian or musician. Rarely, however, do we equate Canadians with outstanding success in the business world. Why?

David Raffa, Co-author

The answer can be found in Leonard Brody and David Raffa's new book, Everything I Needed to Know about Business ... I Learned from a Canadian (Wiley, May 2005, $24.99). It's high time, they argue, that we start tooting our own horns about our many successful entrepreneurs and their valuable contributions to the international business scene.

More than that, they write, young up-and-coming entrepreneurs have a lot to learn from their tales of struggle and triumph.

Those tales feature the first-hand management insights and wisdom of 16 of our top movers and shakers, including: Leonard Asper, CEO of CanWest Global Communications Corp; Bonnie Fuller, editorial director of American Media, Inc.; Marcia Kilgore, founder of Bliss Labs; Joel Cohen, co-executive producer of The Simpsons; and Jeff Skoll, first employee and president of e-Bay.

Each chapter begins with an outline of the entrepreneur's five key lessons the reader should learn. Their success stories are used to reinforce more theoretical information about essential business management principles.

Chapter 2 shatters the myth of the entrepreneur as tough individualist by looking at how critical teamwork is to an organization's success. The message is emphasized through Calgary, Alta., native Joel Cohen's tale of the highly evolved team dynamics needed to create each episode of The Simpsons.

As Brody and Raffa write in the book's introduction, our unique Canadian culture makes us excellent team players.

"Canadians are a compromising bunch. It makes us easy to work with, likable and masters at bringing people together. Whether it was years of growing up playing shinny in the backyard, or learning how to interact creatively when snowed in for days on end, we are great at getting along with everyone."

Chapter 7 spotlights our most famous media export, Bonnie Fuller, who began her career editing Canadian publications such as Flare, YM, Marie Claire, Cosmopolitan and Glamour, but exploded into the big leagues in 2003 when she turned around the fledgling US Weekly magazine. Today, as head honcho at American Media Inc., she oversees four supermarket tabloids and a host of fitness magazines.

Among her five key points are the need for businesses to forge strategic alliances with the media, and to be innovative in the media outlets they choose to promote their products/services.

Target specific customer

"Try ignoring the most popular mass newspaper, magazine or website in favour of a more specific trade magazine, newspaper, website or blog," Fuller says. "The resulting exposure will be far more effective since it will be directed at a more specific customer who is far more likely to be interested in that company's product."

The importance of investing a hefty dose of sweat equity into your enterprise is exemplified through the tale of Marcia Kilgore, a Saskatchewan woman whose tiny home aesthetician practice evolved into one of the world's largest spa and beauty chains.

"Marcia describes herself as the chief bottle washer at Bliss, and there's something to be said for getting your hands dirty," Brody says. "There's a fine line between delegating and doing something yourself." Having a strong and grand vision backed up by a solid plan, being open to change, investing in new technologies, maintaining a current and relevant corporate identity and establishing core values for your company are some of the other key business principles discussed in the book.

In the spirit of helping young entrepreneurs, the authors are donating their profits from the book's Canadian sales to Junior Achievement of Canada, an international non-profit that exposes youths to business and economics.

"Any young Canadian entrepreneur will realize after reading this book that they can build a best of breed, world-class business in Canada," Raffa says. "Many Canadians are doing it, and they're doing it well."

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