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Last week I spent a couple of days at the annual FEI (Financial Executives International) conference in Winnipeg. While I do not have a financial background myself, Eagle does provide our clients with finance and accounting talent, so the participants were potential clients for Eagle.
Heading to the conference I had a number of goals,
1. Learn. In particular what was interesting to my potential client base, understand what challenges they were facing and soak up some of the content. (I was not disappointed)
2. Network. That does not mean bending people's ears about Eagle, but rather building relationships, bringing value where I could and investing time in new people. People were friendly and fun so this was just great.
3. Fun. There were some fun events, a gala evening at the Museum of Human Rights which was a spectacular venue with the added bonus of Gail Asper providing insight into the journey to get the museum built! Good food, good wine, good company and and excellent venue ... mission accomplished!
I did not have a goal to come away with new clients, or new orders. I know that when I am attending an event and I get targeted by salespeople it makes me uncomfortable, which is not a great way to start any relationship. I don't think it does any supplier much good to use conferences as a "target rich hunting ground"!
I feel pretty good that I met some interesting people, exchanged cards and swapped stories with many of them. I had fun at the gala event, enjoyed the company of some new friends and found the conference content to be excellent.
The first keynote speaker was Brian Ferguson, CEO of Cenovus Energy and a very engaging speaker. His background is Finance so I was interested to see a former CFO make the CEO role, which I think appears to be a growing trend. He talked about the kinds of challenges he faces, including the recent drop in oil prices that caused a 50% reduction in revenues! Brian talked about leveraging his financial background, about having a great team and about having a passion for what you do. He also talked about the importance of giving back ... something near and dear to me too. It was an interesting insight into the work day of guy running a multi billion dollar corporation ... and he still has his feet on the ground. I like that!
There was an interesting panel of CFOs with Don Selman (Richardsons), Janice Fukakusa (Royal Bank) and Alistair Cowan (Suncor) moderated by Bruce Waterman (a retired CFO who sits on several high profile boards). This panel talked lot about the role of the CFO today. There was discussion about the differences between private companies and publicly traded companies (Richardson being a private company). While there are some obvious differences (whose money is being spent) the structure and governance is remarkably similar. There was talks about accessing capital, risk appetite and the impact of technology. There was also a discussion around communication, so I was a little disappointed to find out none of the panel are active on social media! (Room for improvement?)
I attended an interesting presentation about multi generational workplaces, with an emphasis on the millennials. I have seen much of the content previously, but it was still an interesting session and the speaker from Morneau Shepell was very good.
There was an interesting session on social media and it was interesting to see IBM's CFO on the panel, (good job Xerxes Cooper) when the other panelists were more technical. The bottom line was social media is a great communication tool, internally and externally ... it can be used to manage your brand (or your brand will be managed for you) and is one way to get employee engagement.
The surprise session of the conference for me was "Doing Business with the Aboriginal Community". I really did not know what to expect, but the session was both interesting and thought provoking. Aboriginal businesses will make up a large part of Canada's GDP in the coming years! There is an under utilised workforce waiting to be engaged and an influx of education and some investment could produce a great return ... especially when you consider all of the work that gets outsourced abroad today. I will personally be following up with Joe Dion (CEO Frog Lake Energy Resources) and JP Gladu (CEO Council of Aboriginal Businesses) both very articulate, successful representatives of a great opportunity!
I attended the obligatory Economic Outlook with economists Dawn Desjardins (Royal Bank, despite having the same name as another bank) and Todd Hirsch (Alberta Treasury Branch). They took out their crystal balls and talked about (a) energy prices, with a focus on Alberta, (b) house prices with a focus across the country, (c) politics with a focus on Alberta and (d) inflation. They talked about growth sectors and sectors of concern all in relation to Canada's economic outlook. Generally they were cautiously optimistic ... that's the shortened version!
We wrapped up the conference with a high energy motivational speaker and author of the book Nine Minutes on Monday, James Robbins. As a big Time Management guy I'm always up for new productivity ideas and was intrigued by Jim's ideas and thoughts ... so I left with a copy of the book!
This is a long review of the conference ... but my intention is to demonstrate that the right conference can bring a lot of value for a reasonable cost. I think I ticked all the boxes and received a ton of value from this conference. I also made some new friends ... which is always valuable, whether business flows or not!
I would certainly encourage any financial executive in Canada to sign up for the Montreal conference next year. Hope to see you there!
Kevin Dee is CEO of Eagle (a Professional Staffing Company)
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