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October 16, 2012
EDITOR’S NOTE: Twice a month Shawn Brown will write a column that will, in his words, ‘engage the reader on a journey of (business) discovery’ by using his real world experiences from the beginning of his corporate career to his transition to entrepreneur and business owner. Each column will eventually be a chapter of his book Rules of Behaviour. The book will be available in 2013.
EDMONTON, AB, Oct. 16,2012/ Troy Media/ - Being selected to move to Edmonton and lead the team there of our newly merged mega-company was a tremendous honour.
Edmonton was the location of the head office for the Prairie Region I.G.A. chain and a handful of other secondary but important key accounts. The previous Alberta- (only) based company had never been able to make proper inroads with I.G.A., but our new company viewed it as not only a tremendous opportunity but as important as the other major accounts such as Safeway, Real Canadian Superstore, and Save-on Foods if we were going to be viewed as truly the industry leader in all areas of our industry.
I, personally, didn’t feel I had enough exposure yet to work at this level, having worked with the Codville Company in Saskatoon for about a year. Furthermore, there were people within my company with much more experience and seemingly more qualified. But the company must have seen something in me that warranted its belief that I was ready for this major step up. (Deep down, I knew I was.)
Beyond that, I simply could not contain my excitement about moving to Edmonton, and Alberta.
By the time I accepted my new position, Saskatchewan was literally on its knees economically. Decades of nearly unbridled NDP governments and socialist policy had driven most major businesses out of the province and it was known across Canada (and likely further abroad) that business and capital were not welcome there, and that profit was an evil word.
It was so bad that, at the time of my move, Federated Co-operatives Ltd., which as a business model in many ways embodies socialist economic policies and thinking, was literally inches and moments away from relocating all aspects of its head office from Saskatoon to Calgary. The NDP had created an environment that was so totally and completely caustic, even it had had enough. I have often wondered what would have become of Saskatoon and Saskatchewan had that actually happened.
As I headed West on the Yellowhead Highway, I reflected back on my time in Saskatchewan, where I was born and raised, had gone to school, and started my career. It was where all of my friends and family were from, and I had nothing but great memories about everyone and everything. Yet, at the time I left (October 1993), of approximately 50 friends and acquaintances I knew or were close to, I was number 47 to leave the province. And that trend had started long before my time, and continued long after I left.
It was really quite simple. You graduated from high school and/or university, and you left the province. There was no business or industry to start with or attach one’s self to, and even worse, there was no belief there ever would be. For many, many years, Saskatchewan’s number one export, after its abundant crops, was its youth.
I had spent seven years in Saskatoon truly learning and understanding what made business happen (or not). I had spent those years driving to dozens and dozens of small towns that, with the exception of the grocery and drug store and one or two other businesses, had all become ghost towns. It was sad, and it was depressing. I, and most every other young person for all of those years loved the province, and would have given anything to have been able to start their career there, but it was simply not an option.
There was a saying at the time that ‘the last one leaving the province, turn out the lights’. And it was a very real saying. As I crossed over the Alberta border, I honestly wondered if I was the one turning the lights out. Little did I know that 15 years later, a man with a true vision of what Saskatchewan was, and certainly had the potential to be, would appear on the scene and turn the province into a model of economic success.
Brad Wall has taken Saskatchewan from the dark ages that decades of socialism brought and transformed it into one of very few ‘have’ provinces in Canada. Where nothing but dark storm clouds once hung over the horizon seemingly forever, the sun is truly shining again. It is now a model of how to create a proper business environment which welcomes capital investment and fosters policies that encourages business to set up and expand – a simple formula from which every other aspect of a successful society stems.
Crossing the Alberta border, I literally felt like new life was being breathed into me. As I saw the Edmonton skyline on the horizon, the hair stood up on my arms.
Shawn Brown is the Founder and President of Forest For the Trees, a boutique business advisory service headquartered in Edmonton, AB. http://www.forestnow.com/
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