Dave Angus (Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce)

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David Noël: Welcome to the Manitoba Business Podcast, featuring interviews with business leaders and entrepreneurs based right here in Manitoba. I’m David Noël.

Today’s guest is one of Winnipeg’s most influential business leaders. His name comes up repeatedly in my conversations with business owners and CEOs throughout the city as an example of someone with strategic, long-term vision and the ability to execute on that vision. In the interview we discuss his story as well as the shifting landscape for businesses in Manitoba today.

I hope you enjoy this episode. If you do, please consider adding a review on iTunes. I would also encourage you to spread the word about this podcast—the website is www.manitobabusinesspodcast.com

Without further ado, here is Dave Angus:

[to Dave] Well, Dave, thanks so much for taking the time.

Dave Angus: Pleasure.

David: Can we start by having you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?

Dave: I’m Dave Angus. I’m the President and CEO of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce. And if you could tell me what I do, I’m sure the staff would really like to know. What I do is I get to sit back and watch my staff make a difference to the business community. And the Chamber has been around for 143 years…

David: Wow.

Dave: …yeah. It’s six months longer than the city of Winnipeg itself, actually.

David: Really?

Dave: Yeah.

David: Interesting.

Dave: And our Chamber started like most chambers start, where a group of business people got together and decided they needed to get together to support each other as business people, but also support the community. And 143 years later, that’s exactly the same notion that is at the heart of our Chamber of Commerce, is both in terms of helping businesses support each other, but also what we can do to help support our community.

David: Awesome. How long have you been in charge of the Chamber?

Dave: Since 1999. It’ll be 17 years in June, which is about 12 years longer than I thought I’d be. I was always a five-year guy, and for whatever reason, things just continue to change and there’s new projects, and things that just get me motivated. So I feel guilty sometimes. I should really step aside and let somebody else have all this fun. But yeah, it’s been 17 years at the Chamber.

David: I guess there’s two directions I wanted to go there. I want to ask a few more questions about the Chamber, but I think first, I’m going to ask a few more questions about you. So 1999, you became President of the Chamber. What were you doing before that?

Dave: Well, it’s funny, because I came to the Chamber from business. I always worked in business. I was part-owner of a family business with my parents that was called 3A Promotions. So we sold promotional items to businesses and to individuals. We sold recognition awards as well.

Hopped in and out of that business since 1979, actually, when we first started it. And I was in the computer supplies business, I was in the publishing business with Canadian Publishers. So a few different jobs. Always in the private sector, always enjoyed business. And then in 1996, I became Chair of the Chamber. Actually, 1995, I became Chair of the Chamber. And that’s how I first got into a leadership role here. And for whatever reason, they approached me in 1999 to see if I could take over as President. And here I am, 17 years later.

David: Cool. I think you’ve seen a lot of changes in the life of the Chamber, and we’ll get to that in a second. But what would you say the mission of the Chamber is overall, and has that changed during your tenure?

Dave: The essence of it hasn’t. It’s always a private sector-driven organization. We don’t take government money, we don’t government grants. It’s strictly business dollars through membership. And our mission, really, is to create an environment in which Winnipeg business can prosper. We are champions for business, we’re pro-business, we know its importance to the community. And so we advocate on behalf of business, we create programs, we create platforms for networking. And we’re just really there to help in whatever way we can.

And so, that has never changed. Our mission is, for as long as I’ve been here, has always been to create that environment in which Winnipeg business can prosper.

David: Great.

Dave: The environment has changed for business, and so we need to change in terms of what we do. But the essence of the mission is the same.

David: How has the environment changed?

Dave: It’s tough. We’re just launching a new, strategic plan, and we heard big time how difficult it is in today’s world to do business because of how things are changing so quickly, how disruptive technology is changing. How new markets are emerging and new competitors are emerging. How it’s tough…on the human resource side, it’s tough to find people and to keep people.

So it’s becoming more and more difficult for business to do business which really, to us, creates greater importance for the role of the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce, and we need to do more things, actually, as a Chamber.

David: Interesting. I think some people would argue the opposite; that it’s become easier and easier to operate business over time. There’s so many new, enabling technologies. What do you think makes it more difficult?

Dave: Well, it’s easier to start a new business, because there’s lots of different ideas to start. It’s not that simple to sustain a business over time.

David: Sure.

Dave: And so because it’s tough to adjust to the new technologies when you have a certain business model in a product and a service that you’ve been selling for years. So I think it depends on where you are in the life cycle of your business in terms of the issues that you’re facing.

But I’ll just give you one example. For the first time, I think, ever, businesses have to deal with four completely different generations within their workplace. So from newbies coming out of high school and university, to seniors that need to continue to work in order to sustain themselves, and everything in-between. Creating a workplace that appeals to all four generations is something that they need to work at.

And so, there’s just different dynamics across a number of different areas in business that are definitely changing.

David: I think I know where you’re going with this, but why do you say that this is perhaps the first time ever where an employer would have to deal with four generations of employees in their company, for example?

Dave: Well, I think, number one, people traditionally have retired earlier, and we’re seeing a changing dynamic, particularly with retirement income that a lot of individuals are working longer. So I don’t think that’s…so that’s part of the dynamic. The other part is we’re seeing a lot of differences with the next generation. And so it is largely senior management people and professionals trying to figure out how individuals in the millennium stage of their life that have been born into new technology, that have lived with the Internet and mobile devices and everything else, and have different motivations and different ways in which they want to work, and different…a balance that they’re looking for in their life, and different amenities at a workplace, as an example, can be challenging for some senior managers that aren’t used to that dynamic.

So maybe it’s not about the four generations. It’s just about how different the generations are in today’s world.

David: Right. How can the Chamber equip businesses to deal with that change?

Dave: Which leads to our next strategic plan, because we recognized, when we consulted with our members leading up to this plan that we had to change. And one of the things we have to do…the number one thing they told us was, “What can the Chamber do to save me time? Because the amount of information that’s out there, the amount of programs that are out there, the amount of advice that actually is out there is great, but I have no time to access it. My head is down, I’m trying to do business day to day, I’m trying to survive, I’m trying to get this business, trying to deal with this.”

And so, where the Chamber can help is actually to be that navigator. And that’s exactly what our plan is about. We’ll be launching a service called 311 for Business. Where companies have one place to phone, and we’ll take the responsibility of knowing the landscape. So we can identify your issue or your need and be able to bring you together with a service provider that actually can solve that. Identify the area where you could use some advice, and we’ll line you up with advice in our membership. We have great expertise in our membership with over 2,000 companies.

So we’re going to take the opportunity to do exactly that. Line you up with business opportunities. Line you up with decision makers if you have an advocacy issue with the city or the province, or whoever. So that is where we’re going to invest a lot more resources because that’s what businesses told us they need right now.

And you look up…you talk about disruptive technology, the amount of information that is exponentially exploding around the world is creating issues for business in terms of, “What’s the credible information? Where do I find what I really need, and how do I know it’s credible?” And so, there’s a role for the Chamber in today’s world in terms of even navigating credible information and information that businesses need to know.

David: Right. That seems like a pretty specialized or pretty highly valued skill set. How are you going to implement the navigation of information for businesses?

Dave: Well right now, we’re going out to our members to say, “Here’s what we heard. We’re looking for some increased investment,” and so, we’re doing that. We’re going to need to stop doing some of the things that we’re currently doing in order to invest in these areas, and we need some new investment. So we’ll need more human resource effort, working every day with our members on the phone, reacting to their needs, proactively bringing them solutions as well. And so, what we’re going to do…and frankly, I think one of our greatest assets coming out of this is the intel that we’ll receive from the business community. We’ll probably know better than anybody else, “What are the real issues? What are the real solutions? What are some of the things that could help small and medium-sized business?”

So it really is just about looking at changing where we’re focused our human resource effort, and establishing much deeper relationships with the business community.

David: Is there a revenue model attached to the 311 for Business service? Or are you going to be either charging for the service or taking any money from vendors that are referred to the service?

Dave: There’s both. The reality is that I think this service is actually going to grow our membership. That’s the whole purpose of it.

David: Interesting.

Dave: We’re over 2,000; I think we can push it to 2,500. I think we could push it to 3,000 with this service alone. And so, that’s part of the revenue model is in terms of more members. The other part is, there’s just increasing opportunity for companies that serve small business, to be able to leverage the Chamber in order to get in front of them. So that’s also part of the revenue model, is to get investment from those companies that serve the small and medium-sized business community.

David: Right. Speaking of which, do you view the Chamber as geared more towards the small and medium businesses, or are you also interested in helping with big businesses? Where do you think the Chamber fits in?

Dave: Well, we fit in…we are a mirror reflection of the business community. So if you look at how our local business community is made up, with about almost 80% of companies in Winnipeg are under 10 employees, that’s pretty much exactly our percentage. And yet, we have the largest of the large also are members.

And so, what that does is it gives us credibility, because we don’t just serve one segment of the business community, either size or sector. Because we’re multiple sectors as well. And so, I think that strengthens our voice, because we aren’t just speaking on behalf of one type of business. We speak on behalf of all business. And we reach out to all businesses that provide input in terms of articulating the conditions that they need, small, medium or large, to be able to grow their organization.

But I got to tell you that small businesses need larger companies to sell to, to have as mentors, to create economy here in Winnipeg. And large companies need small businesses and need a thriving small business community, because they are the ones that are employing close to 80% of the new jobs, private jobs, will be coming from the small business community under 100 employees.

So I think that what I’ve been impressed with of our local business community is they understand that, and that it takes all sizes, all sectors, in order to make a robust business community, and we need each other. And that’s why they support the Chamber.

David: Interesting. In terms of getting back…you touched on it when I asked you about the revenue model. In terms of growing membership, has that always been a focus, is to get more members into the Chamber? Is that an important aspect of keeping the Chamber thriving?

Dave: For sure. And we’ve seen fairly dramatic growth over the last number of years. We used to be hovering around between 1,200 and 1,300. And now, we’re over 2,000.

David: Yeah, that’s a big change.

Dave: Yeah. But we’ve been at just over 2,000 for the last five or six years. And so, we know that to take the next leap, we need to deepen the value in specific ways, and that’s what the new plan is about.

David: I see.

Dave: But it’s very important for us not to take grant money from government. We can’t be, in one hand, taking money from government, and on the other hand, slapping them around on policy issues. We have to be unfettered, so that we can truthfully represent the interest of the business community, which isn’t always going to be fun. It’s not always going to be a happy conversation with government. We need to have a strong voice and sometimes be critical.

So it’s the businesses financially supporting the Chamber is a critical element to, frankly, any Chamber of Commerce if we want to have a strong policy voice as well.

David: Interesting. You actually identified another activity that the Chamber does there. So you guys are providing services to members in terms of this upcoming 311 thing; you obviously have events around the city all the time. And then, you’re also performing an advocacy function with the government.

Dave: Yep.

David: Before I dig into that, are there any other pieces of what the Chamber does?

Dave: Well, the advocacy piece is important, but there’s another big piece, and that’s community leadership. We’re often a platform for individuals and groups to show leadership in the community. And everything that we’ve launched or done, you can always draw back to one, or two, or three, or a small group of individuals that saw the Chamber as their platform.

Leadership Winnipeg is a classic example, a partnership with Volunteer Manitoba, was one that was started with a group of individuals that recognized that we need to nurture and grow the next evolution of our leaders here in Winnipeg. World Trade Center was started by a small group of individuals that knew that we had to have…in today’s world, we need to be more present on the international stage, and we need a private sector-driven entity. That’s how it came to be.

YES! Winnipeg. We saw that investment opportunities…we were a flyover city. They wouldn’t consider Winnipeg. We weren’t on the map and we needed to be proactive on that. And so we started YES! Winnipeg, but it was a small group of individuals that started with the notion. And so, we are a platform for community leadership. And oftentimes, our members use us exactly in that fashion.

David: Interesting. All right, let’s dig into the advocacy thing for a bit. How are you slapping government around?

Dave: Well, a number of ways. I’ll tell you right now, one of the biggest policy efforts that we’ve made, and we’ve actually been…and it’s been noticed actually nationally and even throughout the United States, has been our BOLD initiative. And it was born under the notion that governments and parties, when they go into election campaigns, often have motivation to be very understated. They don’t take risks, they’re trying to keep their head down and not make any mistakes. Which is the opposite of what we need here in Winnipeg and Manitoba.

So we engaged our members in a process for them to come forward with their bold ideas. And we were blown away by the number of ideas that were coming forward, and the passion that some of the individuals in our community had for these ideas, and they were just looking for our platform.

So we just launched our Manitoba BOLD platform for this election; 200 recommendations coming from our members, but not just our members. Outside individuals from all facets of our community coming forward with ideas that they think are important. We present it to all three parties, and we’re launching a video every day, a two or three-minute video with an individual and their idea. Every single day, we’ll be out there. We’ve got blogs, we’re facilitating dialogues, our debate is five days ahead of the election. We’ll have all three leaders based on our BOLD platform.

That’s the kind of approach we want to make. It isn’t just about complaining about government; about sitting on the sidelines and throwing bombs on the playing field. It’s about being on the field with them to say, “Here’s where we need to go, and here’s where we need to go, and we will support any party that supports the ideas that we’re bringing forward.”

David: Right, interesting. Switching gears a little bit, what have been the challenges that you’ve seen during your tenure as President?

Dave: Challenges in terms of the business community, or in terms of the community overall?

David: Yeah, I mean in terms of the organization, challenges that you’ve had to navigate through to get the Chamber to where it is now.

Dave: You’re always thinking about the finances. This is a business. And it goes up and down. During the economic downturn, one of the first things that people are dragged from are memberships and discretionary expenditures.

David: Sure.

Dave: When you have a pretty broad market, but it’s all largely based on how well the businesses are doing and you face something like that, then there’s going to be concerns. So we are concerned about the economy and what kind of impact it’s going to have on us.

But I’ve got to tell you that one of the assets that we have, I would say on both sides, is a very dedicated volunteer group within the Chamber. We have a lot of members that are very committed to the organization, and we have a great staff. And so our staff, which we’ve been able to keep for…we’ve been really good at retaining our staff, are magnificent. So they hit it out of the park.

And so we leveraged both of those assets in order to sustain the organization. But always have your eye on the bottom line, because we have to constantly, every day, work hard generating revenue.

David: Right. When it comes to hiring and retaining excellent staff, how do you go about that? What would you say are the factors that have helped you be able to do that?

Dave: Well, we’re kind of lucky, actually. Number one, I think there’s an attraction to working for the chamber. There’s a lot of people, they like being part of the business community. But they also like the community connection that we have. And so we are an attractive employer.

And the second real advantage that we have is that we’re highly connected to the business community. So we have a lot of people that we know. We can identify talent. We can identify people that we think would be good for the organization. And so we often don’t have to do any formal recruitment. We can identify individuals in our sphere that are rising to the top, and we think would be good for the Chamber.

David: Cool. If you’re a reader, what kind of books have influenced you, and what kind of books would you recommend to the listeners?

Dave: I like thought leadership books. The two books I’m reading right now are from the same author, Peter Diamandis…

David: Okay, yep.

Dave:Abundance” and “Bold.”

David: Right, yep.

Dave: I read part of “Abundance,” and I was just so anxious to get to the “Bold” book, so I’m reading now “Bold.” And I just love that kind of book, because it really challenges your thinking, and changes the way you look at the world and…

David: Absolutely.

Dave: And I think, what I’ve learned through my reading, is that we need to play a role…this is one thing I would challenge our own Chamber to do. To bring some of these people into the city and start sharing their ideas. Because I think it inspires us and will make us better. So that’s the kind of book that I gravitate to, for sure.

David: Cool, all right. Well, thanks so much for your time, Dave.

Dave: Great. Thank you.

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