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 represents Winnipeg businesses and its business environment on a global scale. She is another person whose name has come up repeatedly in my conversations with local entrepreneurs. Her organization’s job is to facilitate international partnerships for local businesses, and by all accounts they seem to do that well. In the interview, I try to dig into how that works.
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 Mariette Mulaire:
[to Mariette] All right, well, Mariette, it’s so nice to meet you. Thanks for making the time.
Mariette Mulaire: No, nice to meet you, David.
David: Can we start by having you tell us a little bit about who you are and what you do?
Mariette: Well, my name is Mariette Mulaire, sounds French because it is, French Canadian. I’m the President and CEO of the World Trade Centre Winnipeg, here in Winnipeg.
David: Excellent, and what does the World Trade Centre do?
Mariette: Well, we’re all about trade. It’s in our name, so World Trade. But it is also trade within companies in Manitoba. Although our name is World Trade Centre Winnipeg, we do serve all of Manitoba and we really try to facilitate links between Manitoba companies with other Manitoba companies, Canadian companies, or companies in any market in the world.
David: Okay, wow.
Mariette: And we do that because we’re part of this big network of World Trade Centers around the world.
Mariette: We’re part of this big network of over 300 World Trade Centers. They’re all like our brothers and sisters, and we help each other out that way to help our businesses grow.
David: I see, so it’s a network of organizations just like this one, in cities around the world. Is that right?
Mariette: That’s right, over 100 cities.
David: And how long has the WTC Winnipeg been around?
Mariette: Well, it’s going to be three years.
David: Three years, wow.
Mariette: So it’s good, because in the three years, we’re able to get a seat on the World Trade Centers Association Board of Directors. So what that has been doing for us really, David, is that it’s been helping us have more of a presence within our own valley. Because to tell you the truth, Winnipeg, many people, unfortunately, didn’t know, when I say, “Oh yeah, I’m from the World Trade Centre Winnipeg,” “Wini-, Wini-, how do you spell that?” So it’s still a challenge in certain markets. Even in the United States, they still don’t all know about Winnipeg, but the Jets are helping us get that name out there, thank God. We’re seeing that now we’re thinking about Winnipeg when we’re thinking about the trade.
Mariette: In Canada, now Winnipeg, within that circle, circling the map.
David: Well, I have a lot of questions that spring from there, but let’s start at the beginning. So the World Trade Centre Winnipeg was established three years ago, and that was…you were here from its beginning I believe, right?
David: And how did that come about? What prompted this idea that there should be a World Trade Centre in Winnipeg?
Mariette: Well, first of all, we had established a bilingual trade agency called ANIM.
Mariette: L’Agence national et internationale du Manitoba, so Agency of National International Trade for Manitoba, and the focus was really to try and use our bilingualism here in Manitoba to go after markets that we’re not really being sought after by other players in Manitoba. So we’re talking here about Quebec, France, Belgium, Tunisia, Northern Africa. So we started that. We started, David, by looking at how can we attract businesses, so we did end up with some good investment. For example, when you think of Thermëa Spa, that was from Francophones in Manitoba…
David: Oh, interesting.
Mariette: …that went to Spa le Nordique in Ottawa, in the region of Ottawa, saw this, said, “Hey, we got to bring this,” so here the ANIM worked with the different business people that were involved in this project and got it going.
David: There you go.
Mariette: And today we see it. Alt Hotel, we had ran after the famille Germain in Quebec to try and convince them to come Saint Boniface to open a hotel.
Mariette: They were interested, sort of, but they really were interested in downtown Winnipeg and then connecting them with the people that eventually invested in that, as you know.
Mariette: The project around True North and all that.
David: Yeah, right.
Mariette: So today, we have a Alt Hotel across from the Jets, which, again, the beginning was the French connection.
David: Yeah, interesting.
Mariette: So those are very specific examples, but really, David, what happened is that we were approached to be the delegation leader for this big international conference that was being held in Quebec City. They called it Futurallia.
Mariette: Which regrouped over 36 countries and we brought 38 Manitobans, French and English Manitobans to Quebec City for this international business forum in 2008.
Mariette: So we were just in the beginning of our mandate to use our bilingualism, right.
Mariette: To create wealth for everyone, and so the Manitobans came back and they all said, “Oh my God, how come Quebec City organized an international business conference and we’ve never had an international business conference here in Manitoba? Can you believe it? They did it, and they’re smaller than us, blah blah blah.” So everybody said, “Well, we should do it. We should do it. Well, who will do it? Well, not us, it’s not our mandate. Not us, not our mandate. We can’t, we’re government, blah blah blah.” There was a lot of good reasons why we couldn’t do it.
Mariette: And then somebody said, “Well why don’t you guys do it? You were the delegation leader for this, why don’t you take the lead?” And we said, “Well, okay, we’re just a very small group.” So the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce that has over 2000 members, they said, “You know what, we’re willing to help you if you guys take the lead on this. We can promote it. We can encourage our members to come.” And then we connected with the CMB and we connected with the Manitoba Chambers and we worked with a bunch of different organizations, and we held our first International Business Forum in Manitoba in October 2010, called Centrallia, Alliances at the Centre.
Mariette: By doing that, you can imagine right away, David, that we went from our mandate of bilingual and using the Francophone markets, to the world. All of a sudden, we weren’t just inviting the Francophone markets, we were inviting the World. We had Chinese, Indians. We had Africans. We had South Americans. We had Mexicans. We had North Americans, Europeans. They all came to Centrallia in 2010, and it was quite a success. And the survey was saying, “Why don’t you do another one? Why don’t you do another one? This was really good, we need to do this more. We need to be out there. Winnipeg has to be on the map. Winnipeg has to invite the world to come to Winnipeg more often and do business.”
So we’ve decided to do a second one in 2012, which again was a success. More people, more countries, but you can see how far we were from our mandate there, right? And so in between, we’re doing all these things with the Thermëa Spa. So finally, we were in 2012, the Jets are back. There’s a lot of good momentum. There’s a good feeling. And not us, but the Winnipeg Chamber and others started talking, “Maybe it’s time to bring back the idea that had been bounced around in the ’80s about having a World Trade Centre in Winnipeg.”
Mariette: The timing seemed better, but we had to find money to buy the license, and we knew it had to be private sector money and not the public sector. So the Winnipeg Chamber found half of the money, which was 200,000, so they found 100,000. We had to find another 100,000 as ANIM. And my chair, Raymond Lafond, had good connections with the National Bank, convinced them to provide a sponsorship to the ANIM to be able to buy half the license with the Winnipeg Chamber.
David: Very cool.
Mariette: And so we had the money. We had the idea. We had another Centrallia we were organizing, but we needed to have an inspection from World Trade Center Association from New York, to make sure that we had the capacity, that it was going to be for long term and not just a short term thing, that we had enough support from our business community and from our government. So after we went through that step, we were invited to be part of the World Trade Center family.
Mariette: So you can imagine how our mandate, although it had changed in its reality, it was now changing for real with the brand name and everything.
Mariette: So basically ANIM evolved into World Trade Centre, so we’re taking care of the operations. The role that Winnipeg Chambers is mostly playing is the eventual building we’ll be in with all, but it will develop around it. So that’s the story. So it was Bilingual Trade Agency, bringing Centrallia to Winnipeg, good momentum in the business community, time to buy the World Trade Center license, find the money to buy the World Trade Center license, get approved by the World Trade Center, and start April 1, 2013.
David: Incredible. And so, you say, since that time, you’ve gotten a seat on the Board for the World Trade Center… What’s it called, the World Trade Center Organization, Association?
David: Okay, right, and how did that come about? I mean, that seems like a pretty quick transition.
Mariette: Actually, it was pretty quick, because we…I’m very lucky, because I have a very dynamic group here. So every time the World Trade Center Association was doing a project or whatever, we would always say, “Okay, we can be part of the pilot. Yes, we’d like to give our input.” So we got involved a lot in everything.
Mariette: So we were seen a lot. We were present a lot and we went to the meetings. There are two official meetings. One is the member seminar meeting, once a year, in New York; and the second one is our annual general meeting, which always changes places in the world. We would always be present there, and we took this seriously. And eventually, people started to hear about World Trade Centre Winnipeg. Then there were the elections to the board that were coming up in April 2015. And I was strongly encouraged to put my name forward. I think they wanted more women. They also wanted, hopefully, a Canadian within this North American block. So I decided finally to put my name in and I was elected in April 2015. I’m the only Canadian, but I’m part of a North American block of six seats. So yeah, so it was a very good surprise.
David: For sure.
Mariette: Because I wasn’t necessarily expecting it. But that also has made a lot of difference for us.
Mariette: A positive difference.
David: Right, and okay. So let’s get into the nuts and bolts of what the WTC Winnipeg does operationally in our community? How are you promoting trade?
Mariette: Well, first of all, we work with a lot of different partners, so of course, the Winnipeg and the Manitoba Chambers are very important partners. We have CME, Canadian Manufacturers Export, is a good partner. We have CentrePort Canada, a great partner. The Chambre de Commerce St-Boniface is a great partner. CDEM, another great partner. So we have partnerships. Whenever they know that they have members that are companies that could be interested in a market or whatever, they know they can come to see us. And the first thing we do, David, is that we try to see within our family of World Trade Centers, if you have a Manitoba company that’s interested in Mexico, but they don’t really know where to start, or somebody told me, “You know, this will be a good thing,” they’re not really sure, they need to test it. We also have within World Trade Centre, the BIC, Business InfoCentre.
David: Oh, okay.
Mariette: That does a lot of research and puts on a lot of sessions, information sessions on all kinds of different topics around business — starting, taxes, going to the border in the United States, how to network. It’s a series of different kinds of topics that people need to eventually look at when they decide to go into business. So we have this BIC, so that’s the first place we usually start to see, okay, what are the potential for this product or this business in this market. And sometimes, you know what, there is too much competition, it’s too complicated, or the labelling or the whatever, there’s a lot of issues around the export to that market. So we’ll tell the business. Really, it’s to help them make a decision, because we can’t decide for them, but we can certainly say, “Well, this is what we’ve found.”
Mariette: And the other thing, right after that is working with our World Trade Centers. So we say to Mexico, let’s say the World Trade Centre in Monterrey, we’ll say to them, “We have this Manitoba company, they’re thinking of doing just a first visit. Can you help?” At the other end, they’re going to welcome them, they’re going to make their program for them. They’ll make it easy for them.
Mariette: And we do the same.
Mariette: When they ask us, we do the same.
Mariette: And yes, when people think about Canada, they’re not always thinking about Winnipeg, but now those World Trade Centers are more and more thinking about Winnipeg as an entry to the Canadian market.
David: For sure. Very cool.
Mariette: So that’s an example. And I can go on and on. I mean, it’s really questions all about growing your business, even locally or nationally or internationally. So it’s really helping companies that are just wanting to expand, getting new clients, where do you start?
Mariette: It’s hard to know where do you start.
Mariette: And we can be that first start, for all kinds of information — research, but also connecting with the right people, so they’re not going to waste their time running around in circles in the market.
David: Yeah, very interesting. Circling back a little bit, to you, what’s your own background? How did you get into this role of leading an organization like this?
Mariette: Well, I did start that way. I mean, I come from a family of business. So yes, I’ve got the business entrepreneurship approach.
Mariette: That’s part of my DNA because of my father, my grandfather, my great-grandfather, all in business, so it’s part of, right, it’s there. But I was working mostly like when I really started my career more seriously, it was really with the Federal Government, and it was when I was at the Federal Government working at WD, Western Economic Diversification, I was working there and then this project came up for the establishment of CDEM, which is an economic development agency for the bilingual municipalities. And I was working full time as a government employee, very happy, and I was offered this position, which at first was like, “Are you kidding me, I’m going to leave my great government job?” And I went, and I never looked back. I loved it. It was community work. It was economic work. It was economic development mixed with business development.
Then I started taking some more courses, David. I took a course all about small business counselling. So it was a full course, and it was really about understanding business counselling. And I learned a lot. I took more on the marketing side, so more about focus groups and market studies and things like that, that can really help a business. And my sister who was in business, because, as you know, it runs in the family, I did some focus groups for her, and she was my guinea pig, so that she would have an intel, that she didn’t have to pay for it, because it was part of my course. Then I took my four year CIM, which was really a good boost for me, because it’s very practical.
Mariette: CIM is Canadian Institute for Management, and it’s given at the Asper School of Business.
Mariette: And so I did that, and then I worked at CDEM, that bilingual economic development agency for 11 years. But in the last years, that’s when we saw the importance of using our bilingualism to promote trade outside, and that’s when we created ANIM, which then created the World Trade Centre.
David: I see.
Mariette: So that’s my personal background. So I’m all part of starting all these projects, starting CDEM, starting ANIM, starting Centrallia, and then starting World Trade Centre. So it’s kind of like something, I guess, I have been doing. So I don’t know, maybe it’s just by accident, but that’s how it went.
David: Cool. Okay. Jumping back to the organization track then, what do you think is key for raising the awareness of Winnipeg internationally and changing the way that the other cities in the WTC and just in general view Winnipeg in terms of a place for doing business?
Mariette: It just starts with us. It starts with people. If I hear one more person complain about a mosquito or winter or whatever, or putting down Winnipeg or being in Toronto and somebody says, “Oh, you poor, you’ve got to go back to Winnipeg. Yeah, somebody’s got to do it,” I can’t stand that anymore. I think that we have so much to offer, it’s so positive, and I’ve seen way bigger bugs than what we have here, and I’ve seen way more mosquitos than I’ve seen here, in Ottawa region, in New Brunswick and in many places around the world, around Canada. We have so much to offer.
I was just in China, and you can’t even breathe there. We have not just clean water but clean air and we have the sun, we have so much light here. We have blue skies. We have great people. We have natural energy. We have more water. That’s our gold. That’s our gold, and we have to look at it like that. That’s our oil today. So I think it starts with the people, David. If we are not convinced about ourselves, why would anybody else believe in us? Why would people from the outside believe if we don’t believe in ourselves? That’s even human nature. Your parents told you that all your life. You have to believe in yourself, and if you believe in yourself, then people are going to believe in you.
Mariette: That’s same for a society or for a province or for a city. And I’ve seen this, and every time that we…you know, when the Jets came back, there was pride here.
David: Yeah. That’s true.
Mariette: There was pride. And some people say that the best thing that happened to Winnipeg is that we lost the Jets. And I would say, “What? What do you mean? No, it’s when we got…It’s the fact we lost the Jets because when we got them back, we didn’t take them for granted. We knew we had to support each other and support our team.” So the mentality shifted when we got the Jets back because we had lost them. So you never know what you’ve got till it’s lost. Well, that was a good example, and I think there’s some truth to that. And I just think it starts with the people.
Now when we are convinced…you can put out any marketing tool, but if you are not promoting it with enthusiasm, with passion, with conviction, it’s not going to go anywhere.
Mariette: So I think first, we believe, then we develop the right tools, and we don’t pretend we’re something else than what we are. When you go out there, you say what you are and you say, “No, we don’t build automobiles, but you know what, we’re the number one manufacturer of buses, with New Flyer and now that bought MCI, and there’s a big cluster here.” So that means a lot of suppliers to New Flyer, right here in Winnipeg. We’ve got the lowest rate for hydro. We’ve got the Human Rights Museum. We have the CentrePort with all the potential around that. We have a Port in Churchill.
So you start talking to them. That’s what we are. We’re not BC, and we’re not Ontario. We are Manitoba and we have so much to offer. So I think that’s the next step, in getting in front of the right audiences, and then connecting with the right networks. So I think for us to be in the World Trade Center network, and now with the Board, is also connecting us with the right people and convincing the right people about, and then you invite them, and that’s why we’re doing Centrallia. We’re inviting the world, you come and see for yourself, everything we have here. We’ve been talking about it. We’re convinced we have it. Please come and see for yourself. And that’s why I think it’s important to hold these kinds of events and to invite the world and come and do business in Winnipeg, why not.
David: Absolutely. Now this is going to sound like maybe an odd question, it’s probably not something that you spend a lot of time trying to promote or amplify, but I think you’ll have a unique perspective on it. You just mentioned a lot of great reasons why Winnipeg is a really good place to do business. What kind of challenges do you think we have as an environment for business right now, and what kind of improvements should we be trying to make?
Mariette: I think one of the challenges we have, David, is that we are very diversified in our economy. So for us, even organizing Centrallia, well, there’s certain sectors, “hey, you haven’t included our sector,” because at one point, there’s just so many.
Mariette: Number one challenge we have is we are too diversified. Number one great thing we have is we’re too diversified, because that’s what saved us.
Mariette: But I think at one point, we might have to make decisions on where do we want to be at world class. We have the Level 4 Lab, world class in life sciences. This is something to be proud of. We found the vaccine for Ebola here in Winnipeg. Do you think they don’t know us in certain circles around the world? Yes. Now how do we amp that up? What else is around the potential cluster?
We have the CentrePort, that’s a transportation, logistics, storage, local central location, three railways, lots of truck industry, access to United States fast, access to Churchill. How do we milk all this? How do we invest a little bit more into all this so that we become also this big world class center of distribution, logistics, and storage? How do we do that through CentrePort and it’s project?
How do we become world class even in food? We have lots of food in our fields, and we’re not just growing it and exporting it, which is okay, but we also have to transform it and we also have to…we also see it in nutraceuticals. We talk about flax. Well, flax, we use in nutraceuticals with flax oil, flax seeds, but also in the Composite Centre.
So today, you’ve got the Aerospace Centre that’s profiting from the composite material that’s being developed for their wings or whatever at the Composite Centre in Winnipeg, because it comes from the flax from our fields, so from the ground to the air, in our airplanes, through a process. So how do we milk that and how do we make it?
Another thing we have is cold weather.
Mariette: So we have this beautiful world class Cold Weather Testing Station in Thompson, and the one by the airport. We can really become a cold weather and embrace it for everything it’s got. You’ve got to test your motors and your engines and your tyres and everything somewhere, so why not.
So I think we have clusters of things here. Everything around hydro, as I’ve mentioned, we have to become the world class of everything green, green energy. I mean, we’ve got lots of sun, solar energy. We’ve got lots of the wind, wind energy. We’ve got lots of water, water. We have geothermal, and we have people energy. So let’s use all these forms of energy and make it into a cluster that works out. So I think at one time, we’ll have to celebrate, but organize it a little bit better, I think, David.
David: I see. So we have lots of many little pockets of excellence. And you’re saying that we need to choose to specialize in some of them and become, like you say, world class in a few areas.
Mariette: In a few, known for something, right?
Mariette: I think we have to. And still continue, of course, you have to be multi-sector to be able to ensure that there’s always one sector that takes over if one’s not doing so well. But I think we can allow ourselves to think big and to think world class.
And I think another one thing that I think we need to look at better is a connection between our full secondaries in our business. So the needs, the research part, and the commercializing part, also all the different students that come from all these different countries, they’re coming here to Winnipeg. They’re bringing a wealth of connections with their country. They’re bringing a wealth of language, of culture, of ways of doing that we can use and innovate with that.
So on the other section, I think, that we have to look at also is everything around innovation and startups.
Mariette: The Innovation Alley is fantastic, and I think there’s a lot to do there too, so when you go to AssentWorks or other ones, you see what is being done right here. And this is creativity and boldness together, right?
Mariette: People who are creative and decide to go for it.
Mariette: So we see it there too, and I think there’s lots we can develop around there.
David: Absolutely. Very cool. Well, we are coming close to time here. There’s two questions that I still want to ask you. One of them is, I don’t know if you are a reader or not, but if you like to read books, are there any books you would recommend to the listeners?
Mariette: Well, I read this magazine, The Economist, all the time. I’m not a big book reader lately, because I’m reading all the time, but online, and I’m reading news and I’m reading…I find The Economist very…they go in depth with their articles. And you can really get a good sense of issues and the two sides from that, so I personally really like the Economist.
Mariette: But I read news. That’s really what I do most.
Mariette: And for pleasure, I read mostly in French.
Mariette: Marc Levy is one of my great authors and I read all his crazy books and they’re great. But there are so many that I want to read, but I’m just not there. I don’t find the time enough and I’m more of an active person physically.
Mariette: So I find myself more of being, running around than sitting down with a good book.
David: Fair enough.
Mariette: But I would definitely encourage people to read.
David: Fair enough. My second question, and this is going to be the last one, are there any people that you’ve looked up to and either people that you’ve known personally who influence you, or people who you looked up to from a distance who have influenced the way that you approach leadership and business, and your thoughts about developing business in general?
Mariette: Well, I’ll have to say that my parents both influenced me a lot. My father with his business sense, my father with his generosity and his very human approach to business, very much. My mother because of her creativity, her boldness, her place as a woman, just her place as far as knowing that she had something to offer and offering it, to her family and to society. So those are the first two for sure. I mean, I look up to my sister Elize, who has a great business called Jardins St-Léon Gardens, grew this from zero, and now today, her children are taking over.
Mariette: A beautiful, little business that is out there. Entrepreneurial spirit is so strong. People around here, like Diane Gray from CentrePort is somebody that I find has really a lot of guts and gets things done. David Angus from the Winnipeg Chamber of Commerce is one of those people that is a leader, with very humble and very, extremely strategic person. I find him extremely strategic. In the Francophone community, there’re quite a few people that I’ve looked up to. There is Étienne Gaboury, the architect. I mean he was just so imaginative and he’s given back to the community.
There’s many people. I could go on and on, but I find that the connecting tissue on all these people is their approach as humans first, and issues second. And those are the kinds of people I find that when they know themselves and they work well with people, they can get anything done.
David: Absolutely. Interesting. Thanks so much for your time Mariette.
Mariette: Thank you, David.