December 18, 2023 Whitecap

Navigating Leadership in Turbulent Times

As I navigate my early years as President of Whitecap Canada in this time of crazy inflation, high interest rates, and global uncertainty, I am learning firsthand about the challenges and rewards that come with steering a company now and into the future.

Listed below are some learnings and reflections that will guide us as we venture into 2024!

Lesson 1: Culture doesn’t just happen in the era of remote work

One aspect that particularly resonates with me is the importance of maintaining a strong corporate culture, especially in this new age of remote and hybrid work. Creating a physical space, as well as a virtual space where each team member feels a real sense of belonging, pride, and appreciation is vitally important. It is more difficult than ever now, especially with new members of our team, when we are only in the office two days per week. As the leader of Whitecap, it is essential for me to ensure that everyone feels valued and connected to our company and our mission. I view this as one of my most important responsibilities!

So how do we accomplish this? One thing we work hard at is to create regular opportunities for our team to connect, get to know each other and have fun, in person. We plan various events and outings throughout the year, often around food (Dim Sum, Chinees buffets, lunch and learns, monthly birthday celebrations, and potluck lunches in the office to name a few). Sure, not everyone shows up to every event – and that’s totally fine. Everyone has their own vibe, and what works for one might not for another. But for the most part, the large majority of the company enjoy these events and look forward to laughing and socializing with their peers over a good meal. It’s all part of the work/life balance equation! And these important fun and shared experiences bring us closer together as a team.

team photo from cruise

One memorable outing for me this year was our summer boat cruise, where most of the company spent a wonderful afternoon on Lake Ontario cruising around, enjoying a meal and snaping pictures of our Toronto skyline in the sunshine and warm summer breezes. It brought everyone closer together, allowed our new people to get to know their peers and it just created a real good feeling of “team” for everyone. I could still feel that vibe for weeks and months to follow at the office, after that event! The outcome from all of these fun events is often a feeling of unity and shared purpose, nurturing a culture that not only reflects our all-important values and principles, but also moves us closer towards our goals.

I am particularly grateful for our diverse and talented team, whose camaraderie and support make these challenges more manageable and, in many ways more rewarding too. The value in having a diverse team is so powerful. Diverse perspectives have stimulated wonderful, insightful, conversation that ultimately have helped guide the company. The insight my team provides is instrumental to our success.  Although it has not always been easy to create the culture you want or fully envision in this new WFH world, I recognize this is a journey and one that will always need nurturing and care.

Lesson 2: Hiring is not the same as building a team

Attracting and retaining top talent is very difficult and challenging at times.  The competition for skilled professionals in the global job market is fierce. Our focus has been on not just attracting knowledgeable and highly skilled talented people, but also ensuring they find a nurturing, enjoyable and rewarding environment at our company when they get here. To do that you have to provide them with important meaningful work, with projects that are interesting and challenge them to grow as individuals. This in turn, helps to strengthen our culture while creating a company that is highly attractive to people, a place where people want to come to work, to build their career and to stay for a very long time, even their entire career! This challenge has taught me the importance of listening to our team’s needs and including them throughout the process of finding and retaining talent. And to hire people whose personal goals and aspirations align with Whitecap’s values.

Lesson 3: Empower your people

Building a strong management and leadership team has been another area of focus and personal development for me. You can’t do it all yourself and the strength of a company often lies in the diversity and capability of its people, particularly the leadership team. Having a team with diverse skills and perspectives, capable of driving the company forward has been both challenging and enriching. Although we meet every week as a group to discuss projects and resource requirements, this year we also began a special regular monthly meeting as a leadership team, where we review business challenges, discuss strategy, explore new technologies, talk about future opportunities and plan for our growth. The meetings have been purposeful, highly engaging, with great dialog and feedback for the business. I’m thrilled at the team we have in place and psychological safety we have fostered allowing the team to share anything that they feel is important.

Lesson 4: Embracing new avenues and stepping outside the comfort zone

Another pivotal lesson we’ve embraced this year is the significance of venturing into new territories and pushing beyond the familiar boundaries. This year, we took the plunge into areas that were once foreign to us and to me personally – podcasting, participating in industry interviews, vlogs, and even creating YouTube videos. These platforms allowed us to educate our visitors, share our company’s vision and achievements with a broader audience, but also challenged me personally and professionally, as I’ve not had a lot of previous experience utilizing these mediums. Engaging in these new forms of communication was initially daunting, but it proved to be incredibly rewarding. It opened up avenues for networking, brand building, and personal growth. We’ve learned that stepping outside your comfort zone is not just about taking risks, it’s about embracing growth and learning in ways you never imagined. This approach has not only enriched my personal development but has also brought fresh perspectives and ideas into our company, keeping us adaptable and forward-thinking in an ever-evolving business landscape.

Lesson 5: Striking a balance, managing growth and profitability with strategic foresight

Finally, managing growth, profitability and ensuring it’s predictable and sustainable has been a balancing act. It’s about scaling the business in a manageable way, aligned with our long-term goals, and not going off in all directions just because. This challenge has taught me the importance of looking to the future while “reading the tea leaves”, looking deep into what’s not just purely statics, but intuition as well. Does that technology make sense for us and our customers, does it align with our longer-term goals, is it something we must do, something we should do, or simply something we want to do? Learning about emerging new technologies, together with strategic planning has shown us the importance of setting short, medium, and long-term goals and measuring our progress all year long to ensure the business is always moving forward.

Final Thoughts

2023 started with a bang, slowed mid year with a nice bounce back at the end of the year. Somewhat of a roller coaster year, but one I’m still proud of what we have accomplished.  A highlight was Whitecap being recognized by Microsoft as a finalist in the Inclusion Changemaker Impact Award. This honor was a testament to our commitment to serving our clients and making a difference. This honor, typically reserved for larger corporations, is indeed a testament to our commitment to making a difference. It reassured me we are on the right path and making a difference for the clients we serve. Evidence of that were some incredible new clients that we acquired this year and look forward to working with for a very long time.

As we continue to navigate the economic challenges of the day, we are excited for the opportunities the year ahead represents for Whitecap and our team. Personally speaking, I find myself growing not just as a leader but as an individual, learning new skills and gaining insights that are invaluable for my personal and professional journey. The learning never stops!

I would like to take this opportunity to wish you and your loved ones a joyous holiday season—Merry Christmas, Happy Hanukkah, Happy Kwanza—and growth and success in the New Year!

Headshot of Dan Carmichael

Dan Carmichael

President, Whitecap Canada