Four essential business lessons

1. How to know when it’s time to walk away from your baby

This summer, Charles Chang sold his Burnaby-based nutritional products company, Vega, to an American firm for US$550 million in cash. Every entrepreneur dreams of such a payday, but successfully stepping away from something you’ve built takes planning and smart decision-making. Leadership consultant Greg Nichvalodoff, of Inscape Consulting Group, says the best leaders have an end in mind when they start. 
“It really starts with being able to understand what stage you are in: the innovation, the growth or the maturity stage?” Nichvalodoff explains. Often it’s wisest to sell while the company is still growing. When growth begins to slow, it takes energy and resources to renew the company.

Nichvalodoff says a leader must ask, “Do I have the impetus and energy to take it to the next level?”

2. How to regroup after disaster strikes

Tim Jones was the legendary leader of North Shore Rescue who, over the course of more than 20 years, saved the lives of thousands of people. Jones died suddenly last winter, proving that disasters can hit even the best-prepared organizations. 

Organizations need to tap into their resiliency to recover from such a tragedy, says leadership consultant Terry Dillon, partner and CEO at the Refinery Leadership Partners consulting firm. “I would be really surprised if an organization that is focused on rescue didn’t have that kind of resilience within its ranks,” he says. Indeed, North Shore Rescue’s new leader, Michael Danks, is a second-generation team member who spent his childhood evenings playing a stretcher-bound patient for his dad’s training exercises.

“It’s the smaller challenges that prepare you for the bigger ones,” Dillon says. Leaders should ensure their organizations embrace those challenges as a team and not just as individuals. “It is a systemic thing. It’s about the strength of relationships in the team.” 

3. How to prepare for a rainy (or not-so-rainy) day

No matter how nice the weather is in B.C., you can usually count on it turning bad eventually. Unfortunately for many in the province’s ski industry, recent winters have been too gloriously sunny to bring the snowfall they rely on to make money (another warm and dry B.C. winter is projected for this year).

Skier visits to Whistler Blackcomb, for instance, fell nine per cent last winter because not enough snow fell on its slopes. And yet the all-season resort’s total revenue grew by 1.6 per cent compared to the previous ski season—thanks to its ability to attract more non-skiers and earn more from each visitor. The resort is promoting its Peak2Peak Gondola to sightseers, upgrading its restaurants and getting a head start on summer activities like hiking when the snow disappears early.

Consultant Terry Dillon says leaders need to plan and prepare for hardships that real or metaphorical storms can bring. “Fundamentally, when it comes down to it, it’s about asking the questions and being truly honest about the unthinkable before,” he says. “Because if you don’t do that, you’ve got absolutely no chance of being prepared.”

4. How to get the jump on emerging industry

There’s a billion dollars to be made in Canada’s medical marijuana business, and companies like Richmond-based MediJean are aiming to take a big slice of that growing pie. The problem with any emerging opportunity, however, is the crowd that often forms at the buffet line.

“You have to be aware of how many new entrants can make it to the market, especially if it’s cheap to get in,” says leadership consultant Greg Nichvalodoff. “You need to look at rival firms. Do I have a leg up in terms of a monopoly up front?”

Health Canada is weeding out some competitors by requiring that pot producers meet its approval. But while Medijean has applied for a licence, it’s also preparing to face off against hundreds of potential rivals who have also submitted applications. The company hopes that by researching and developing more effective strains of pot, it will set itself apart from companies who are just trying to cash in.