Dave Veale interviews Gerry Pond, Chairman of Mariner Partners, Debbie Cooper, ED Saint John Boys & Girls Club & Dan Martell, co-founder Clarity.fm as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews with leaders.
Understanding what the future holds is critical to business success. There are a couple of ways to attempt to harness the future.
A visionary leader may, as Steve Jobs did when he built Apple, subscribe to the scientist Alan Kay’s philosophy: “The best way to predict the future is to invent it.” Another approach is to look at what research tells us about various trends in the marketplace. For example, a new study from eMarketer forecasts that U.S. mobile (smartphone) commerce sales will hit US$6.7 billion by the end of 2011. This represents a 91.4 per cent increase compared to 2010, which is a very important trend for anyone selling products – or even just educating consumers using the internet – as eMarketer believes that 72.8 million mobile users will research or browse products on their phones in 2012.
Whatever the approach, a leader’s job is to look into the future to leverage opportunities, anticipate challenges and set ambitious goals. In Thursday’s column, I asked three New Brunswick leaders – Mariner Partners chairman Gerry Pond, Debbie Cooper of the Saint John Boys and Girls Club and Dan Martell of startup Clarity.fm – about what they learned in 2011.
The three leaders:
Gerry Pond, chairman of Mariner Partners, Inc. Gerry brings over 40 years of in-depth experience in the information and communications technology industry. He was the president of Aliant Telecom and CEO of NBTel. Gerry is a proven innovator with such start-up IT companies as Q1 Labs, iMagicTV, Brovada Technologies and Radian6.
Debbie Cooper, executive director of the Saint John Boys and Girls Club, the oldest boys and girls club in Canada. She has received many awards, including the Canada 125 Commemorative Medal, Saint John sportsperson of the year and her selection as the official torch bearer for Saint John in the 2009 Olympic Torch Relay.
Dan Martell, co-founder of Clarity.fm. Prior to Clarity, he co-founded Flowtown, whichdan martell cropped.jpg was acquired by Demandforce earlier this year. An award-winning Canadian entrepreneur, Dan started his entrepreneurial journey at 24 when he formed his first company, Spheric Technologies Inc. He’s also a board member of the non-profits Startup Weekend and Propel ICT.
In today’s post, I ask them about the year ahead.
Q: What do you see as an opportunity in 2012? Pond: As you might expect, I see the biggest opportunity in the IT space. This opportunity has different names and variations. In some ways it is the return to the “computer utility,” a concept popularized in the ’70s. Essentially you “rent” the service when you need it and avoid big capital outlays upfront. Small- and medium-sized businesses should really pay attention to it. Cirrus9 Inc. is an example of a local start-up in this space
Cooper: As a non-profit, our success is dependent upon partnerships and collaborations with other agencies, public and private sectors. Our opportunity will be to participate with all potential partnerships in the spirit of preventing duplication of programs and services with more sustainable use of our resources.
Martell: The idea of creating hybrid businesses that are a blend of technology and people – think Groupon – that provide real value to “main street” consumers.
Q: What are the biggest challenges facing leaders in 2012? Pond: Unfortunately it is probably a repeat of 2011: destabilized financial markets, wild price swings, timid consumers and social unrest. Perhaps the wildcard is inflation. It looks like it may make comeback. This is worrisome since it has not been a factor for over a decade. All this unrest has a bright side: it is a great time to start a business since this dislocation can put incumbents in a defensive mode with cuts to their R&D budgets.
Cooper: Our biggest challenge will be making prudent use of the available donor and funder dollars, knowing that the upcoming provincial budget will force non-profits to conduct business differently.
Martell: My philosophy is “business is personal.” We don’t buy from companies, we buy from people at those companies. Companies need to start acting human and caring about their customers in ways they never felt they needed to in the past. Social media is an accelerator to this, but also local commerce and mobile are acting like a forcing function to accelerate this need.
Q: What resources will you leverage to enhance your leadership in 2012? Pond: Cash remains king in this kind of environment, so staying close to it will be important. The biggest weapon is great people, so I will continue to scour the planet looking for them. We have some great people in the Maritimes. Some of my business partners and I have formed a new company called East Valley Ventures Inc. that will concentrate on matching great people to great ideas. Jeff White, the former CFO of Radian6, will manage this for us.
Cooper: Resources to be utilized will include public and private partnerships to enhance staff training and development opportunities, sharing resources with Youth SJ agencies and being aware of social and economic trends affecting the youth. Our involvement in social media will need to be escalated to continue to educate the public and private sector of the programs and services of the Boys and Girls Club.
Martell: Connecting with advisors that have created billion-dollar industries in ways that I admire. People like Elon Musk of Tesla Motors and SpaceX, Reid Hasting from Netflix and Peter Thiel of PayPal / Founders Fund come to mind.
Q: What one thing will you do more of in 2012? What will you do less of? Pond: I’m going to concentrate more on my social entrepreneurship agenda. It is a steep learning curve for me, but it is well worth it. I’m going to play golf less, which is getting harder and harder to do.
Cooper: Social media and technology is a norm for most businesses, while non-profits are just realizing this great potential resource in relationship and partnership building, community and resource development. Our dependency on government funding will be diminished in 2012 as our governments continue to lessen the public’s debt.
Martell: I will only work on things that I’m great at. Everything else I’ll delegate to people who play at the things I work at. I’ll also spend more time talking with younger entrepreneurs, giving them perspective that only comes with experience, failures and some success.
Q: What’s the most important issue you are dealing with as we move into the new year? Pond: Getting the right people on the bus and in the right seats is essential. It is the “right seats” that is the tough part. That is why having 15 to 20 start-ups in the friendly end of the field is helpful. It increases the chances of a better fit.
Cooper: In a managerial sense, it is the club’s financial position. In terms of programming, it is the state of our children’s health and well-being – especially their physical health due to the high rates of obesity and inactivity; mental health issues of anxiety, stress and depression with a lack of hope for the future. It is our desire to address these complex needs with innovative and alternative programming.
Martell: Building the right founding team to meet the challenges of my new start-up, Clarity.fm.
Q: What are your top goals for 2012? Pond: Get the Pond-Deshpande Centre up and running on a pan-N.B basis. Get Propel ICT’s new Launch 36 Program up and running province-wide. Co-found three social enterprises and become aligned with three new ICT start-ups. The last goal is to exit one existing investment.
Cooper: Our top goals will include the successful goal completion of the capital campaign, completion of all building projects, composition and implementation of an outcome measures system and a succession plan as well as the development of innovative, creative programs for youth engagement.
Martell: Create a product that people keep using and sharing with their friends and colleagues. Spend more time with my family and friends sharing experiences. I will also focus on one or two things and do them really well.
Q: As you look ahead to 2012, what are you most excited about? Pond: Continuing with the ICT startup momentum across the Maritimes and convincing the Canadian Blood Services to retain their blood processing facility in New Brunswick as they modernize their operations in the Maritimes.
Cooper: We are excited about the renovations and upgrades to our physical property, which will enhance all programs and services for our children and youth. The development and implementation of innovative programs with the expansion of the Heart of the Possible to potential new partnerships and, more importantly, to heighten our engagement with our current partners.
Martell: Snow. I’m a huge snowboarder, and I have some great trips planned for the season.
Dave Veale is a business and leadership coach and founder of Vision Coaching Inc. in Saint John. He can be reached by email at Dave@VisionCoachingInc.com. His column appears every other Thursday. To read past columns go to www.LeadershipUnleashed.ca
Read the first part of this interview, 3 leaders reflect on 2011.
Published Thursday December 30, 2011 in the Telegraph Journal
Photos: Gerry Pond: Kâté Braydon/Telegraph-Journal Debbie Cooper: Cindy Wilson/Telegraph Journal Dan Martell: Yvonne Berg/Telegraph Journal