Published Thursday October 13, 2011 in the Telegraph Journal Photo: Viktor Pivovarov/Times & Transcript
Dave Veale interviews Robert MacLeod, Invest NB CEO as part of the Leadership Unleashed series of interviews.
Robert MacLeod knows a bit about the importance of investing in a great product.
In September 2006, when Robert was the chairman of the New Brunswick Innovation Foundation, they made a decision to support a little known company, Radian6, with a seed equity investment of $50,000. Not a bad investment as the Fredericton-based tech firm was acquired by Salesforce.com five years later for $326 million.
Invest NB CEO Robert MacLeod has now taken on the task of promoting business investment in New Brunswick companies. He believes the province has a lot to offer potential investors.
Robert has recently taken the helm of the newly formed Invest New Brunswick (Invest NB) and is responsible for promoting another great product – New Brunswick. The president and CEO has solid private sector experience that he and others expect will be an asset in his new role. He has held a number of senior management roles with McCain Foods and Cavendish Farms and, most recently, he was vice-president of sales and marketing for G.E. Barbour Inc.
I started our conversation by asking Robert to tell me about Invest NB, its mandate and his goals for the organization.
A: The focus of Invest NB is investment attraction, plain and simple. It’s a sales organization. Our goal is to attract commercially viable businesses from outside New Brunswick to locate here and to promote that New Brunswick is a great place to do business.
Q: What makes Invest NB different from how business was typically being attracted to New Brunswick?
A: It’s a Crown Corporation. Invest NB will differ from government in that we will act, look and perform like private sector, led by a private-sector board so we’ll filter everything through the private-sector view of life and business and investment.
Q: As you look ahead to the next year, what are you most excited about?
A: Well I’m just really excited about the team we’ve built at Invest NB. We’ve got exceptional senior managers, an exceptional team, a very strong board and I’m just looking forward to getting into the rhythm of working and closing files.
Q: What are you looking for in terms of the kind of culture you want to lead?
A: We very much want a private-sector culture with business attitudes and business speed. That is one of the advantages we will have as a Crown corporation – we will be able to move at the speed of the business.
Q: From a leadership perspective, what have you learned in the private sector that you bring to Invest NB?
A: I think a focus on customer service, a focus on success and on measuring our efforts.
Q: Was there a particular lesson from one of the organizations that you worked with in the past that assists you in leading Invest NB?
A: There is not one lesson that I learned at Irving or McCain that I can’t apply here. As an example, I remember back in the mid-80s at McCain we were growing very quickly and the controls weren’t what they should have been. Harrison and Wallace put a sign in each manager’s office that said, “If you can’t measure it, you can’t manage it.” I have never forgotten that.
Q: What do you feel is the really compelling part of selling New Brunswick?
A: New Brunswick has all kinds of strengths and we are still working on what we feel is going to be our best and most sustainable point of difference – something that we can sell. Having said this, I know our people are one of our greatest resources.
Q: Do you think that the world really knows what the potential of New Brunswick is?
Q: How do you go about educating the world about our province?
A: We are going to be looking for very targeted, smart and clever ways to go about connecting with our targets. We can’t be all things to all people, we have to be very specific in where we go hunting and that’s a critical piece of our research.
Q: How would you describe your leadership style?
A: I believe in the strength and the power of the team. I’m very comfortable making decisions and I’m very comfortable leading, but only after I have surrounded myself with a very solid team. I think a leader is only one part of the team – an important part – but not the whole team.
Q: Is there a leader who modeled this type of leadership for you?
A: I’ll tell you a story Harrison McCain told me. One of the biggest challenges he and Wallace had to face was learning to trust and empower people so that they could grow the business beyond what the two of them could do in a day. You can work a 14 or 16 hour day if you are doing everything yourself, but if you want to grow beyond what you can do yourself you have to learn to find good people, empower them, trust them to do their jobs and then stay out of their way.
Q: How do you deal with the tension between recognizing that Invest NB is connected to government while trying to run your organization at the speed of business?
A: The big difference between this organization and a traditional government organization is that we are horizontal versus vertical – we are as flat as we can possibly be. We could have five or six levels of reporting but we chose not to do that.
Q: So you designed the structure of the organization?
A: We did a huge amount of research here. We met with deputies and former deputies from Nova Scotia. We also met with probably half a dozen former deputies and ministers from New Brunswick. We did a lot of research in Manitoba, Saskatchewan and Quebec – we looked at all kinds of models. We didn’t just pull this out of the air. We did a lot of research.
Q: What are the toughest decisions you are making at this stage?
A: We had to make some tough decisions building the board of directors. We had 130 people apply for the board and had to whittle that down to 11. As far as employees, there are a lot of people that I would have loved to have hired but I have to do what I have to do for Invest NB.
Q: Please finish the following sentence: A leader’s job is to?…
A: A leader’s job is to surround yourself with good people, clearly articulate the vision for the organization and then let the people do their job.
Q: Any final thoughts?
A: I remember my father used to say, “if you do what you always did, you’ll get what you always got.” This is an extraordinary time in New Brunswick – we face a crisis situation with an aging population and we need to do things differently. I’ll always be an agent of change. I’ll never become a bureaucrat. We need to do things differently to attract investment and that’s what Invest NB is all about – it’s about change.
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.