Recap: 2012 EEDC Annual Luncheon

Yesterday was EEDC’s Annual Luncheon at the Shaw Conference Centre. Now in its 17th year, the event was just as well attended as it was last year! Hosted by Manfred Kalk, Client Services Manager of the SCC, the event was an opportunity to learn about some recent changes at EEDC, to get an update on Edmonton’s economy, and to recognize three organizations that have made significant achievements in recognition, innovation, and community leadership.

First up was EEDC board chair Henry Yip, who talked about some recent successes in our province and about how Alberta can continue to succeed in the future. He also provided some updates on EEDC itself, thanking outgoing president Ron Gilbertson for all of his hard work over the last few years. Outgoing board members include Laura Schuler, Bob Gomes, and Peter Kiss, not to mention Henry Yip himself. The incoming board chair is Peter Silverstone.

EEDC board member Richard Brommeland was up next to hand out the annual achievement awards. The three winners were:

  • Donovan Creative Communications for recognition (those who bring extensive positive awareness and sustained name recognition of Edmonton).
  • Quantiam Technologies for innovation (those who have created or changed a product, process or business practice creating the broadest impact).
  • Homeward Trust Edmonton for community leadership (those who best engage our community or industry to achieve impactful positive change).

Each had the opportunity to speak for a few minutes after receiving their award, and a video was played for each organization as well. From the press release:

"Shortlisting the submissions was not an easy task," notes Richard Brommeland, EEDC board member and chair of the award selection committee. "The award winners do amazing work, and we are the better for them calling Edmonton home."

I know Donovan’s work fairly well. Among other things, they are responsible for EPL’s Spread the words campaign as well as EIA’s Stop the Calgary Habit. It’s great to see them recognized for bringing greater recognition to Edmonton. Quantiam I was not familiar with, but I learned that they are a nanotechnology company that recently created a joint venture with BSAF, the world’s largest chemical company. Exciting to hear that kind of thing happening here in Edmonton! And finally, Homeward Trust is an organization that is doing such important work in our city, so it’s completely appropriate that they were singled out for community leadership. Susan and her team have set the bar high. Congratulations to all three! You can see their videos here.

The keynote speaker was Ron Gilbertson himself, and he spent his time giving us an update on Edmonton’s economic report card (which you can look at here in PDF).

"Edmonton has a remarkable economic story. In 2011, our economy grew and showed momentum, and we are poised for a bright future," says Gilbertson. "Combine that with our quality of life, we are well on our way to becoming recognized as one of the world’s top mid-sized cities."

Overall, we received an “A-Minus” on our report card. The four main areas we need to work on are Office Vacancy Rates (C+), Inflation Rate (C), Annual Growth of Passenger Traffic at EIA (B), and Unemployment Rate (B+).

As everyone knows, our economy is built on oil and gas. Current and planned investment in the oil sands is around $290 billion, and that number is expected to grow. But we know it can’t last forever, something Ron acknowledged. “Should oil ever lose its lustre, we don’t really have a plan B.”

For the most part though, everyone was pretty upbeat about the local economy and our prospects for the future.

My thanks again to EEDC for hosting me at the luncheon! Be sure to follow @EEDC on Twitter for updates.

Taking the City of Edmonton to another level with City Manager Simon Farbrother

Last week, on the one year anniversary of his first official day as the City of Edmonton’s new City Manager, Simon Farbrother sat down with me to reflect on the past twelve months. In addition to settling into the role and continually learning about the organization, Simon is leading the City through a major cultural shift that is fundamentally changing the way it does business.

Simon Farbrother
Coffee with Simon

Simon came to the City of Edmonton from Waterloo, where he was that city’s Chief Administrative Officer. He’s not new to the capital region however, having worked at the City of Leduc from 1988 until 1997, and at the City of Spruce Grove from 1997 until 2005. I wondered if he had thought about working in “the big city” but he said that was never the game plan, though he did admit the thought crossed his mind once or twice. “I think it’s important to stretch yourself, “ Simon told me, “when opportunities come up you grab them and away you go.” That’s how he ended up in Waterloo, and in January 2010, how he found himself here in Edmonton taking over for retiring City Manager Al Maurer.

Simon said his first year has gone by really quickly, but described it as “challenging, fun, and stimulating.” Noting the number of projects the City has on the go, Simon said “Edmonton is at a very interesting point in time.” He lives in the southwest and uses the LRT quite a bit and depending on his schedule. “The south LRT has changed the way people think about transit in our city.” Though he felt Edmonton had matured politically while he was out east, Simon said that he has “always thought Edmonton’s strength was its people, and I still do.” He thinks it’s because we have a unique sense of connection here. “We’re the big city on the prairie, we’re multicultural; the people who choose to live here are really carving out their lives.”

For the first few weeks of last year, Simon spent his time getting to know people at the City while Al continued on as Manager (though Simon actually knew quite a few people already from his previous positions). On January 18th 2010, he took over and hit the ground running. “You have to get up-to-speed quickly and bring your skills to the table.” Simon told me the ladies in the Manager’s office were “tremendously helpful” and made the transition a smooth one. “When you join, naturally there’s a lot of questions about you,” he said, recalling that it wasn’t just him that had to adjust to the new role. “Fundamentally I am about building – I always have a strong belief in a person’s abilities and general willingness to do the right thing.”

Simon Farbrother
Conversation with Simon & Extended Leadership Team

One of the first things Simon did was have an open conversation with the general managers. “Leadership is about framing,” he said. Simon made it clear that the City would be moving in a new direction, and told them, “your primary role is to lead the City, not your department.” He called it a “fundamental shift” and said there has been a lot of positive engagement from the general managers on the new approach. Discussions since have focused on how the City leads, rather than on each individual project that comes up. “We also opened the door to branch managers and directors around leadership,” Simon confirmed. The City of Edmonton currently has 6 general managers and 35 branch managers, but the number is not important. “It’s about what makes sense at the time to lead.” To reinforce the shift, the Senior Management Team (SMT) was renamed to the Corporate Leadership Team (CLT). Demonstrating leadership is more important than having worked at the organization for most of your career. “We’re trying to engage people to be leaders, everyone can do that.”

Simon’s focus for 2011 is this internal cultural conversation. He shared that the City has formed a group called Transforming Edmonton and Me (TEAM) that has been challenged to explore the question, “what do we want our culture to be?” An early activity involved the creation of a word cloud, and ‘communication’ emerged as the biggest word. There’s a desire to be more transparent, and to have meaningful conversations (no more going to the meeting then having the real conversation in the hallway). “It’s about how we agree to work as an organization,” Simon said. “If you don’t see me acting in the way I say I am going to act, you have every right to tell me.”

Most of Simon’s communication has been focused internally so far (he’s going to look into updating his pagearchived here – on the public website). “Having various ways to communicate is really valuable.” To that end, Simon has published videos every few weeks for employees, focusing not on what the City got approved but on leadership within the organization. “For example, a video might talk about our approach to the budget, rather than giving details on what was approved.” The effort has given him the opportunity to meet people across the organization. “I’ve learned to cut trees, drive a bus, I’ve been in the sewers, it has been great.” He hopes the videos reinforce the notion that all employees at the City are important. He is thinking about an internal blog too, and said the intranet is a really important tool for giving context.

Simon Farbrother
Simon getting some hands-on experience felling trees in Delwood Park

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Simon was a BlackBerry user while in Waterloo. Now he’s got an iPhone and an iPad, but doesn’t consider himself to be an early adopter. “I really like the iPad in a meeting environment,” he said, because there’s less paper to carry and the device is great for graphics. “I do lots of email and text messaging,” he told me, and while he is familiar with Twitter, he has no plans to use the service. “A lot of my emails would look like tweets though!” Simon’s day consists largely of meetings, so it’s important to communicate efficiently. He uses text messaging to stay in touch with his family throughout the day.

Turning to external communication, Simon said the City “should talk about what we’re doing and what we’re trying to achieve.” It’s the philosophy that is important, not the list of projects. “We’re part of a bigger picture, we work for the full community.” Simon thinks it is important for employees to be mindful of that broader perspective too. “You can’t disconnect being a transit driver or an accountant or even a manager from being an ambassador and a representative of the City.” In other words, employees need to be accountable not just to their boss, but to all Edmontonians.

The word accountability was mentioned alongside transparency in his introductory letter last year. When I asked for his assessment of the City’s performance on those issues, Simon replied: “I think we’re getting better.” Being accountable and transparent to the public is a challenge given the size of the organization. “We’re in the A to Z business,” Simon remarked, “and we’re the only the organization that does all of our business in the public eye.” I suggested that the City could do more on the transparency side, especially as it relates to making information available and accessible. “I don’t think we consciously hoard,” he told me. “There are legitimate reasons for some information to be confidential.” He agreed that getting information into people’s hands is important though.

Simon Farbrother
Simon with Councillor Amarjeet Sohi

I asked Simon how he has found working with Mayor Mandel and the rest of City Council over the last year. Due to the nature of the position in large cities, Simon has worked more closely with Mayor Mandel, and described him as “very committed and very driven.” He said they get along well. Though he hasn’t had as many opportunities to work with the Councillors, he said “they’re all trying to build a better City, which is a positive environment to work in.”

Looking ahead to 2011, I asked if Simon had made any personal new years resolutions – he didn’t. “For me it’s about lifelong learning,” he said. “In whatever you do, you need to be relevant and adding value.” He’s excited for the year ahead, and talked about some of the big projects that have made headlines recently. “EXPO wasn’t just a three month event, it was positioning Edmonton as an important city in North America.” Similarly he thinks we need to look at the bigger picture when it comes to topics like the downtown arena or the city centre redevelopment. “We need to be strategic and aligned as a city.”

Simon said the City of Edmonton has always had aspirations, but has never embedded that into the culture. “Being aspirational has to be a fundamental part of what we do.” When it was discovered that some material was being created internally that talked about Edmonton being successful as a “tier 2 city”, Simon and his team put a stop to it. “What would a tier 1 city do? There’s nothing stopping us from being tier 1.” It’s about having vision and not being afraid to go after it. “We shouldn’t be shy about opportunities.” For Simon, it’s about taking Edmonton to another level. “We need to up our game and galvanize around being a city.”

“It’s going to be a good year.”

Edmonton’s future leaders

Today in the Edmonton Sun, Marty Forbes asked where Edmonton’s future leaders are. I found the article via the edmontonian, and was happy to see that Jeff mentioned a few people in response. Here are the key excerpts from Marty’s article:

The one thing that vaults a city from good to great is its people, and over the past few months several great Edmontonians have served notice that they are retiring from their high-profile gigs here in town.

All are moving on soon and I wonder "who is going to fill their shoes?"

The part that scares me is that I’m not seeing a huge list of young dynamic people stepping in to fill many of the big jobs and needs in the community.

Now I’m sure the next generation of leaders are out there somewhere. I’d love to hear from you if you know such a dynamo so that we could start recognizing these folks in the media.

We need dreamers, builders, rule breakers, risk takers and leaders to take this city up yet another notch towards greatness. The mantle is officially being tossed.

I want to first point out that you don’t need to hold a “high-profile gig” to be a leader. Maybe that’s why Marty hasn’t heard of any upcoming leaders. The next generation generally doesn’t care for suits, invitation only events, old boys clubs, or any of the traditional places you’d find “leaders”. There are plenty of places to find them, however. Here’s a small list to get Marty and everyone else like him started:

I really don’t think the next generation of leaders is hard to find. There are lots of them, getting things done and working hard to make our city a better place in which to live. Here’s a list of the first 75 I could think of (in alphabetical order):

Alex Abboud, Trevor Anderson, Justin Archer, Jerry Aulenbach, Ken Bautista, Myron Belej, Tamison Bencz-Knight, Mark Bennett, Chris Bolivar, Nathan Box, Michael Brechtel, Will Buchkowsky, Brandy Burdeniuk, Marc Carnes, Stephani Carter, Ashley Casovan, Christine Causing, Reg Cheramy, Josh Classen, Dave Cournoyer, Xanthe Couture, Matthew Dance, Jas Darrah, Mark Donovan, Michael Donovan, Janaya Ellis, Cindy Fulton, Bretta Gerecke, Tad Hargrave, Elisse Heine, Chris Henderson, Scott Hennig, Alistair Henning, Christel Hyshka, Elaine Hyshka, Don Iveson, Todd Janes, Michael Janz, Sam Jenkins, Ryan Jespersen, Shafraaz Kaba, Alistair King, Duncan Kinney, Chris LaBossiere, Brittney LeBlanc, Cam Linke, Raffaella Loro, Shauna McConechy, Jess McMullin, Roberto Moreno, James Murgatroyd, Christian Nelson, Monique Nutter, Gregg Oldring, Jason Openo, Roland Pemberton, Darryl Plunkie, Jessie Radies, Adam Rozenhart, Zohreh Saher, Jeff Samsonow, Mari Sasano, Jordan Schroder, Amy Shostak, Gene Smith, Tamara Stecyk, Kevin Swan, Asia Szkudlarek, Daniel Tse, Zoe Todd, Brendan Van Alstine, Cary Williams, Marlon Wilson, Sharon Yeo, Mike Zouhri

They’re all passionate about different things, but together, they’re having a big impact on our city. And this is just a small list! I do my best to keep up on who’s doing what in Edmonton, but there are so many other communities that I have no connection with that are full of emerging leaders. There’s definitely no shortage of next generation leaders in Edmonton.

So Marty, I hope that gets you started. I look forward to you “recognizing these folks in the media”. And maybe next time you’ll match the effort they put in by doing more than simply asking your audience to do the work for you.

It’s impossible to make a list like this 100% complete – sorry if I missed you – so add your favorite up-and-coming leaders in the comments below (something that the Edmonton Sun article is sorely lacking). Thanks!

Recap: ONEdmonton Leaders Forum #2

Yesterday morning was the second ONEdmonton Leaders Forum, hosted by EEDC at the Shaw Conference Centre. After a good experience at the first one, I was excited for another opportunity to chat with everyone and eager to see if the organizers would indeed make more time for that. EEDC Board Chair Henry Yip and EEDC President Ron Gilbertson gave very brief introductory remarks, and we got down to business.

Our moderator for the day was Anne McLellan. She started by presenting the following question (I’m paraphrasing a bit):

What are your top five opportunities, challenges, and priorities for Edmonton as we work toward becoming one of the world’s leading mid-size cities?

She then numbered everyone off into 8 groups, and we started discussing. For about half an hour, groups talked amongst themselves, with each member having the chance to share their top 5 issues (or less). This exercise was something I was prepared for, given my Pecha Kucha 7 talk, so I started in my group. Here are the three I shared:

  1. Density
  2. Storytelling
  3. Creative Economy

I added “Living Local” after everyone had shared their issues, and I agreed with most of the table who mentioned EXPO 2017. There were some other duplicates, but I wrote down over 20 things from our group alone. It was a great discussion and it was really interesting to hear where everyone was at. Some of the more memorable things mentioned at my table were “winter city”, “homelessness”, and “waterfront development”.

During a short break the organizers tallied up all the lists to identify the overall group’s top 10 opportunities, challenges, and priorities. Here’s the result (issue with percentage of the group that identified it):

  1. Downtown revitalization (46%)
  2. Crime (29%)
  3. Education / R&D (29%)
  4. Transportation / Infrastructure (25%)
  5. Homelessness (19%)
  6. Brand / Identity (19%)
  7. River Valley Development (17%)
  8. Regional Partnerships (15%)
  9. Promoting the city (15%)
  10. Aboriginal Integration (14%)

A moderated discussion followed, which of course felt like it wasn’t long enough. A few really good comments were made. One I’ll share was from Homeward Trust Executive Director Susan McGee, who said that language is important, and that the word “integration” in #10 on the list probably was not the best choice of words. I thought it was a great point.

Crime & Safety

We finished off the morning with a presentation from EPS Deputy Chief of Police Norm Lipinski. He shared some really great information about the EPS approach, as well as some positive stories about crime in Edmonton. Here are the EPS objectives:

  1. Reduce Crime
  2. Reduce Disorder
  3. Enhance Traffic Safety
  4. Maintain Public Trust

Some of the ways they accomplish those objectives are through community policing, hot spot management, offender management, and business practices. He mentioned the broken window theory, and said he was a big fan of having a visible presence. Norm’s takeaways were that overall crime is down in Edmonton over the last three years, that the rate of solving crime is up, and that we have a top tier police service (also a very young police service). He finished with a funny slide comparing his appearance to that of Kevin Bacon (the resemblance is uncanny). A discussion followed his presentation but I had to leave so I missed it.

I thought the second ONEdmonton forum was great – kudos to EEDC for acting on the feedback for the first event to make this one a success. I look forward to the next forum, where we’ll hopefully start trying to address the execution side of becoming one of the world’s top five mid-size cities.

Recap: ONEdmonton Leaders Forum

Yesterday morning was EEDC’s first ONEdmonton Leaders Forum. The series of events aims to “bring together the region’s most influential leaders to discuss key topics affecting our community.” I am honored to have been invited to participate, likely to represent “youth” along with Cary Williams and a few others. Just over 90 of the 150 or so invited leaders attended the event, and while I’m not going to name any names (aside from the speakers) rest assured it was a very impressive collection of individuals.

The morning started with a welcome and overview from EEDC Board Chair and COO of ProCura, Randy Ferguson. He invited EEDC President & CEO Ron Gilbertson to set the stage for the event. Ron talked about where Edmonton is today (one of 307 mid-size cities in the world) and where we’d like to be. He focused on two key areas: economic success, and quality of life, referencing the Conference Board of Canada’s prosperity ratings as he went. After providing some context, Randy and Ron shared EEDC’s Vision (PDF):

To ensure Edmonton is recognized as one of the world’s top 5 mid-size cities by 2030.

I like it, and I think others in the room did too. That’s the vision the group will be aligning on and working toward achieving. The idea is to try to speak with one voice, hence the title of the forum.

After a quick break, we heard from four speakers:

  1. Reg Milley, President & CEO, Edmonton Airports. Reg talked about the new Stop The Calgary Habit campaign, and about the importance of a healthy local airport. The slogan for the campaign, “when you go south, so does your air service” says it all. Reg implored everyone to “shop local” for air travel.
  2. Jim Taylor, Executive Director, Downtown Business Association. Jim talked about the incredible transformations that have happened downtown in the last decade, and a little about what’s coming. He mentioned that the “cumulative story” is what’s important – all of the changes in aggregate are pretty impressive.
  3. Sol Rolingher, C.St. J., Q.C., Duncan & Craig LLP, River Valley Alliance Chair. Sol talked about the importance of preserving, protecting, and enhancing the river valley, and about local heritage. He has been working with others to preserve some Edmonton artifacts throughout the river valley. I thought he was an incredible speaker, very passionate. He also gave everyone a copy of this awesome map.
  4. Dave Mowat, President & CEO, ATB Financial, EXPO Bid Committee. Dave, with a little help from Randy, talked about the EXPO 2017 bid. I got the feeling that many in the room are excited for the bid, because it’s an opportunity to achieve big things all at once. There was nothing new for me in the presentation, but it was still a good overview.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t a lot of time for questions or further discussion, but it sounds like they’ll be working on improving that for future forums. I would have made the following comment, had there been time:

We know we have successes here, but we often don’t do a very good job of telling our story. Like Jim’s “cumulative story” on downtown, or the thriving local tech startup scene (reference by someone else in the group). We need to become better storytellers in order to achieve the vision.

Looking forward to the next forum!

Notes on Leadership

Post ImageNext up is Dave Sifry’s session on leadership and entrepreneurship (yep, he’s the founder of Technorati). Here are my notes:

  • There’s a distinction between leadership and management! The latter is a function of the former.
  • You’ve got to be a little insane to start a technology venture! You have to have passion.
  • Dave: “I’ll never fill a position just to fill a position.” Think of the A-level person hires a B who hires a C scenario.
  • Product-Feature-Company: when you have an idea, is it a feature, a product, or a company? Can you write your business model on the back of napkin? Or at least, the back of an envelope – goal should be cocktail napkin.
  • Dave says “don’t do it” to outside investment. There’s nothing quite like getting a cheque from a customer. Hold off on outside investment as long as you can!
  • If you do go the outside investment route: get a good lawyer, give homework to your board, etc.

At this point Dave went around the room and entrepreneurs introduced themselves and their businesses and shared a leadership or startup hack. There are so many good ones I couldn’t possibly share them all here, you kind of have to be here. I am surprised at how many entrepreneurs are in the room!

Dave’s rules for entrepreneurs (from his first or second slide) meant to be discussion points:

  • Find your passion
  • Team, team, team
  • Lead, don’t manage
  • Develop Leaders (80% on yout top 20%)
  • Prepare for the scalability traps
  • Back of the napkin it!
  • Remember, it is a business
  • Vision is easy, execution is hard
  • Fail fast
  • Be of service