Jake Surrey: Small business diversification in Alberta
As a global award-winning digital marketing agency from the UK, you would be forgiven for failing to guess that the first office Fountain Partnership would open in North America was to be in Calgary - but due to a family move for one of its lead strategists, Jake Surrey, it’s where they opened up in Q4 of this year.
‘My wife and I met in Calgary when I lived here previously between 2011 and 2015, and after a few years in the UK have decided to move back here to raise our family. It’s an interesting time to be setting up shop here. The focus has definitely shifted a lot and the atmosphere obviously quite different to when I first arrived eight years ago.’
One of the key differences he’s seeing is the network of small businesses that are developing across in all kinds of different arenas. “There’s certainly been a lot of changes. It feels like businesses are looking to innovate and differentiate - and there’s an extremely supportive atmosphere amongst small businesses here.'
'The most successful businesses I’ve seen are those looking at things from a slightly different, unique angle and those who truly stand out with their customer service. It’s also really encouraging to see so many businesses and business people genuinely dedicated to supporting the local community. And it’s not for the sake of greenwashing or good PR - people actually care about giving back where they can'.
The question of whether the Calgary economy is able to shift its focus to diversify away from its traditional dependence on the energy industry is still up for debate: 'There are a lot of extremely bright, technically minded people here in Calgary. For years the universities here have churned out engineers, finance and tech grads who have then gone on into a stable career in the energy industry. Those careers aren’t necessarily there any more and so people are thinking creatively.'
'Fountain was founded during the global financial crisis, and has thrived due to the original thinking, work ethic, and absolute focus on driving customer revenue growth that the founders had from day one. We’re looking to replicate that here in Canada.'
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- Read the latest issue of Business Chief, North America edition, here
Small businesses are still under pressure since the downturn, but recent figures have shown job growth across Alberta, with unemployment recently dropping by a full percentage point. And many of those jobs have come from outside of the natural resources sector, which evidences the fact that there is a shift slowly taking place. But much of this is happening out of necessity rather than volition:
'There is a diversification happening - out of necessity and not by choice. As an example, there are a number of people reaching out to international audiences with consulting services, or working in a derivative of their former professions. As well, small businesses are popping up with low capital entry fees such as micro-breweries, home renovation firms and other service oriented businesses,' states Cory Cleveland of Investor Engagement Consultancy, Creative Return.
'Some of these are a means for people to support themselves, and not necessarily a pursuit of passion or material capital gain. Given a positive change in oil prices and politics, we will, understandably, see most of these people return back to the oil and gas industry and its supporting businesses. However, any seedlings of diversifying our economy would be left to wither as the trappings of well paying oil jobs will outshine the immediate earning potential of opportunities they are pursuing.'
Calgary is the city it is due to the energy industry - but it’s also due to the undeniable entrepreneurial spirit that Calgarians have. 'There’s no denying that there are lots of challenges at the moment in Calgary, but on the flip side the collaboration and innovation coming out of the small business community is incredible to see. For Work Nicer, 2018 has been a year of unparalleled growth for not just the team itself, but the entire community. While that’s not been without its stresses, the people here are able to find the support they need.' says Alex Putici, founder of Work Nicer, Alberta’s leading coworking community. 'We have a community of more than 380 members with two new outposts opening early in the new year – one in Edmonton and a third in Calgary. You can't have the ups without the downs and we're seeing people getting creative to gain support, gain insight and create some pretty cool things.'
It remains to be seen whether Calgary’s sputtering economic recovery continues without a shot in the arm from the energy industry, and there are a multitude of factors local, national and international that will contribute to what happens next. But what is certain that the enterprising attitude of its inhabitants isn’t going anywhere.
Marketing matters: from IBM to Kyndryl
Prior to joining Kyndryl as Chief Marketing Officer, Maria had a 25-year career at IBM, most recently as the tech giant’s CMO where she oversaw all marketing professionals and activities across North America, Canada and Latin America. She has held senior global marketing positions in a variety of disciplines and business units across IBM, most notably strategic initiatives in Smarter Cities and Watson Customer Engagement, as well as leading teams in services, business analytics, and mobile and industry solutions. She is known for her work with teams to leverage data, analytics and cloud technologies to build deeper engagements with customers and partners.
With a passion for marketing, business and people, and a recognized expert in data-driven marketing and brand engagement, Maria talks to Business Chief about her new role, her leadership style and what success means to her.
You've recently moved from IBM to Kyndryl, joining as CMO. Tell us about this exciting new role?
I’m Chief Marketing Officer for Kyndryl, the independent company that will be created following the separation from IBM of its Managed Infrastructure Services business, expected to occur by the end of 2021. My role is to plan, develop, and execute Kyndryl's marketing and advertising initiatives. This includes building a company culture and brand identity on which we base our marketing and advertising strategy.
We have an amazing opportunity ahead at Kyndryl to create a company brand that will stand apart in the market by leading with our people first. Once we are an independent company, each Kyndryl employee will advance the vital systems that power human progress. Our people are devoted, restless, empathetic, and anticipatory – key qualities needed as we build on existing customer relationships and cultivate new ones. Our people are at the heart of this business and I am deeply hopeful and excited for our future.
What experiences have helped prepare you for this new opportunity?
I’ve had a very rich and diverse career history at IBM that has lasted 25+ years. I started out in sales but landed explored opportunities at IBM in different roles, business units, geographies, and functions. Marketing and business are my passions and I landed on Marketing because it allowed me to utilize both my left and right brain, bringing together art and science. In college, I was no tonly a business major, but an art major. I love marketing because I can leverage my extensive knowledge of business, while also being able to think openly and creatively.
The opportunities I was given during my time at IBM and my natural curiosity have led me to the path I’m on now and there’s no better next career step than a once-in-a-lifetime-opportunity to help launch a company. The core of my role at Kyndryl is to create a culture centered on our people and growing up in my career at IBM has allowed me to see first-hand how to prioritize people and ensure they are at the heart of progress in everything Kyndryl will do.
How would you describe your leadership style?
I believe that people aren't your greatest assets, they are your only assets. My platform and background for leadership has always been grounded in authenticity to who I am and centered on diversity and inclusion. I immigrated to the US from Chile when I was 10 years old and so I know the power and beauty that comes from leaning into what makes you different from other people, and that's what I want every person in my marketing organization to feel – the value in bringing their most authentic self to work every day. The way our employees feel when they show up for themselves authentically is how they will also show up for our customers, and strong relationships drive growth.
I think this is especially true in light of a world forever changed by the pandemic. Living through such an unprecedented time has reinforced that we are all humans. We can't lead or care for one another without empathy and I think leaders everywhere have been reminded of this.
What’s the best leadership advice you’ve received?
When I was growing up as an immigrant in North Carolina, I often wanted to be just like everyone else. But my mother always told me: Be unique, be memorable – you have an authentic view and experience of the world that no one else will ever have, so don't try to be anyone else but you.
What does success look like to you?
I think the concept of success is multi-faceted. From a career perspective, being in a job where you're respected and appreciated, and where you can see how your contributions are providing value by motivating your teams to be better – that's success! From a personal perspective, there is no greater accomplishment than investing in the next generation. I love mentoring younger professionals – they are the future. I want my legacy as a leader to include providing value in work culture, but also in leaving a personal impact on the lives of professionals who will carry the workforce forward. Finding a position in life with a job and company that offers me a chance at all of that is what success looks like to me.
What advice would you give to your younger self just starting out in the industry?
I've always been a naturally curious person and it's easy for me to over-commit to projects that pique my interest. I've learned over years of practice how to manage that, so to my younger self I’d say… prioritize the things that are most important, and then become amazing at those things.