Each year we like to look back and survey the stories that resonated most with Canadian Business readers. Here are the top 10 stories as measured by the number of people who read them on CanadianBusiness.com. (For the purposes of this list I’ve excluded popular annual rankings like Canada’s Best Jobs, Canada’s Richest People, and Canada’s Richest Neighbourhoods — things we know people love reading year in and year out.)
Thanks for a great 2014, and all the best for the coming year. Maybe you’d like to consider subscribing to Canadian Business to ensure you start 2015 off right with our our annual Opportunities Issue in January.
Our in-house ethics blogger (he really does go by @ethicsblogger) Chris MacDonald turned a moment of personal frustration with Keurig’s new “2.0” single-cup coffee-brewing system into a larger point about the obligations companies have to serve their best customers, instead of trying to block competitors. It topped the list because it turns out that most of Reddit apparently shares Chris’s frustration and upvoted the post more than 5,000 times.
The battle of the K-cups is about a bunch of things: intellectual property, competition, and innovation for starters. The back-and-forth of those things is pretty much standard fare in a thriving market economy. But ethical businesses—not to mention smart businesses—need to work harder to stay true to their goal of providing good value to their customers.
The newest Dragon in CBC’s Den, with his combination of motor-mouth intensity and Willy Wonka wardrobe, captured audiences’ imaginations from the moment he stepped on screen this fall. Senior writer Joe Castaldo delved deep into Michael Wekerle’s world for this cover story on the founder of Difference Capital and his ups and downs. In a Canadian landscape full of safely bland business icons, Wek is a noisy blur of colour that everyone wanted to know more about.
It’s still early in the afternoon when Wekerle peels off the tank top and climbs into a boxing ring set up for a charity match, exposing a torso adorned with tattoos. There’s a heart inked on his chest, a peace sign on his neck and the iconic Rolling Stones lips-and-tongue logo on his left bicep. He’s not slated to box, but as his bemused executive assistant explains from the sidelines, “He just had to get in the ring.” Wekerle hurls himself against the ropes like a professional wrestler before launching into the air, his gloved fists raised in triumph.
Kate Wilkinson interviewed CEO Peter Aceto about the story behind ING Direct’s rebranding as Tangerine. With a loyal customer base who were keen to preserve the things they liked about one of the most innovative banks in Canada, readers were curious about how the name change happened. Along the way we learned why the bank has no logo, and why you’ll never see any fruit in its advertisements.
The company hired California-based marketing experts Lexicon Branding, the same team that helped Research In Motion become BlackBerry, and came up with the names Swiffer and Febreze. The bank then started asking customers and employees in both focus group settings and online surveys what they thought the ING Direct brand represented.
During the throes of Ontario’s provincial election in the spring, our economics blogger Mike Moffatt dropped a bomb on the Progressive Conservatives’ “million jobs plan” when he did the math and found that the numbers didn’t really work.
While the policies of the Million Jobs Plan may be economically beneficial, the Tory job numbers are an absolute disaster. The entire plan needs to be redrafted, as the party made an inexcusable and elementary mistake in mathematics. I have serious concerns on what this episode will do for political discourse in the province. If the lesson that politicians draw from this lesson is not “check your math” but rather “don’t release details”, then we are all made worse off.
Kate Wilkinson ran down this gallery of pointless junk on display at the annual Consumer Electronics Show, January’s annual gadget extravaganza. While the show is also an important barometer of real trends that did in fact have real applications during the remainder of 2014, things like a combination toilet-paper-and-iPad-holder vividly demonstrate that not all technology is innovative.
Matthew McClearn’s feature delved into the troubling question of whether some of the workers who built a mine in Eritrea for Canadian company Nevsun were forced conscripts. That question remains unanswered definitively—but the case raises important issues for every Canadian company doing resource development abroad.
If one finds the allegations at Bisha unsettling, perhaps it’s because slavery seems an antiquated concept. The campaign to abolish the trans-Atlantic slave trade began more than two centuries ago, and forced labour is prohibited by two 20th-century conventions—the more recent International Labour Organization’s Abolition of Forced Labour Convention was in 1957—and both were almost universally ratified. How is it, then, that when allegations arose that a Canadian mine may have been built with forced labour, the government’s response was largely confined to drawing up “media lines” and “talking points?”
With World Cup mania in the air last July, Murad Hemmadi talked with the Canadian Soccer Association about their stated intention to bid for the FIFA tournament for 2026. While that may seem like a tall order for a country so low in the global football rankings as Canada, it may not be as crazy as it sounds.
Canada will play host to the 2015 Women’s World Cup as well as the U-20 Women’s World Cup later this year, and successes with those events could pave the way for a shot at FIFA’s biggest prize. FIFA has yet to announce the timeline and requirements for a 2026 bid. CSA general secretary Peter Montopoli says he has been in contact with staff in the office of Minister of State (Sport) Bal Gosal to discuss the CSA’s plans; Gosal says he’s had no official contact yet, but that the federal government is open to the possibility of a bid.
This in-depth investigation by Mark Brown, Joe Castaldo and Matthew McClearn crunched the numbers to show how some Canadian companies are paying practically no taxes. The tactics they employ are completely legal, and in some cases ingenious. Part of the reason this feature was such a popular read was that it functioned as a bit of a Rorschach blot: some readers felt we were persecuting companies simply for being good at finding efficiencies within the bounds of the tax code; others felt we were glorifying unethical conduct and promoting aggressive tax avoidance schemes that are unethical even if legal.
These companies are using several different strategies to lower their taxes, but the government just keeps adding to their arsenal. A new policy that just came into effect in 2009 allows Canada to sign tax information exchange agreements with countries such as Bermuda, the Cayman Islands and the Isle of Man. It was intended to allow authorities to ferret out scofflaws hiding their money in offshore accounts. Instead, it ended up allowing companies to set up subsidiaries in these jurisdictions and bring their profits home tax-free.
One of Canada’s hottest tech companies is enterprise social media management service Hootsuite. Its explosive growth prompted the company to open a second office in Vancouver earlier this year and they gave us a tour to show off the standing desks, collaboration tents, and dog-friendly lounges that keep its young workforce humming along.
Hootsuite, the rapidly growing Vancouver startup that’s helping thousands of companies better manage their social media marketing, recently opened a second office to accommodate all its new employees—470 of them in the last year alone. The new office, referred to internally as “HQ2,” is an exemplar of many of the modern trends in workplace design, and given Hootsuite’s stated intention to stay a proudly Canadian company, it’s filled with nods to its home and native land.
Sound the alarm! Sarah Hood uncovered signs of troubles in Canada’s strategic Lego supply by talking to owners of independent toy stores and discovering that they weren’t getting their shipments from the Danish toymaker as planned.
Guy Bagley, co-owner of The Swag Sisters Toy Store in Toronto, was shocked to discover he’d been cut off without notice when he checked online to confirm a birthday order. “At that point, I found out the five orders we had in the system were all gone,” Bagley says. “They were in the ‘completed’ file, and beside them they said ‘cancelled’. I just about had a heart attack.”