Chairman & CEO, MDC Partners
Education: Dropped out of university to start MDC
¢Launches Multi Discipline Communications in 1980 with $500 from a credit card
¢Takes the company public in 1987 on the Toronto Stock Exchange
¢Launches First Asset Management Inc., a money manager focused on high-net-worth individuals, in 1998
¢In 2004, begins divesting MDC’s security printing operations to focus on marketing and communications
I have two questions. First, you’ve made some very nice contributions to the community in the past. Where does this come from within you, and when did you first recognize it was the correct thing to do?
Peter Allen, President
Electrical Contacts Ltd., Hanover, Ont.
Very early on, I learned that it’s easy to make a living but it’s tough to make a difference. I’ve been privileged by my association with some great business and community leaders, such as Seymour Schulich, Lawrence Bloomberg, Gerry Schwartz and Isadore Sharpe. My perspective, which is different than most, is that you can give in many ways. You can give time, talent or treasure—all three are best. You can give anonymously, posthumously or actively. It’s a treat to have the opportunity to give while you’re young so that you can see the fruits of your labour. Candidly, I’ve found that the more generous I’ve been, the more successful I’ve been.
With the marketing industry being so competitive, how do you maintain your edge over the competition?
Eric Schamann, Printing Consultant
Charterhouse Printing Services Ltd., London, Ont.
The limiting factor around business success today is not financial capital but human or “creative” capital. My constant message to our partner organizations is that access to talent is our competitive edge in a creative industry whose principal assets go up and down the elevator every day, and that we must be on a constant lookout for talent and acquire talent when it’s available as opposed to when we need it. I also think we’ve created a unique network within MDC that’s predicated on two fundamental principals. One is the empowerment of talent, and the other is wealth sharing.
If you were about to launch a new product to market with no marketing budget, how would you go about it?
The benefit that exists with new media is you have instant access to chat rooms, blogs and all kinds of things. It’s not hard to get a message out there today, if you’re clever and innovative. The viral marketing campaigns we did [for Burger King] with Subservient Chicken, which cost us $40,000 and generated 500 million hits, show that the right idea launched in the right way can make a big impact for very little money.
How do you stay motivated and persistent?
Salvador Valenzuela, Business Analyst, I.T.
Roots Canada Ltd., Toronto
My motivation is tied up in my desire to explore the art of the possible. As I see more and more potential, I have this desire to keep growing. I also think that the more you achieve, the more you get the bug of further achievement. That’s not in monetary terms; that’s in terms of accomplishment and personal growth. In terms of my persistence, Ray Kroc had a very wonderful expression: He said, “Persistence and determination alone is omnipotent.” I really believe that, and all of the very successful people that I’ve met believe that hard work and stick-to-itiveness will overcome a great deal of adversity.
Why do you have only one woman on your management team, and what does MDC do to diversify its workforce?
Judy Clark, Business Manager
Bortolotto & Associates, Nanaimo, B.C.
We actually have a great number of women on our management team, which includes our senior partners. There’s Joanne Coffman in HR, Donna Granato in investor relations, Lorraine Tao and Elspeth Lynn at Zig, Nancy Ladenheim at Bryan Mills Group, EsmÃ© Carroll, the CEO of ACLC, and many others. We have a very egalitarian culture; we don’t care about pedigree, background, expertise or experience—just the ability to produce results.
How should one choose a strong board of directors?
Finding more talented women is a challenge with boards. Those women with great profiles and great accomplishments are in such huge demand that it’s hard to acquire their involvement. But, in general, it’s important to find people who have real expertise and complementary skills. They also need the desire to contribute their wisdom, contacts, advice and expertise, and they must be prepared to take the time to understand the business, industry and the opportunities so that they can play a value-added role. And I think it’s important, not only to establish the expectations you have for the director in terms of their contributions to the company, but also for the director to establish what they are looking for from the company in order to fulfill their responsibility.
When you are small and the banks offer you little if any financial assistance, how do you deal with the stress of financial uncertainty?
Terma Industrial Solutions Inc., ChÃ¢teauguay, Que.
Nobody ever has enough money to buy their first house, and nobody ever has enough money to build their first business. When you go into business for yourself, you need to expect that you will experience adversity and uncertainty. But I do think it’s getting easier to finance a new business, because there are more capital sources available. And don’t just look at the Canadian marketplace for capital. If I could go back and do things differently, I would have moved towards larger sources of capital earlier, and broadened my geographic reach to access those sources.
What percentage of your success would you honestly say was pure luck?
Maple Ridge, B.C.
I think everybody encounters the same amount of good fortune in their lifetime, but not everybody is in a position or able to capitalize on every opportunity that comes to them. Being lucky requires that you prepare yourself every day to identify and capitalize on opportunity. There have been many times in my life when something could have gone one way or the other; good fortune enabled it to go my way, but I was always prepared to take advantage of the opportunity when it came. If success is 90% preparation, and 10% opportunity, and you don’t have any control over opportunity, then the only thing you can do is focus on the 90% that you do control. That’s how I focus.
Ask the Legends is your chance to pick the brains of Canada’s greatest entrepreneurs. Upcoming guests include Roots co-founder Michael Budman and retail giant John Forzani (Sport Chek, Sports Experts). Send your questions and suggestions for future profiles to Legends@PROFIT.rogers.com.