Schulich dean tells Canadian firms to ‘go for gold’

As Canadians cheer on our athletes in their quest for gold at the Winter Olympics, little focus is being given to an arena where Canadian competitors are falling behind: the global competition for markets, investment opportunities, knowledge industries and job-creating business expansion, wrote Dezsö Horváth, dean and Tanna H. Schulich Chair in Strategic Management in the Schulich School of Business at York University, in an opinion piece for The Globe and Mail Feb. 21.

The gradual decline in our global competitiveness has been in the making for nearly three decades. And precisely because it has been a comparatively slow process, punctuated with high-profile events, we tend to ignore it, wrote Horváth.

One reason for this is that Canadian firms have remained content to stay put at home, venturing at most to ship products to the United States. Some would argue that our relatively small size precludes Canada from creating truly transnational corporations…. This thinking is not going to win us any gold medals in the economic Olympics. In fact, it’s a disqualifier to start with. To stop us sliding on a downward trajectory, we need to put our thought process into reverse: We are too small not to go global.

But where do we start? Training future champions requires a three-pronged approach. The first step is to greatly enhance what we know about success factors behind small to medium enterprises (SMEs) going international. There is a startling paucity of knowledge in this area. Hence, we need action-oriented research to help develop supportive public policies. Secondly, we need to create formal and informal networks and forums where SME owners and managers can build contacts and exchange market intelligence. And thirdly, we need to provide strategic training and consulting for SMEs hungry to break into new markets around the world, wrote Horváth.

Poems by Olympic poet-in-residence soar with the athletes

As skaters jump, sliders race and skiers fly, so does the pen of Olympic poet-in-residence Priscila Uppal, an English professor in York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, wrote the Guelph Mercury Feb. 20.

Uppal, a gifted poet and novelist who is currently a writer-in-residence at St. John’s-Kilmarnock School, near Maryhill, is in Vancouver, where she is writing poem after poem celebrating the victories, the heartbreak, the weirdness and wonder of the 2010 Winter Olympics.

Uppal is volunteering in Vancouver with Canadian Athletes Now Fund, a non-profit organization that raises money to help top athletes cover their training costs and other expenses. As the fund’s Olympic poet-in-residence, she’s hanging out with Canadian athletes, learning their stories, watching the competitions – then writing. In March, she’ll do the same thing during the Paralympics in Vancouver and Whistler, BC – and for the Arctic Winter Games in Grande Prairie, Alta.

Uppal expects to find plenty of material in Vancouver to write two poems a day. They can be read by visiting her Web site at

Uppal, 35, has gained an international reputation for incisive and compelling writing. The journal World Literature Today has praised her as “one of the most engaging young poets writing in English in Canada today.”

As a professor of English and humanities, Uppal sees the effect of a culture that has removed much of the arts from schools and places too much emphasis on commercialization and pop culture. “It also concerns me that there’s a lack of experience with very serious art forms” such as literary novels, poetry, more challenging films. “For me, this (the Olympic poetry) is a way to reach people and have them participate in the arts side and the sports side.”

When the Olympics are over, Uppal will head to the Paralympic Games, which deserve much more attention than they get, she says. “My father has been a quadriplegic since I was two, and a single dad. He’s a very brave and stubborn man. I have a huge amount of respect for the achievement possible with physical disability.”

Her father encouraged her to be active in sports and is very proud she is at the Olympics writing sport poetry. “He loves watching sport, so he’s tickled pink about this.”

What would Dilbert do?

If you can’t beat ’em, join ’em – and watch ’em. That seems to be the attitude of some employers across Canada who are encouraging staffers to get into the Olympic spirit, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 22.

Rather than scold employees for live streaming Olympic events while they should be working, some see it as an opportunity for team building. Accounting firm Ernst & Young has established viewing areas in all its offices and staff are urged to get involved in a variety of Olympic-themed contests and pools. Toronto’s Yorkdale Shopping Centre has also created a large viewing area so patrons and staff can take in the Games.

Richard Leblanc, a professor in the School of Administrative Studies, Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies, says the Olympics are undoubtedly taking a toll on workplace productivity, but adds it’s a great time for companies to strengthen morale.

  • “You don’t want to appear draconian or hierarchical or top down because that would be resented by the employees,” said Richard Leblanc, in The Canadian Press Feb. 22. “You can structure it so the work still gets done, but so you have a bit more flexibility.”

While it’s tough to judge the impact the Olympics is having on workplace productivity, there’s no doubt it’s lagging. “You don’t have Olympics in a country for two weeks and not have some distraction in the workplace,” he said.

US professor speaks at York’s Performing Diaspora

The third annual Performing Diaspora will be held on the campus of York University and comprises a month-long series of events, performances and workshops that celebrate African culture in honour of Black History Month, wrote North Carolina’s The Fayetteville Observer Feb. 22 in a story about speaker Brooksie Harrington, an English professor at Fayetteville State University.

Performing Diaspora is the flagship project of the Harriet Tubman Institute for Research on the Global Migrations of African Peoples, housed at York University.

“It’s always surprising to learn how many people only think of Black History Month as an American phenomenon,” said Paul Lovejoy, director of the Harriet Tubman Institute. “Black history is a subject that has global implications,” said Lovejoy. “At the centre, we kind of joke that many people only think of black history during February. It’s only one month, and why is it the shortest month?”

Encouraging the entrepreneurial spirit

Low-income Canadians are stuck in a catch-22, explains York University economics Professor Brenda Spotton Visano in a story by The Globe and Mail Feb. 20 on the Black Creek Microcredit Program . They want to start or expand their business, but need capital; to get a loan, they need equity or a credit rating they don’t have.

The beneficial effects of enabling entrepreneurs are obvious, she says. On an economic level, you have people off social assistance and paying taxes; if they’re successful, they employ others. But there are less tangible effects on a community, as well.

“You start to make a difference where the community comes together … there are people in my community who not only believe in me but they’re going to support me. That’s where you start to see indicators around self-actualization start to improve.”

In Black Creek’s case, ACCESS Community Capital Fund is the guarantor on loans from Alterna Savings Union. Would-be borrowers submit a business plan, sit through an interview with someone on the loan review committee and, if their plan is sound, get a $5,000 loan as well as access to business-mentoring programs.

One thing these agencies aren’t is self-sustaining. You can’t run a microloan organization that will make enough from investments and interest payments to keep it afloat, even with the high repayment rates that ACCESS and other institutions have enjoyed.

“It’s not self-financing, it should not be expected to be self-financing,” Spotton Visano said. Access’s programs exist thanks to volunteers. But they’re hoping grants or donations will enable them to hire salaried staff.

That lack of profitability is often a disincentive for commercial banks to offer microloan components; groups like Alterna, which is providing the loans for Black Creek’s program, do so as part of their corporate social responsibility arm.

“We look at a totally different skill-set [than in traditional retail loans]: We look at the skills the individual brings, we look at their business plan, we look at their technical and operational skills,” said Susan Henry, manager of corporate social responsibility.

“It’s a core piece for Alterna.… We believe in servicing our community.”

  • Cleoni Crawford is convinced she has a great business idea, wrote the North York Mirror Feb. 18 in a story about the first loan recipient of the Black Creek MicroCredit Program.

“I was so happy. They are trying to fill the void” for businesses who can’t get conventional financing, said Crawford at the launch of the program Tuesday at York Woods Library Theatre.

York West Councillor Anthony Perruzza and York Centre Councillor Maria Augimeri praised the program, a collaboration between York University, Black Creek residents and agencies, the ACCESS Community Capital Fund and Alterna Savings.

Vancouver’s ‘ugly sister’ puts on a fresh face

Roger Keil, director of York University’s City Institute, says the enormous land mass of edge cities such as Surrey, BC, or Mississauga demands separate nodes of development, wrote The Globe and Mail Feb. 20. He’s witnessed the pressures first-hand: “You can see the tension building around York University. What was once an empty, barren field in the 1990s turns out now to be one of the most networked places in the Toronto area. That means a GO Transit station, subway, buses and Canada’s first urban national park…. It is becoming a very attractive option.”

Olympics, G8 stretch military staff thin

With more than 4,000 Canadian Forces personnel assigned to Olympic security and preparations under way for a G8 summit in Ontario, the military doesn’t expect its staff to get much of a rest until later in the summer, according to Defence Department documents, wrote Canwest News Service Feb. 21.

Defence analyst Martin Shadwick of the York Centre for International & Security Studies, said this year is shaping up to be one of the busiest for the Canadian Forces in the post-Second World War period. “It’s something they can’t sustain,” said Shadwick, a political science professor at Glendon.

Coalition idea rises again

Remember the negative public reaction in English Canada to a Liberal-NDP coalition government, promoted in late 2008? asked The Vancouver Sun Feb. 20.

Well, the idea is back and it’s being encouraged by two prominent and respected BC political scientists, Reg Whitaker, Distinguished Research Professor Emeritus of political science from York’s Faculty of Liberal Arts & Professional Studies who is now an adjunct professor at the University of Victoria, and Philip Resnick, a professor at the University of British Columbia.

Whitaker and Resnick reason that some 65 per cent of voters don’t want a Conservative government, “for a whole variety of reasons – its contempt for Parliament and for an independent civil service, its poor environmental policy, its gutting of cultural programs, its weakening of Canada’s international position as a respected middle power.”

Not so long ago, dangerous car defects were kept secret

Consumers are more powerful because of a simple tool – the Internet, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 20 in a story about progress by automakers in issuing recalls when problems are discovered.

Alan Middleton, a marketing professor in the Schulich School of Business at York University, says consumers armed with piles of information are more confident about pursuing a big manufacturer than a decade ago. “We call it the ‘prosumer’,” he says. “We take charge of this far more now.”

York grad calculates how best to channel her inner Carmen

Inside a designer’s studio in Yorkville, we await the appearance of an opera diva, wrote the National Post Feb. 20 about opera singer and York grad Lauren Segal (BSc Spec. Hons. ’99) in a story about the mezzo-soprano who will be performing an aria from Carmen on Feb. 26 at the Canadian Opera Company’s annual fundraising gala.

Segal was introduced to opera when she joined a choir at York University, where she received her bachelor of science in physics and astronomy. In 2008, she sang at the prestigious Salzburg Festival’s Young Singers Project; she performed the part of Suzuki in Opera Hamilton’s production of Madama Butterfly and Smeton in Anna Bolena with Opera in Concert.

The house that rocked Spadina

Tom Stephen (MES ’85) left Saint John, NB, for Toronto in 1981 to pursue a postgraduate degree in urban planning at York University’s Faculty of Environmental Studies, wrote the New Brunswick Telegraph-Journal Feb. 20 in a story about a house at 320 Spadina Rd. he once owned with the late blues guitarist Jeff Healey. After hitching a U-Haul to the back of his ’77 Trans Am, the last decision he had to make was whether to bring his drums.

“The funny thing is, the drums were just a hobby I used to drive my family crazy,” Stephen says. “What it came down to was putting my drums in, or a small wicker couch.

“My dad came out and said, ‘For God’s sake, take the drums.’ I still think about what may have happened if he hadn’t done that. I would probably be an urban planner screwing up cities somewhere.”

Sharing the road

The automakers should get to know Matthew Baggetta, wrote the Toronto Star Feb. 20. The 28-year-old English student and part-time disc jockey lives with his girlfriend in the city. He takes transit to his classes at York University’s Keele campus and, like many twentysomething urban dwellers, he can’t afford to own a car.

It’s why Baggetta is one of roughly 20,000 Toronto members of AutoShare and Zipcar, two car-sharing services in the city that have enjoyed rapid growth in the past four years.

On air

  • Dan Church, head coach of the women’s Lions hockey team and an assistant coach with Canada’s national under-22 team, spoke about Team Canada’s women’s hockey squad, on CBC-TV Feb. 19.