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ATB Financial executive vice-president of business and agriculture

There’s some hard-won wisdom in Alberta that has taught business owners to keep their eyes fixed on their endgame.

With soft oil prices and job losses in the headlines, it can be difficult to maintain unwavering optimism while adapting to the situation, but that’s mainly what’s happening, says Wellington Holbrook, ATB Financial executive vice-president of business and agriculture.

“I think what we’re generally hearing from our clients is, ‘I feel OK, but it’s hard not to notice what’s going on in the province, so what does it mean for my business?' ” says Holbrook.

“And I would respond that it just means you have to be smart about how you’re running your business by managing costs well, protecting key talent and being diligent overall.”

The ATB Business Beat, a quarterly report that measures the attitudes of Albertans about the state of the economy, shows that confidence is starting to rebound after faltering earlier in the year. Almost half of Albertans now say their local economy is strong, up from 40 per cent the last time the survey was completed in mid-April.

And 43 per cent of Albertans believe their local economy will be stronger in six months, which is almost double the 24 per cent of people who felt that way in April.

Optimism, however, is no substitute for sound planning, says Holbrook, and Albertans know that very well. 

“Successful business people don’t see hope as a strategy,” he says. “Successful leaders and business people adapt to changing environments, and Albertans are experts at that.”

He says some clients have provided excellent examples of adaptation — thinking that since sales opportunities in Canada might be more constrained it might be an ideal time to explore other markets.

“Some are looking at international markets for the first time and others are simply looking east in Canada,” says Holbrook. “We have one client who previously only served the Alberta market whose sales are now exploding in Ontario and Eastern Canada, and that certainly isn’t an isolated case.”

In addition to exploring new markets, a downturn can present opportunities to refine business operations, streamline the bottom line and improve profitability, says Holbrook.

“Is this an opportunity to restructure loans and debt, perhaps? Can you manage your banking in a more cost-effective way? Do you have the most efficient cost structure in place? Can you take another look at your value chain? This is a good time to meet with professionals to discuss these issues,” says Holbrook.

“When times get challenging you need to have strong relationships with the professionals that you work with, including accountants, bankers, lawyers and others. These are the people who can help you navigate through these situations and can provide you with sound advice.”

Overall, there is no doubt that strategic management becomes more important now than ever, but a healthy attitude can’t hurt either.

“I’ve lived in cities across Canada, and there really is something magical about Calgarians,” says Holbrook.

“They think big and they really do believe they can do it. It’s a great place to do business and it will continue to be.


Action Calgary

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