It’s not uncommon for business owners to leave the IT matters to others, but in a world that is becoming increasingly dominated by technology, it helps to have a firm grasp of the tools that will turn your Internet marketing efforts into a success. Without staying on top of who is visiting your website and how long they stay, as well as other important demographic statistics, you will be at a definite disadvantage when it comes to streamlining your online presence to better serve your customers. You need to know if your website is effective and if it’s converting visitors into clients.
Keeping and analyzing stats doesn’t have to be expensive, however, and in fact it has been greatly simplified over the years thanks to Google. Their analytics software—aptly named Google Analytics—provides a host of features that you can use to track potential customers who visit your company’s site. It is also very easy to get started, and involves only a few basic steps:
It takes little more than access to the back-end of your site and a Google account to start collecting valuable information. Make sure that you choose a secure account that only you have access to and visit http://www.google.com/analytics/ to sign up for Google Analytics.
You will be prompted to answer a few basic questions about your website, and from there you will be offered a tracking code that you may copy and paste directly into the HTML of your site. Normally, you would place this in the area between thetags; however, if you are using content management software of some kind, there may be other ways to insert Google’s script that doesn’t require you to dig into the source code of your pages.
Using Analytics for the First Time
Google Analytics has a multitude of useful functions and can be overwhelming at first, so it’s best to concentrate on a few key areas when you’re getting started. As soon as you have had enough traffic trickling in, you will be able to see on your Google Analytics dashboard where in the world your traffic is coming from, the general age groups of your traffic, and what other sites on the Internet your visitors have been coming from. This in and of itself is valuable, but there are many more features.
One of Google Analytics’ best traits is its real-time reporting. You can view statistics on specific visitors that are currently perusing your website, and you can even set Analytics to alert you the moment that certain events—such as your traffic reaching a certain threshold—occur.
Customize Analytics for Your Goals
Every business will have different goals for its site, and you can tailor Analytics to suit yours. For example, if you are concerned with a new sign-up form for your mailing list which you are A/B testing, you can set parameters to track the conversion rate. The same can be done when it comes to e-commerce sales on your site, or any other task that you are inducing your visitors to perform.
Google Analytics is a versatile tool that is invaluable for any business that generates sales through its website. If you don’t already use this popular web application, it may be time to go through the short and simple sign-up process.
One of the hardest tasks that you will be faced with in an entrepreneurial endeavor—or any journey that involves leading others—is helping people to see the end product of the vision that you have in your mind. Since you cannot simply transfer your thoughts into the minds of others, you have to face the non-trivial challenge of communicating past their personal biases and individual perspectives. No two people see the world in exactly the same way, but you must find a way to help others see at least a glimpse of your inner world in order for them to understand the bigger picture of what needs to be done.
Hiring purely obedient contractors or employees that have no commitment to your larger story, and don’t really care about the end goals of their work is fine in some cases, but you may find yourself fighting an uphill battle to get people motivated and to understand the meaning of their role in it all. On the other hand, a person who sees your vision is much more likely to not need to be micromanaged, to be more adaptable to changes, and to understand intuitively what it is that you are looking for.
In order to guide people towards your ends and help them to see your vision, it takes more than simply rational explanation. As much as the pieces seem to fit perfectly well in your mind as a logical whole, the truth is that people need a narrative to be the emotional glue that will hold all of these truths together for them. How do you do this, though? How do you induce people to see your project the way that you see it? Nothing you can do will guarantee it, but there are a few tactics that you can employ to help communicate your intent in a much better way than simply relaying a linear set of instructions day after day:
1) First, establish the team’s identity.
People have much more of a sense of mission when they identify with their role. This sort of thinking is both a positive and negative trait in human beings; it has built empires as well as destroyed them. Use this powerful source of motivation to your advantage. Tell your team stories about what kind of people you are and what sort of character your organization has. Tie this identity to the kind of goals that you want to achieve.
Take a cue from the likes of Walt Disney, who was very specific in that his company produce media that embodied a quality of childlike wonder. Observe Steve Jobs and how he demanded nearly inhuman results from his team of “pirates” during the microcomputer revolution.
“Who am I?” is a very important question to every person, and if you can at least partially answer that question for members of your team, you will gain devotion in return.
2) Explain the path towards your goal as if it has already happened.
Describe things as clearly as if the finished product were sitting before you. Even if plans change, people work best when they feel that there is always a direction, something definite to shoot for. Speak in concrete terms, and see the goal the way you would if it was already done. A little haziness can happen sometimes, but you can’t expect people to latch onto fog. Tell them stories of what you want and exactly how you plan to get there.
3) Allow your team to give input every step of the way.
People can get behind something much more easily when they feel a sense of ownership. They are also much more likely to understand what your goals are if they are an active participant in discussions on how to get there. Reward your team members for good suggestions and constantly ask for their input. This might even help you to expand your own limited perspective when it comes to your projects.
4) Show concrete examples of what you want.
Sometimes your vision may be for something that does not yet exist in this world, but a case like this is very rare. More often than not, there will be examples of other companies with similar goals who have achieved their ends. Offer real-world examples of the results that you want, and the members of your team will have a much easier time understanding you. As you compare the abstract ideas floating around in your mind with the concrete results of other organizations, you may even realize that you didn’t have it as well figured out as you originally thought.
5) Give your team a big “why.”
You can try to communicate the path to your goal, and you can try to influence your team to personalize their roles, but ultimately this may not be enough if the individual members don’t have a big enough “why.” You may have observed that morale is particularly low in people who feel that their work has no meaning. If your team is struggling to find a meaning to what they’re doing, then they probably don’t understand your vision well enough. Sometimes the very thing that will snap everything else into focus is revealing why you are ultimately pursuing your specific goals. The why is what determines the how, and so it will allow your team members to better understand the anatomy of your goals.
For example, if you decide that your business should enter a very untested market, then explain to your team members why you think that you will meet success on the other side. Give specific reasons and share all of your research with them. Do not let the direction of your projects be a huge mystery while you play the dictator. No one works well if they believe they are being led to their possible doom.
Ultimately, though, the best thing that you can do to clarify your vision to others is to first clarify it with yourself. As you write down your plan, think of all the details as carefully as possible. Does anything seem fuzzy? Are you having trouble putting something into words? Do you have any negative gut feelings about possible obstacles in the future? Perhaps these are areas where you are not yet clear yourself. Once your vision is fully articulated in your mind, it is much easier for others to get on board. An obvious confidence in what you want will almost always induce others to follow, and you might find that your actions and demeanor will do much more to explain your vision than your words.
In a perfect world, every person you’ve ever hired is a completely mature adult who is very socially aware, takes almost nothing personally, and has a nearly super-human ability to turn the other cheek when others don’t display similar qualities. Unfortunately, we don’t live in a perfect world—we live in this one. Sometimes you will be faced with having to deal with professional (or unprofessional) conflict among your employees, conflict that may even detract from the normal productivity in the workplace.
While you may feel, as many do, that you can’t be bothered with your employees’ personality clashes, these are the sorts of problems that can escalate and affect the company’s reaching its goals. Morale can slowly erode over time as problems are left unaddressed and your employees start working against each other instead of as a team. Workplace politics can be very costly, and you will want to limit this kind of inefficiency as much as you can. So, if you find that employees turn to you when they feel that there are unresolvable personal issues on their level, you might want to step up to the challenge and stamp these problems out at their root using some tried and true guidelines:
1) Don’t paint a rosy picture.
It’s easy to delude oneself that a conflict doesn’t exist by sweeping it under the rug. For many people, this is their very definition of “professionalism”–to essentially pretend as if human nature and conflict is non-existent, rather than to address it directly in a mature way.
You may be tempted to simply chastise your employees for their in-fighting, or to encourage them to ignore the seething problems underneath, but this will only lead to the illusion of peace. You might very well find over the long-term that your denial will come back to haunt you. Allow your employees to be honest with you about what is happening, and don’t try to compel them to sugar-coat things.
2) Strive to be non-judgmental.
Do you want the truth? If you do, then your employees need to feel that you won’t over-react or otherwise make snap judgments about what they will share with you. Get both sides of the story during conflict-resolution, and try to remain as impartial as possible during your information-gathering phase. Even if you hear about an employee doing something highly inappropriate, suspend your reaction for the moment, and listen carefully. This will encourage people to tell you the whole story, rather than just what they think you will be able to tolerate well. To truly get to the root of the problem, you will need the whole story.
3) Examine issues as quickly as possible and as they come.
If you preferred to ignore conflict in the past, you may have noticed how it can seethe and blow up over time. Sure, some problems can “take care of themselves,” but this isn’t usually the case, so address conflicts as you become aware of them and smother them before they become bigger problems. If John comes to you complaining about how he thinks Karen took all the credit for the last major project, take this small resentment seriously and bring it out into the open before it turns into an all-out war of egos between two employees.
4) Help your employees see their common ground.
When discussing the problem with your employees, try to see where they might agree amongst the disagreement. Using this starting point, you might actually be able to discover that the conflict was due to a misunderstanding. Often times, it is exactly as the cliché says: 10% of arguments are due to a difference of opinion; 90% are due to a wrong tone of voice.
5) Make a plan together that ends the tension.
Ideally, all parties are involved when you come to a decision about some kind of resolution. Beware, however, of “compromise,” as it has a tendency to give both sides of the conflict less than what they want. It is much better to think win-win, and try to find a way for all employees involved to save face and have their needs met if possible.
6) Be pro-active about conflict resolution.
One of the best approaches is to simply address problems before they even happen. If you see an employee being negative, stepping all over the boundaries of others, or simply behaving in a way that invites conflict, bring it to his attention. Many people aren’t aware of how they affect others, and they may not even realize that the way they act causes the people around them to resent them.
In particular, examine employees that are in leadership or managerial positions. Power—even in relatively tiny quantities—can enhance personality problems, and an accumulation of small injustices against employees that are lower in the hierarchy can be disastrous for morale. For these sorts of people, do your best to encourage self-awareness.
7) Screen problematic people from the beginning.
When assembling your team, it is extremely important that you take personalities into account as much as you do technical ability. It would be great if people could always put their differences aside and focus on their work with the precision and depersonalization of a fleet of robots, but technology is not yet that advanced. In the meantime, you will have to screen your employees as best you can before you even hire them.
While you are interviewing potential team members, ask them about their personal relationships with coworkers at their previous place of work. Ask them about conflicts they’ve had in the past and how they handled them. If your prospect seems to pit the blame on others and seems to take no responsibility for his hand in things, then think twice about bringing him in.
8) Lead by example.
As someone with a lot of influence, you could easily out-muscle anyone who disagrees with you by invoking your rank. Instead, show understanding towards others. Don’t take things personally when your employees have differing opinions from yours, and give each idea respect and consideration, even if you don’t personally agree.
Mediating conflicts between employees and dealing with other similar human problems can be one of the more difficult parts of being in a leadership position. Simply remember to remain calm and address the problems directly, rather than trying to ignore them, and half the battle is already won.
One common belief among people working their way into the boardroom is that they need governance training qualifications. While I don’t want to denigrate governance training courses or those who have qualifications, the notion they are a necessary prerequisite to landing a board role is, quite frankly, untrue. Before we talk about why governance training isn’t strictly necessary for would-be directors, let’s quickly bust myths around this belief.
Many believe that without a formal qualification they’ll be overlooked by boards. However, the reality is boards value expertise and experience over training. Out of our program faculty (all of whom are non-executive directors), fewer than half have governance training; likewise, of the people who go through our programs and land a board role, fewer than 20% have formal governance training.
Another misconception around the need for governance training is that without it you won’t have the financial and legal know-how to be effective. Of course, the need for this in the boardroom is vital, especially as it relates to your duties, but this can be learnt without going through formal training. Also, if you are a new director it’s highly unlikely you are being hired for your governance expertise.
What’s more important than this knowledge and anything you can glean from governance training is your experience, how you work with others and your ability to think independently, question, challenge and be held accountable.
Perhaps the reason that so many people go through governance training is because they believe it will allow them to easily find board work. However, these courses fail to offer advice and tips on how to follow through and land a board role or the soft skills needed to excel once you become a director. We believe it’s important to show people the practical steps they need to follow to land a board role, and the skills they’ll need to succeed.
We encourage directors to include training in their career plan but we also encourage them to educate themselves in a range of topics to be better governors; digital marketing, crisis management and cyber-security. As non-executive directors you will be presented with strategies in these areas and you need to ensure you can assess the risks and opportunities for your company and its stakeholders.
Again, none of this is to say that governance training courses offer no value. They do. It’s just they’ll do little to help you find a director position in the first place. We believe they offer more for people already on a board, being more practical and less theoretical. But before you’ve even set foot into the director space, governance training can be a little abstract.
My advice is to understand what governance training courses can do for you specifically. If you spend time on research and you deem it a necessary step, then by all means go ahead. But if you sign up to a governance training course – even a credible and reputable one – without knowing all the facts, then you may be about to spend a large amount of money on something that doesn’t offer much in return.
Paul Smith is the Co-founder & CEO of Future Directors Institute.
Back in the early days of digital marketing, marketers performed the ritual of pulling down raw log files from servers to learn insights about where people came from, what pages they visited, what actions they performed and so on. While the rise of Google and various digital tools have helped us overcome such primitive problems, the challenges faced by marketers in today’s buyers landscape have changed a great deal.
Buyers today have more information than they can even use. They are followed by ads everywhere they go on the web. It is not enough for a business to have an online presence. To get enough leads to feed their sales funnel, they need to deliver relevant content to their target audience. Moreover, they need to build a relationship that the customer buys into. If businesses don’t want their marketing message to get lost or ignored in a sea of competitors, it needs to be authentic and more tailored and personal than ever before. Customers are seeing through the Blogger networks who post for $$.
To achieve this we need to begin with the customer Journey, understanding what is the process of engagement for our customers, across all off and online channels. Then we can understand the opportunities available to engage. While personalisation is becoming essential to drive more sales, it is impossible to manually track down each visitor to a website, identifying them and then sending out relevant messages at a relevant time.
This is where marketing automation comes into picture. Marketing automation platforms, when fed with the right tasks and actions can increase lead generation by up to 5 times while decreasing the manual effort. Marketing automation lets companies achieve a host of different objectives ranging from generating more leads by identifying anonymous web visitors and capturing them with forms, to increasing number of qualified leads by nurturing all leads with personalized content, driving more sales by identifying sales-ready leads for the sales team, and helping them follow up as fast as possible, to improving up-selling and cross-selling by developing and retaining existing customers, and finally seeing a comprehensive ROI for every marketing tactic by tracking the entire sales process from end-to-end.
Proving ROI is an ongoing pain point for marketers, so it’s no surprise that 45% of agencies rely on marketing automation platforms to show ROI and 42% use marketing automation to measure performance for both their own marketing efforts and those of their clients. Nearly 90% of agencies say their marketing automation strategy is successful. *source sharpspring
Then again, there is the mammoth task facing agencies and companies while making the leap to marketing automation: implementation and ease of use.
While there is less manual effort required once the platform is well set up, it does take some expertise and resource to implement and integrate a company’s current processes into a new platform. Dedicated staff time is also required to monitor the results on an on-going basis and aligning objectives accordingly. It is not enough to purchase and install an automation software without feeding it with the right instructions from time to time. E.g. in regards to email marketing, while the software can personalise the content of an email and automatically trigger sending based on certain actions performed by a user, a marketer would still have to construct the email and set new triggers from time to time to prevent periods of no contact.
Marketing is notorious for being difficult to report on, from what’s working and what isn’t, to the ROI of a particular campaign. By capturing every lead that comes in, whether by phone or by form, you’ll have 100% attribution across the board. Among some of the most valuable features of marketing automation are analytics and reporting. Analytics is also the number one need that drives companies’ search for marketing automation. With all your digital assets under one hood, report generation becomes easier and consistent.
In summary, companies that invest initially in understanding their customer engagement opportunities through mapping out the journey and allocate a part of their marketing budget to automation this can increase their ROI manifold.
About Angela Mellak
A Marketing strategist, passionate about digital she has been focused on seeing women at the forefront of this movement and co-founded the Digital Women’s Network. With a career that spans over two decades in senior marketing roles, media, board and creative agency experience, across verticals such as; Retail, Financial Services, Real estate/Property, Technology/Mobile/Media, Creative/design, Automotive/Manufacturing and FMCG.
Reputation is essentially the sum of others’ perceptions. The nebulous and hard to measure nature of the asset leads many companies, particularly those with strong balance sheets and robust value propositions, to neglect investing in it. Tempting though it may be, there are many current examples of where indifference to the fundamentals of reputation has damaged individual companies before reverberating across entire industries.
For many years, Australia’s major banks accepted the post-GFC anti-bank zeitgeist as a phenomenon to be endured. Immensely profitable and consistently growing in value, the banks turned inward, focusing on their reputations in comparison to each other rather than on the industry as a whole.
As the decline of the sector’s reputation continued unabated, a perception began to build that the banks didn’t prioritise their customers, were run by ‘greedy’ executives and were uncompetitive.
Reinforced by regulator interventions, a series of high profile scandals and a rising disparity between official and bank interest rates, the banking sector’s reputation continued to diminish.
Year after year, record bank profits further embedded negative perceptions of banks while removing incentives to address the industry-wide reputational crisis. Profits were on the rise, why change?
The government sensed this reputational vulnerability and brazenly announced a $6.2 billion levy on the banks in this year’s budget. Tellingly, in this age of hyper partisanship the levy received almost unanimous political support. All sides of politics were content to bask in the prestige of positioning themselves as punishers of the banks.
When corporate reputation is low, companies and even whole sectors of the economy become vulnerable – and few are more reputation conscious than politicians. Gaining prominence by coming down hard on a sector with an image problem is an effective way for a politician to improve his or her own reputational stocks.
This reality is a serious concern for businesses. Governments have a long history of targeting organisations and industry sectors with poor reputations – often unfairly, and with potentially expensive and far reaching long-term consequences.
In 2014 the NSW government responded to public concerns about alcohol fuelled violence with legislation which dramatically reduced patronage of bars and clubs in Sydney and Kings Cross. The changes were rushed, and as a consequence many licensed venues with good compliance and safety records closed. Given the complex and multi-dimensional nature of the problem, many have identified the poor standing of bars and clubs as making them an easy target for a government keen to bolster its own reputation.
SenateSHJ’s Reputation Reality report found that corporate reputation may be an intangible concept, but senior executives appreciate it is a tangible asset. They recognise that reputation is a key component of their organisation’s success. Consequently, they are becoming more actively involved in building trust and putting systems in place to protect and reduce risks to their organisation’s reputation. As the examples cited demonstrate, this is rarely a straightforward proposition, and even the most sophisticated and well-resourced businesses and brands are not immune to missteps.
Over the years that SenateSHJ has worked with clients on reputation management, we have developed strategies and techniques which bring much needed order and clarity to the complex dynamics which feed into reputation. In our experience, starting simple is the best way to manage complex challenges and often brings other benefits. Stakeholder landscape mapping, for example, is a fundamental component of a reputation management strategy which many clients find provides invaluable strategic insights into their businesses.
If you haven’t already done so, take a step back and consider how your business is perceived. An interesting starting point is to empathise with the stakeholders who are not central to your business or organisation’s daily functions, but are familiar enough with what your organisation does to have a perception of it, and drill down from there. One thing is for certain: there are only upsides from gaining insight and understanding of your reputation and the reality.
A key opportunity and challenge for companies today is streamlining and fine tuning their revenue generation operations. While on a broad basis it could be argued that this involves everyone in the company, most focus on two key groups or functions, sales, and marketing.
Traditionally when revenue improvement initiatives were introduced, each group went about delivering in their own way, with little discussion or regard for the other. While they may have been present at the same initial strategy meetings, the rest was done within their own silo, with little or no consideration or input from the other. In some companies, the only purpose one grouped served for the other, was as a scapegoat for failure.
Over the years there has been talk of, and some steps taken several to aligning and bring the two organizations together, but few companies achieved much traction. Often the catalyst was less will, than other drivers, both internal and external, forcing the two to work together. Sales and marketing failed to realize that many of these unsuccessful were a direct extension of market and customer expectations.
Some did break down barriers between the two groups, but in most quickly went back to their assigned lanes. Marketing, looked after branding, lead generation, more recently “content”. Sales, filling their pipeline, often with leads they generated, instead of those generated by marketing; then moving those opportunities through the cycle to close. Marketing rarely if ever actively participating beyond the point where the “Marketing Qualified Lead” was handed off to sales.
It is not surprising that the most successful companies are those that are responsive to the market and their clients, and focus on innovating and getting ahead of customer expectations, and winning new customers by delivering an experience that exceeds customers’ demands and expectations. Something difficult to achieve when two key groups who should have a singular focus and purpose, are marching at different paces, and not always in the same direction.
Alignment Is No Longer Enough
Talk of aligning sales and marketing is interesting, but no longer enough. Sort of like saying that Blackberry is a smartphone, when everyone expectations are guided by iPhone or a Note. Smart companies are past alignment, and have moved to eliminating two groups in favour of one organization, Revenue. Within the revenue team, there still specific functions that reflect things traditionally associated with sales or marketing, but they are all on the same team, same responsibility and accountability, namely revenue.
There is more to this than assigning someone at the top with the title of Chief Revenue Officer, while allowing for business to go on as usual. Revenue teams need to have the same accountability and be responsible for revenue success and growth.
A good start is incentive, it has always been strange that these groups are often rewarded in different ways, for different outcomes, which at times are not aligned. For example, marketing may get measured and rewarded on the number (and at times even the quality) of leads generated. Yet in practice, only a small percent of these leads are ever worked by sales, many put it at single digits. Both arms duplicating efforts, expenses, and squandered resources and time. While there are a range of reason for sales not wanting to depend on marketing for leads, the reality is that it is less likely to happen if both were tied to the same outcomes.
The above is a symptom of a widely held, yet erroneous view, that marketing is responsible for one part of the buyer journey, once buyers reach a specific point in the journey, they are punted over to sales. Unlike football, the best results are achieved when everyone brings their expertise to bear throughout the buyer journey.
Sales needs to realize that they can do a much better, and I would add, easier job of helping the buyer to make the right decision if they worked with marketing to ensure that buyers are receiving the right insight at each stage, from pre-lead to close, and, beyond. Sales also has to understand that they don’t need to carry out the “latter” part of the journey alone, that marketing can seed their path, making it easier for buyers to move towards close.
This requires clear and ongoing communication between sales and marketing throughout the ‘client life cycle’. While some may not like the analogy, but one needs to think of it as Marketing providing air cover for the ground troops, Sales. To be clear, we are not hunting prospects, we are hunting revenue, and that is serious business. There needs to be clear lines of communication, sales need to feedback to marketing what is happening on the ground, and why. Marketing in turn needs to provide sales and the buyer with insights that facilitate the buyer’s understanding. This feedback loop allows sales to have input not just ion what they need to win current deals, but have a direct influence on the type of leads marketing should be targeted to achieve collective revenue goals.
A key opportunity for marketing is to provide insights to both buyers, and their own sales people. Insights that go beyond curation of content, and generic information, to elements that spur interaction and reliance on the sales person subject matter expertise; expertise that itself is supported by marketing.
At one company I worked with, we involved marketing in deal post mortems. These are easy for sales to conduct when they win the deal, but not so when they lose one. The knee jerk response from buyers who choose another vendor, is to point to price and features, after all, the buyer has transitioned from decision to implementation. Yet, when marketing approaches these same buyers, with a well-crafted set of question that are aimed at understanding the outcome rather than relitigating the sale. The insights gained help both sales in terms of specific steps they can take in the next similar sale. Helps marketing fine tune their messaging throughout the sale, and right down to leads targeted, and new upsell/cross sell opportunities. In other words, a singular revenue process, versus the typical asynchronous approach most take.
It is not just about getting along, and all about integrating and working as one revenue generating unit.
About Tibor Shanto
Tibor works with leading B2B companies including Bell Mobility, Imperial Oil, Pitney Bowes, and others, helping them improve their sales execution and results. Called a brilliant sales tactician, Tibor works with clients to translate sales strategy to reality. Tibor develops sales people who understand that success in sales is about Execution – Everything Else Is Just Talk!
Electronics manufacturer Urtech Manufacturing is based in Burlington, Ontario, and provides a wide array of services from product prototyping and engineering, to production-scale manufacturing and post production services. Urtech is dedicated to providing exceptional manufacturing services, utilizing cutting edge technology, processes, and equipment. It’s focused engineering team offers many years of experience in the electronics manufacturing sector, and the production team is fully trained and skilled in assembly, test and fulfilment operations. Company President and founder Greg Gehl talks The Canadian Business Quarterly through the formation and continued growth of the company.
“I started Urtech Manufacturing in 2010,” Mr Gehl says, “so during the recession. Just before that, I was at a company where we were outsourcing everything overseas, and so I started looking at the pricing that we were getting overseas.”
The company was at that time plagued by problems in quality and communication, as well as difficulties working across time-zones. Mr Gehl felt he could offer a competitive service within the bounds of Canada, whilst also eradicating some of these long-standing issues.
“I boot-strapped it myself. I had some cash, so I decided to invest it in my own company and started that way. Then after about a year and a bit, I had a couple investors join me as well, so it took off from there.”
Mr Gehls’s early career included a stint with electronics manufacturer Celestica, which was originally an IBM facility. Making the transition from Original Equipment Manufacturer (OEM) to Contract Manufacturer (CM) represented a big learning point in his career.
“It was a big step, and that was the boom days back then,” he says, “when the Contract Manufacturing world was really starting to grow and just becoming its own thing. So that was definitely an eye-opener.”
By filling several different roles for Celestica, Mr Gehl was able to round out a number of his professional skills. After this position he moved on to another firm, a broadcast equipment and solutions company in Burlington called Evertz.
“It was a small company,” he explains. “We were doing about $5-10 million in business a year. So in the 5 years I was there we grew up to $300m and we did some acquisitions there as well, we expanded into the UK. So that was interesting.”
All of these new endeavors helped Mr Gehl gain plenty of additional knowledge and understanding of the industry, providing valuable experience in acquiring other companies and managing multiple sites and facilities.
When it came time for Mr Gehl to start his own company, these years of experience were paramount in helping him recognize the significant issues in the industry and to work towards finding new solutions. The main idea was to manufacture on Canadian soil.
“Anybody who’s had to deal with overseas knows some of the problems,” he says. “Communication is the one thing, there are definitely language barrier issues, and [there’s] also cultural differences as well.”
In Mr Gehl’s experience, dealing with companies in different cultures and countries can easily produce crossed wires, with the understanding of intricate business dealings often getting lost in translation or misinterpreted because of custom.
“I’ve been in the industry quite a few years, so I need some people for equipment and that as well. So, I just looked for a facility, a small building, and I went and did it all up so it looked good inside and found some used equipment, and that gave me my start.”
Mr Gehl admits that the equipment he acquired was not of the best quality, as he was limited to using resources from his own pocket. Things started to change when he called upon his relationship with Panasonic to pay for an upgrade on the equipment.
Having started off working in broadcasting and communications, the company now operates across a few different sectors, offering manufacturing solutions to a number of companies requiring different services.
“The company Evertz, which I was at before this one, they were a broadcast company, so they build products for guys like Fox, CNN, all the big network guys. I definitely had a background in that, and appealed to people in that marketplace.”
With connections formed at Evertz, which grew to become one of the top broadcasting companies on the market, Mr Gehl was able to retain a number of clients when he started Urtech, once more by utilizing the expertise he had amassed.
“That product set as well is very complicated,” he says. “Those are high-technology boards, they use a lot of the latest and greatest technologies, so the fact that we could do that meant that we could do other things as well.”
From this solid platform it was easy for the company to expand into simpler products. Where many in the broadcast industry look for low volume products, there was plenty of space for the company to grow into providing higher volume within other industries.
“Some stuff might just be ten boards a month, or ten boards every other month. A high runner for the broadcast industry might be 100-200 boards a month, so it’s not high-volume stuff. But we grew, and we’re doing one customer’s stuff that’s almost a million units a year.”
World Class Operation
Through Mr Gehl’s positive relationship with electronics giant Panasonic, Urtech has found itself in the position of having access to the newest technologies, a position that has greatly helped its rise in the manufacturing industry.
“I buy all my machines brand new. I make sure we can do the latest and greatest technologies. We’re doing 0201s, 0105s, so that’s the smallest components you can get. We’re doing 0.2mm pitch BGAs and LGAs, again that’s the most complex stuff you can place.”
By utilizing this world class equipment, Urtech is now able to place chips such as big BGAs and FPGAs, like the Virtex 7, a chip that was costing around $20,000 a piece when it first came onto the market.
“When you’re placing chips that cost that much money,” Mr Gehl explains, “you better make sure your equipment is good. You don’t want to have any bad product. That’s where quality is paramount.”
Likewise, the company’s approach to hiring Tier One staff has helped it grow significantly. With the company nearly doubling in size every year, Mr Gehl admits that it represents a positive story that people are keen to get involved with.
“I’m focused on keeping jobs in North America, so I have a plant in Canada, I have a plant in the US. I plan to expand in the US as well, so I think that’s a good news story. Everybody thinks you’ve got to go overseas or to Mexico to be cheaper, but you don’t.”
With the right equipment, the right people and the right processes in place, Mr Gehl and Urtech are proving that a company can be competitive within the bounds of North America without having to look overseas for assistance.
“You give people what they want,” he says. “Their good quality product, in the time that they need it and want it, and help them with their engineering live and in real time, in the same time-zones.”
Urtech Manufacturing employs a diverse team of staff with many years of global experience, bringing a significant level of knowledge to the table in order to satisfy the needs of its client list, which is made up of both SMEs and larger organizations.
“If we don’t have that direct knowledge, then we probably know someone who has it. We still have good contacts in the industry. If we need lab work done, I don’t have my own Scanning Electron Microscope, but I know how to access one.”
This ability to offer a greater service is down to Urtech’s team of Tier One experts, and represents extra value added which smaller Contract Manufacturers will have neither the knowledge or the ability to provide.
“I think the exciting thing is, like I was mentioning, the fact that we can be competitive here in North America. I think people are starting to realize that sort of thing and the value added of actually manufacturing where the product needs to be.”
North America represents a huge market, meaning having factories on the continent to produce and fulfill those needs for that market is paramount. If Urtech were to expand overseas, it would make more sense to have a plant in the country where product would be supplied.
“Everybody’s heard the story about Apple,” Mr Gehl says. “‘Oh, well Apple’s overseas, so we have to be overseas’. Especially with young startups, you hear that so much. The kind of volumes you’re doing, they’re doing it overseas, but they totally control the supply chain.”
Manufacturers overseas will in many cases employ a whole engineering team to live and work onsite at one of its facilities, but this setup represents an overhead most companies are scarcely able to afford.
“If you need a product in that area, it’s good to build in that area. You should employ people in that area as well, and that’s something that we’ve definitely done. In Canada we expanded our operation many fold and [in the US] we’re looking to more than double the staff as well.”
Mr Gehl believes that if the company is able to maintain this rate of growth, there is the potential for it to grow to be 5-10 times as large as it is at this current moment within the next twelve months.
“We have 300 employees now,” he says, “across three shifts. Turnover’s pretty low, but the nice thing is, [they’re] manufacturing jobs, so nice steady jobs. We have engineering jobs as well, of course we have buyers, purchasers. We definitely hire a diverse group of folks.”
For Mr Gehl, manufacturing positions represent good core jobs for people. He laments the fact that the Canadian government has little desire to help out with manufacturing, assuming that people without university degrees should remain in lesser paid positions.
“A job like this, they can actually learn some skills and do some different things. I think it’s a good opportunity for folks and I think it’s a better lifestyle than everybody having to work in the service industry.”
Urtrech has both helped and been helped by other local companies that were a similar size when they started out. By forming professional relationships, all parties have succeeded in growing alongside each other.
“We’re a Contract Manufacturer,” Mr Gehl explains, “so we build products for [our clients]. We’ve had some great news stories where we’ve worked with companies when they were small and they’ve grown as we’ve grown as well.”
In addition, the company has started an initiative to reach out further into the social sphere, allowing a number of electronics startups to rent some of its tech space, machinery and goods as part of a hardware accelerator.
“It’s called UrStart, and I started that up because, if I can help somebody out, I will. I don’t make any money off that kind of thing, but if you give somebody a chance, a company might make it or it might not. Hopefully if we help them a little bit, they’ll actually be able to make it.”
Mr Gehl admits that even those companies that don’t make it in a difficult industry will have had a great experience by being part of UrStart, and that many of these people will go on to prove valuable in the future.
“They’ll remember us if they’re doing another product,” he says. “If you can help somebody out, why not? You don’t have to be in it for a buck. Shows like Shark Tank, you get these companies go in and they want to take ownership of these new startups. That sickens me.”
Mr Gehl admits he’s been lucky to have great investors in his company that have allowed it to thrive, and that he can’t see any reason to try and take control of other companies. He believes that people starting up businesses are doing the hard work and should maintain control.
Often the hardest thing about starting up a business is not in having the knowledge or the product, but in knowing how to go about finding the funding to get it off the ground. Mr Gehl admits that this process can be a slippery slope.
“You want to make sure you find somebody good, somebody you can trust, somebody you know. That’s what I would suggest. If you can’t, make sure you get referrals, don’t take the first money that’s thrown at you. You have a good product, use that as leverage.”
It is important to both get along with any potential investors and also to have somebody who shares the same goals. Many angel investors will enter an agreement with a five-year exit plan, and startups need to make sure they are prepared for what an investor wants.
“Startups will say, ‘our investors told us we have to be overseas.’ They go overseas and find out that they have to fly people back and forth to China all the time, and they’re having quality issues and communication problems, and it ends up costing a lot more money.”
This is just another example of how the need for manufacturing in the place the products are sold is becoming larger. For Mr Gehl, this is one of the main considerations in terms of continuing to grow the company and play to its strengths.
“I think the focus on having manufacturing where the products are, you’re going to see that more and more. Trump definitely doesn’t hurt that for the US, but other places are realizing that. It reduces a lot of the headaches and you help boost the economy in the area as well.”
The goal for Mr Gehl is to keep growing the company every year, and this is likely to see more acquisitions considered. Mr Gehl admits he would like to have another company acquired this year, and maybe two more the year after.
“The electronics industry definitely isn’t shrinking,” he says, “that’s the exciting thing about it. It’s a huge marketplace. There’s been a lot of consolidation in the marketplace, people looking to do acquisitions, people looking to be acquired.”
If an acquisition comes up for the company that that looks viable and good, then Mr Gehl admits he will take a look at it, even those that might require moving out of the North American marketplace.
“I looked at a place in Germany last year, I went there and visited it. It just wasn’t a good fit for me, so I turned it down. Again, if you can find something that’s the right fit, then I believe that you can make it competitive and you can do good things in that area.”
Victoria Gold Corp., a Canadian firm with a strong position in the gold market, is pushing forward into their latest advancement, the development of the Eagle Gold site, a potential mine in the Yukon which could yield hundreds of thousands of ounces of gold as soon as it is operational. This will be the largest gold mine in the Yukon’s history, and it is expected to be operational within the next few years.
The Yukon has a rich history of being a territory where its residents—though relatively few—regularly commune with nature. This makes it a fitting location for the extraction of one of the most precious natural resources on earth. It is a very mining-friendly area and the project Eagle Gold is fully permitted. Unlike other mining projects in the Yukon, Eagle Gold actually has grid power and road access, which will make the process of building the mine logistically easier.
Victoria Gold Corp. is a relatively small company whose origins can be found in the early 2000’s. When Kinross acquired Bema Gold, it was found that they had a sizable interest in the enterprise known as Victoria Resources. From this company, Victoria Gold Corp. was eventually born. John McConnell served on the board of the new Victoria as a director, then subsequently became CEO in 2010. For the past few years, he has been working to develop the Eagle project in Canada’s Yukon, a site that shows a huge amount of promise.
During the beginnings of the Great Recession, he had the foresight to take advantage of hidden opportunities, and so Victoria Gold acquired two other gold firms—Gateway Gold and Strata Gold—in 2008 and 2009, respectively. It was through Strata that Victoria Gold was able to acquire their major asset, the Eagle Gold site. Gateway, for its part, provided some assets in Nevada which could serve the company well in the future, after Eagle has begun regular operations.
Currently, Victoria Gold has been able to funnel even more resources into the project, adding $24 million dollars of funding for the continued development of Eagle Gold. Though the future looks promising, McConnell does say that Victoria Gold may still err on the side of caution to reduce potential risks, especially those associated with acquiring more permits and performing further exploration. According to him, the company may conserve its cash for now and use it to later finance the actual project itself.
Moving forward, the project will likely need about $400 million to swing into full-scale operations. These capital costs are the “big impediment right now” according to McConnell and he admits that it is a difficult sum to raise in the current markets, though he sees a “light at the end of the tunnel” and is confident that Victoria will be able to raise the funds. The project is estimated to have a debt capacity of roughly $250 million, and there are a few other options that the company might pursue to fill the gap. In the meantime, Victoria has substantial cash at hand, so the situation is not entirely dire. McConnell is confident that development can begin soon.
Short-term goals remain a bit less lofty in the meantime. At the moment, the main interest is in examining the potential of a site that is only a bit over 2 kilometers away from Eagle, a location known as Olive-Shamrock. The site appears promising because of its proximity to Eagle and the fact that it could yield 50% higher grade. These characteristics make it an ideal addition to the Eagle project, or may even serve as a viable starting point. They hope to make Olive part of the larger mining plan, as operational costs are trending down and Olive showed unexpectedly strong results as it was being evaluated. For now, Victoria Gold has already commenced drilling activity in the area. The company is also working on updating their mining feasibility study for the site, based on the most recent information.
As far as labor, when Eagle Gold’s activities are at full capacity, it will require between 300 and 400 personnel to perform construction, according to McConnell. More than likely, the mine will require a similar workforce once it is operational as well. Roughly half of the labor will be brought in from other locations throughout Canada using a fly-in and fly-out operation, and about half of the labor is expected to be sourced from the Yukon.
By current estimations, the Eagle Gold site will have a lifespan of over ten years, with McConnell expecting it to exceed that initial estimation by more than ten or fifteen years. There are still many promising sites in the area that have yet to be explored, and McConnell thinks that much of it may still be untapped. The mine and its infrastructure currently covers an area of roughly 5 kilometers square. Victoria Gold owns large amounts of land in the Yukon, and can turn to their other properties once Eagle begins to produce a consistent cash flow.
When gold prices were higher years ago, hovering at around $1,700, McConnell expected to be able to construct the mine with a team of 30, but market conditions have changed vastly since then, and the drop in gold prices means that they will have to move forward with a team of roughly 10 professionals. Even so, McConnell values his experts deeply, and relies on their technical skills and science to keep the project on the right track. Lately, the company has been beefing up its technical talent as well, adding consultant and mining expert Heather White to its board. Her vast experience specifically in working out in Canada’s North is particularly valuable to Victoria’s cause.
Though most of the administrative and technical staff can be found at Victoria Gold’s offices in Vancouver, McConnell himself actually relocated to the Yukon to be closer to the project. This was an obvious decision for McConnell, who has been in the mining business for his entire life, and it has helped to move the project forward at a faster pace. McConnell insists that having an administrator living close to the site is essential, and that building close personal relationships with those who are helping to construct the mine makes a huge difference in results. He is no stranger to living in Canada’s Northern regions, and in fact has spent 90% of his career there, even before moving to the Yukon. “I love the Yukon,” he says. “It’s got great people, great character, great weather.”
Unlike many other mining firms, Victoria Gold has been largely successful in forging peaceful relations with nearby First Nations tribes. McConnell has been careful to build honest relationships with these native people and this has certainly resulted in less legal trouble. Years ago, before even any preliminary construction began, Victoria Gold signed agreements with the local tribes and made sure to have their blessing. McConnell sees this tendency as something that differentiates Victoria Gold from other companies. “It takes a lot of work and understanding where they come from,” McConnell says.
Victoria Gold owns several properties in the Yukon area that also show some profitable potential. In addition to the Yukon properties, Victoria Gold holds assets in Nevada. Their property there, called Santa Fe, is currently not the focus of their progress, but has a promising future. The company may pursue further acquisitions at a later date, facilitated by their solid cash reserves, but their current aim is not in expanding their assets so much as building the mine at the Eagle site. It is through this laser focus on the Eagle project that they hope to build a substantial cash flow, and from that platform they can then jump to other projects. Until Eagle is producing, however, resources will be spent largely in the Yukon.
“We’re more focused on moving Eagle forward now,” McConnell says, indicating that the company had considered certain acquisitions in the past, but nothing ultimately came of it. For now, their energies are concentrated in the Yukon—however, there is a great potential for future growth over the long-term. Progress has been steady of late, and construction camps have already been set up at the site.
Eagle will produce roughly 200,000 ounces of gold per year when it is fully operational, and at a very good margin. It is estimated that the mine will be able to produce 2.3 million ounces in total over its lifetime according to their latest feasibility studies. Costs are expected to be roughly $615 per ounce, which offers a healthy profit. As soon as Eagle is flowing steadily—probably by around 2020—the company will turn its attention to its next major project, the specifics of which are still uncertain. “I don’t know but with Eagle, Victoria will be an established small gold producer looking to grow itself,” McConnell says. From there, the company may develop its Santa Fe property in Nevada, or turn its attention to other potentially lucrative sites in the surrounding areas near the Eagle Gold site.
Thales has continued to grow as an industry leader over the past few years, especially in the realm of transportation and cybersecurity technologies. Always among the first to innovate, Thales has built a reputation for pushing technology into the future. Their activities in Canada are of particular interest recently, and are likely to influence the transportation sector significantly.
Thales Group is a multinational company that was originally founded in France and is partly owned by the French government. The company has expanded into many countries and major cities around the world, from New York in the West all the way to Singapore in the East, and many other locations in between. Their work in the rail signaling sector is of particular note, and their systems are implemented the world over.
In Canada, one of Thales’ most important recent projects is the implementation of a new rail signaling system for some major metropolitan areas in Ontario. The local government plans to inject up to $12 million into the development. Mark Halinaty, CEO of Thales Canada sees the new signaling system as an “evolution” that builds upon their past success.
With the support of the government, Thales hopes to innovate in some major aspects of train control, creating a larger client-base that they can service. As far as company goals, they are seeking to always work more efficiently and reduce costs, but the core of their plan is innovation and constant improvement for their customers. Experimenting in the train control realm will help Thales to improve the overall client experience, both for those running the trains and the passengers who will use them.
One of the keys to this approach is data collection. “We can use data coming from our train control to enhance the passenger experience, be it in passenger information, planning and interfaces, to automated ticketing,” says Halinaty. While Ontario will provide critical funds towards this project, Thales is making a significant investment itself.
Being a physically large and expansive country, Canada has invested heavily in its transportation infrastructure. However, Thales is concentrating its efforts mostly in the Toronto area, where the local government—specifically, the Toronto Transit Commission—has already spent major resources developing their transit system. Though this is Thales’ current focus, the rest of Canada’s transit systems are certainly not out of the realm of possibility in the future, especially in major areas like Montreal. Partnerships between Thales and local transit systems in Canada are nothing new, as they have serviced British Columbia’s SkyTrain in the past.
For now, Thales is putting most of its resources into the bigger metropolitan areas simply because this is where the highest concentration of potential end-users exists. To serve the largest population, cities like Montreal, Vancouver, and Toronto are of particular interest. In the near future, though, other less populous areas that show potential for growth, such as Calgary, may receive some attention.
The end-game is much more expansive than simply serving Canada, however. Canada may become the ground floor for many of Thales’ innovations in transit, but many of these changes can be easily transferred to other transit systems around the world. Indeed, what occurs in Thales Canada may end up influencing rails in Europe and other parts of the globe. Thales’ hope is to also use its experience in Canada to expand beyond traditional train control systems.
Customer demand has driven improvement and innovation in this field for years, and Thales has taken that demand seriously. “[The customers] are the ones looking for enhancements to the technologies we provide,” Siegfried Usal, Thales Canada’s Vice President of Strategy and Communications, says. As technology improves the bar gets higher and higher, and customers expect more cost-effective systems. For instance, Thales makes heavy use of their analytics systems to examine the efficiency of their systems, which allows them to find strategies to lower energy costs as well as reduce the carbon footprint. This close monitoring allows them to take a proactive stance when it comes to maintenance and anticipating problems before they occur.
Thales has also taken an efficient approach with its innovations by creating enhancements that are compatible with existing systems. This allows for a more seamless evolution, lowers costs for the customer, and allows those who already have a system in place to benefit from the latest upgrades. According to Halinaty, this is a core value of the company, and their aim is to always push technology forward, but to never leave their loyal customers with older technology behind. “We want to be able to take these new features and have a pathway for existing customers to be able to take advantage of them,” Halinaty says. Part of their strategy in developing the best paths to new technology for their clients is the company’s habit of taking customer feedback very seriously. This is the core of how Thales Canada decides where to focus their efforts.
Early in 2016, Thales Canada found a new direction in which to find growth, signing a $35 million deal with Seaspan’s Vancouver shipyards. Halinaty and other major executives decided that Thales could expand into the naval business and see profitable results. Thales Canada will work with Seaspan on their shipbuilding efforts, and will help them produce several major non-combat vessels. Their role in the venture will be coordination efforts, funneling the parts from various suppliers and ensuring that every component during the building process works well with every other. It is possible that in the future, Thales could go on to work on combatant vessels, using the experienced gained from these current ventures.
Since the Canadian government is interested in updating their naval fleets over the next few decades, Thales can expect activity in this domain to go on for many years. “For us, this is a long-term endeavor,” Halinaty says. Similar to Thales’ strategies in land-based transit, they hope to create a long-term business out of continued support for the ships that they help build.
Their focus is on the leading edge of the industries that they touch, and they are attempting to develop new technology is several areas. For example, in order to respond to the conditions of our increasingly digital society, Thales has been pouring resources into making innovations in cybersecurity. According to Halinaty, this will be an increasingly critical component of the digital revolution as time goes on. “As everything becomes digital the sensitive data must be protected,” he says. This is a promising new area of growth for Thales Canada.
More importantly, cybersecurity is a core concern that touches nearly every sector of Thales’ diverse business. Regardless of the specific realm of a given project, Thales is usually implementing new and efficient digital technologies. As information and the technology to access it grows at a geometric rate, keeping on the leading edge of advancements is critical. Their hope is to help push their clients forward into the future and more closely match the breakneck speed at which knowledge and digital technology is growing. Thales is committed to not being left behind in this race, so they encourage their clients to let go of fears and become early adopters.
Of course, this is more than simply a problem for private firms. Governments too can drag their feet when adopting new technology and this can cause problems for their constituents. Through its influence in the government sector as well as the private sector, Thales Canada aims to keep the country up to date.
Especially when it comes to cybersecurity, it is imperative that governments as well as corporations take a proactive approach because attackers are constantly innovating, and the honeypot of valuable information or resources that can be stolen only grows larger. “Technology has no frontier right now,” Usal says. “That’s why you see more cybercrime being effective. Those organizations cannot keep the pace with protective technologies.”
Not every area of expansion for Thales is quite so dreary, however. When it comes to expansion of its various transportation endeavors, Thales has its eye set on Asian and South American markets, where many countries are starting to boom with new development. This creates a need for better and more extensive transportation infrastructure. The potential is huge in these sectors, and is a major part of Thales’ long-term plans.
Back in Canada, however, Thales is continuing to expand its partnership with the Canadian government and is one of the leaders in the defense industry. Its diverse reach has allowed Thales to be in a unique position to deliver new technology for many different industries, and Halinaty appears to be very optimistic. He hopes that Thales Canada will be able to double its revenue by the end of the decade, which is no small task, but seems feasible considering their recent history of expansion.
Halinaty believes that the fastest area of growth will be in cybersecurity, and that the major challenge in the next decade will be to help companies implement security that keeps up with advancements in technology. This can be difficult, but he remains optimistic as the population becomes more aware of the need for cyber defense, especially those who grew up in the Information age. “Our customers are getting smarter as we go forward because the young generation is getting it,” Usal says. “One of our challenges is to strengthen our relationship with customers in the way we design, develop and provide our solutions.”
Though the path of Thales Canada is indeed extremely ambitious, their plan seems very feasible thanks to their already strong foundation in various industries. This diversity—strong, healthy roots—is sure to help Thales shoot upwards into the future.