Who dares wins – America’s impending new political paradigm

Joe Biden-Matt-Versi-Executive America

In 2008, Americans voted for change. A bright, charismatic young senator from Illinois ignited the imagination of the American voting public. Disillusioned with the political class, and opposed to the direction the country was headed, they lined up for hours to cast their vote, not just for America’s first black president, but for the man they believed could change the system and represent their interests rather than those of corporate donors and the billionaire-class. After eight years in office, and little change in Washington D.C., President Obama, by his own rhetoric as a yard stick, failed to change Washington, which by the end of his administration had already started to sink back into the, so called, swamp.

In fairness, as soon as Obama swore his oath, Republicans in Congress were already laying out their strategy to oppose, slow and, if possible, derail his agenda. That is, as they say, politics. The Republicans may have lost the election, but they still had a constituency to represent. That constituency made itself heard during the 2010 re-birth of the modern Tea Party which, yes, was comprised mostly of Republicans, but also disillusioned Obama voters who viewed his bailout of the banks and Wall Street, during the Global Financial Crisis, as a betrayal, leaving them – the middle and working class – to pick up the pieces. 

The Tea Party movement, while ironically commandeered by billionaires and Wall Street, planted the seed for the reactionary movement that was to come. While in its early iteration the movement propelled rising stars like Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, it also captured the attention of property developer and reality TV star, Donald Trump. The messaging coming from the Tea Party echoed much of what Trump had been saying for the past thirty years. However, as time went on, and once elected, the Tea Party’s rising stars drank the swamp water and, before long, began singing from the establishment song sheet of tax cuts and smaller government as the core “solutions” to America’s problems. In 2012, the Republican establishment did what they usually do and ran an old-style economic liberal and social conservative candidate, Mitt Romney, who campaigned on the same tired and unimaginative policies of tax cuts and smaller government. In a choice between the establishment Romney and the incumbent president who was again offering hope that he could still change the system, voters clung to the latter and re-elected Obama.

Cut to 2015, the lead up to an open seat presidential election (so named because the incumbent president isn’t running) and the field is flooded with Republican candidates chasing the Party’s nomination. It was a mix of legacy establishment candidates like Jeb Bush and John Kasich, and the new generation GOP candidates Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz – again, all humming the same tune. On the Democrats’ side the Clinton machine had all but won the battle before it was fought – spending the preceding three years taking over the DNC and skewing the nomination process in Hillary Clinton’s favour. Only a handful of unknowns put up their hands to compete for the nomination, only to be brushed aside by Democrat voters as uninspiring, with one exception: former democratic socialist Senator Bernie Sanders. Despite his early momentum with young voters, the Clinton machine wrote off Sanders as an eccentric nobody – an almost fatal move.

Enter (or should I say ascend down a golden escalator) Donald Trump. In a choreographed for TV event, Trump announced he was running for president. But, gold and marble lobby surrounds aside, this was no ordinary announcement. Trump, speaking mostly off the cuff, used this highly televised speech to blast the establishment of both parties, blaming them for the state of decay he believed America had fallen into. The content of the speech was confronting, striking a tone eerily similar to the Netflix show House of Cards which had aired an episode earlier that year depicting fictional president Frank Underwood declaring to the nation, “The American Dream has failed you. Work hard? Play by the rules? You aren’t guaranteed success. Your children will not have a better life than you did.” In his announcement speech, Trump took it further: “Sadly, the American Dream is dead” he proclaimed. For many Americans, hearing those words said aloud by an actual presidential candidate echoed their own long held feelings about America in 2016. They had worked hard and played by the rules, but what did they have to show for it? Nothing, many concluded. If the hope they had placed in Obama changing the system hadn’t worked, Americans had now decided they were prepared light the fuse by sending in Trump to blow the system up.

One by one, the establishment GOP candidates fell to Trump as he crisscrossed the country in his private Boeing 757 jet, appropriately referred to by his supporters as ‘Trump Force One’. In the end only two serious contenders remained: the former Tea Party stars Marco Rubio and Ted Cruz, having only won three and 11 states, respectively. Both withdrew from the race and eventually endorsed Trump as the Republican nominee. The hostile takeover of the Republican Party by Trump had not only shaken up the GOP, it would completely re-orientate the American political paradigm, replacing the economic libertarianism of tax cuts and smaller government with a bold and audacious economic nationalism that made the interests of the American working and middle-classes paramount, and ushered in the new parlance of ‘fair trade’ over just free trade.

Clinton struggled to capture the excitement of the Democrats’ base in the way Bernie Sanders had managed to do. Nevertheless, the Clinton machine had clenched the Democrats’ Super Delegates (comprised of party apparatchiks and former political office holders) and turned their sites to Trump. Again, voters were being offered a choice between an economic neo-liberal establishment figure defending the record of the previous administration and the status quo, or an outsiders’ economic nationalist message of America First. FBI investigations and Wikileaks aside, Trump’s campaign resonated with those Americans who felt they had been left behind by the economic policies of previous administrations and so, as they did for Obama, millions of those forgotten Americans cast their vote for Trump.

In 2020, history is repeating itself. Trump, now the incumbent, has spent the past three years implementing his American First policies that had not only yielded, arguably, the strongest American peacetime economy in the nation’s history, with record unemployment numbers for almost all demographics, but also saw the reset of the global order, reorienting American foreign policy away from acting as the Free World’s Atlas, and towards a multinational effort of free nations – now rebuilt and highly advanced since the end of the Second World War – to share the burden militarily, if not then financially, of defending the Free World in the 21st century.

Former Vice President Joe Biden, now the Democrats’ nominee for president, finds himself curiously in a similar situation to Clinton in 2016. After a bruising early Democrat primary packed with prominent candidates, including the resurgent Sanders, Biden has come out the other end in an unenviable position of having to both defend the Obama administration’s liberal record and attempt to reconcile the more radical policies and causes being championed by an ascendant New Left, comprised of Sanders aligned democratic socialists. The only thing holding those two competing factions together seems to be their shared hatred of Trump. One may rightly anticipate that, if they were successful in defeating Trump, the two factions would descend into open conflict for control of the Democrat Party. It’s hard to see a President Biden being able to maintain party unity beyond the election.

An example of this tricky situation are the protests for police reform, which began following the killing of George Floyd by Minneapolis police. The protests briefly began as peaceful, but were quickly highjacked by anarchists and militant communist agitators calling themselves ‘ANTIFA’ – a name previously used by German communist groups in the 1930s. ANTIFA and its supporters have used the cover of the protests to attack police, bystanders and anyone they determine to be opposed to their political ideology. They’ve been widely supported by New Left Democrats who have joined their calls to defund the police.

In the beginning, Biden and his new running mate, Kamala Harris, both backed the protests, with Harris declaring that the agitators “are not going to stop. Everyone beware, because they’re not going to stop before Election Day in November, and they’re not going to stop after Election Day”. As the protests continued to grow increasingly violent the Trump campaign capitalised on Biden’s hesitation to condemn the rioting, by pivoting their campaign narrative to one of law and order. Biden has since been forced to publicly condemn the rioters and agitators. However, Biden’s team know he is walking a thin line trying to draw a distinction between supporting the peaceful protestors and the brave police officers who are trying maintain the peace, and the radical rioters, supported by the New Left, and the police officers and policing practices that led to Floyd’s death. When discussing the protests and the police, Biden may ironically need to make his case by pointing out that there are “some very fine people on both sides”.

Biden’s work to maintain a unified party and present an acceptable vision for America to voters has been made even more difficult thanks to Congressional Democrats’ insistence on using parliamentary tactics to attack, delegitimise and ultimately remove Trump from office through impeachment. Since Trump’s election, Democrats have transformed themselves from a party of government – having maintained their majority in the House of Representatives for much of the post-Second World War period – and into something that harkens back to the short-lived Anti-Jacksonian Party of the 1820s, whose primary organizing principles was defeating President Andrew Jackson.

Distracted with conspiracy theories and dodgy dossiers, Democrats have failed to regroup and reassess what went wrong in their 2016 campaign, and why Americans in a majority of states, including traditionally ‘blue states’ turned their backs on them. Parliamentary tactics and personal smears aren’t going to be enough to win an election. Americans aren’t schmucks, they know, as Obama put it in 2008 that “when you don’t have a record to run on, you paint your opponent as someone people should run from”. In order to bring back those disillusioned voters that put both Obama and Trump into the White House, Biden and Harris will need to clearly articulate a new vision that will propel the country forward, and not backwards to the old status quo.

One Trump policy a Biden administration would be expected to continue is America’s new hawkish China policy. It may have taken Trump to finally act on China, but establishment Democrats in Congress are now well aware of the challenges the Chinese Communist Party (CCP) poses to the world order and to America’s interests. They will push Biden to continue to counter the CCP’s global debt-trap diplomacy through its Belt and Road Initiative – more aptly named Bait and Switch Initiative. However, Biden will need to avoid the pit fall of readopting the post-Cold War defense arrangements America’s allies had come to exploit. A war fatigued American public will not accept America returning to the role of the world’s sole police man (at least not for the foreseeable future). Trump’s policy of America leading a multinational collaboration of free nations all contributing militarily and financially to the defense of the Free World is the key to being able to sustain a long geopolitical struggle with China.

At the time of writing, there is less than 60 days to go until Election Day, and the polls look to be extremely close. Again, an eerily similar situation to 2016. Trump is still seen by voters as the best candidate to manage America’s economic recovery from the CCP’s Coronavirus, and his campaign’s law and order messaging is resonating in key battleground states where videos of burning cities are still flooding their newsfeeds.

The debates (assuming there will be more than one), will be the deciding factor of the election, October surprises or not. Unless an extremely rehearsed Biden can show up to the debates, stick to his lines and not lose his train of thought, Trump will depict him as not only unable to control the radical elements now infiltrating the Democrat Party, but also show Biden is in cognitive decline and that, if elected, Americans can’t trust that it will be Biden actually running the country.

Regardless of who wins, one thing is certain: the very notion of what it means to be a Republican or a Democrat will be reshaped, ushering in a long lasting new political paradigm for America in the 21st century, with the ripple effects felt all over the world.

Matt Versi is a public policy advocate and strategic communications specialist, advising multi-national companies and government leaders, including serving on the staff of the Hon Scott Morrison MP, Prime Minister of Australia. Find out more my visiting MattVersi.com.

Baselode Energy Corp (TSX-V:FIND): Opportunities in Uranium

1. Featured image Baselode - James Sykes, CEO-Executive-America

A new company in the high-grade uranium exploration industry, Baselode Energy Corp. has unique properties and uses innovative ideas for exploring the prolific high-grade Athabasca Basin uranium district.  

Founded in 2020 and listed on the TSX Venture Exchange (TSX-V:FIND), Baselode Energy is a micro-cap with a market cap of $14 million as of July 20th 2020. CEO James Sykes brings over fifteen years of Athabasca Basin uranium exploration experience to the team, most notably leading the discovery for NextGen’s Arrow deposit and providing invaluable work on Hathor’s Roughrider deposits. He has been directly and indirectly involved with the discovery of over 550m lbs of U3O8 in the Athabasca basin. Here Mr Sykes discusses the successful management team that has provided significant investor returns in the past in other ventures, the unique and innovative exploration methods designed to help the discovery of basement-hosted deposits go into development quickly and easily, and why now is the perfect time for investors to enter the uranium space.

A unique situation

“With uranium markets, it’s been in the downturn for quite a while now,” Mr Sykes explains. “It’s always been a question of when the prices come back up, not if the prices come back up. We’ve got so many utilities out there that use uranium as fuel, so nuclear energy, and the demand has actually grown over the past 10-20 years.”

There has been good periods for uranium in the past, most notably between 2005 and 2007, when the spot price peaked at over $100 per lb., and a lot of investors made substantial returns. This happened because there were certain fundamentals that initiated the price run. 

“Looking at today, 14 years later, those fundamentals exist now, however the whole situation is much more improved. We’ve got more demand, but we’ve got far less supply. Who’s producing nowadays? The two largest uranium producers in the world have curtailed their operations. You don’t see that in any other commodity.”

This unique situation means that the time is right for investors to step in and make a significant return from the impending rise in uranium price. The spot price jumped from $24 to $34 in March 2020, making it a perfect time for investors to enter the market.

“Baselode energy was the brainchild of Stephen Stewart,” Mr Sykes says. “He’s the CEO behind Orefinders and some other ventures, and he’s always wanted to get into the uranium market, because again he sees the same fundamentals – it’s really not a question of if the prices come back up, it’s when.”

Earlier this year, Mr Stewart identified that conditions were playing out in precisely the way the industry had expected, and decided to begin Baselode Energy and start taking advantage of the fundamentals. He contacted Mr Sykes after viewing his resume and together they started the company.

The company currently has two projects it’s working on, exploring two sites outside the Athabasca Basin. One is the Shadow property and the other is the Hook property. Baselode is determined to make a discovery at one of these sites prior to the spot price really taking off.

“We are approaching our exploration quite differently from what most of our peers are doing. We call our strategy the Athabasca 2.0. It’s different from everybody else, because we’re exploring for mineralization in the basement rocks.”

Mr Sykes has conducted years of study on the subject, looking at the work of others, and has identified that most of the mineralization that’s been discovered in the Athabasca area has come from basement rocks.

“There’s a term that was coined back in the 60s and 70s about ‘unconformity-related uranium deposits’,” Mr Sykes says, “and that has actually driven people to explore for those type of deposits with horse blinders on, so not taking into account what the real picture is, what the real model is.”

Baselode has established a new model to work from going forward, exploring for high-grade uranium in the basement rocks of the Athabasca Basin area. It’s an impressive strategy that looks for deep structures and plumbing systems, with unique properties and plenty of potential.

The key idea behind this strategy is that a basement-hosted deposit (outside of the Athabasca sandstone) will go into development much quicker and easier than a typical Athabasca sandstone deposit.

Experienced management team

“One of the other things that we have going for us is that we’re new. We just listed on June 10th of this year, so we don’t have a lot of shares outstanding. We’ve got a pretty small float, [and] our share price has actually been doing rather well since we started.”

The company provides a ground roots scenario for somebody coming in to be able to ride a discovery. Any investor knows that a discovery is where the real money is made, which is then enhanced by development. The company is primarily interested in making discoveries, and will then decide if it wants to continue into developments.

2. Baselode editorial image-Executive-America
Baselode Energy is helping provide more uranium to the world for the growing global nuclear energy demand

“Our Board and Management are mostly from the Orefinders group – Charles Beaudry, Stephen Stewart, Gautam Narayanan – and our CFO is from Rider Investment. So we’ve got a pretty unique Board, guys who’ve been in the industry for quite a while now, guys with a financial backing.”

Mr Sykes makes up the technical side of the company together with Mr Beaudry, who has over 35 years’ of exploration experience in multiple commodities, and knows uranium well, having been in the Athabasca Basin before.

“I’ve done 14-15 years in the Athabasca Basin as well, so I kind of call that my backyard. I think we’ve got a very strong team who know how to take the company forward and maximize our shareholder return. That’s our game plan going forward.”

The experienced management team at the helm have provided significant returns for investors in the past in other ventures, and its strength is that every member of the team knows their role and does it extremely well.

“A lot of my focus will be on getting the story out there,” Mr Sykes says, “[as well] as the technical side of things, building this whole shell and pushing the envelope. Honestly I think this is a fantastic team and I’ve seen what Stephen and Orefinders have done, and I’m very happy to be working with these guys.”

The future is nuclear

With governments around the world committed to reducing greenhouse gases (GHG) and having zero-carbon emissions, nuclear is the best energy source for meeting the demand at peak hours. Once small modular reactors come on-line, they will positively impact the nuclear energy market.

The next steps for Baselode is to kickstart exploration efforts on both the Shadow and Hook properties, with Shadow in particular being a unique property in that it has never been staked before.

“We don’t want to follow on everyone’s coattails, we want to set the new trend. So we’re doing that. Shadow needs a complete set of new work on it. It’s never been explored – there’s no-one been on the ground, there’s been no air coverage, so our first step is to get some airborne geophysical coverage, learning what’s underneath the rocks.”

A survey from the air will allow the company to identify deep structures and make some deep geological interpretations, which will help it identify targets near the surface that look more promising.

“After we get that information back, we’ll put it altogether, we’ll see what we’re seeing and then hopefully be able to get boots on the ground to assess the rocks that we can actually see on the ground and match that up to the geophysics so we can refine our model even further. Then by that point we’ll be able to assess if we need to do some ground follow-up geophysics, or if we can simply be drilling by the end of this year, early next year.”

The Hook property, which is adjacent to the Athabasca Basin, has received some exploration in the past, so there are historic assessment reports going back to the 1960s, which are being compiled in order to build a model for the property.

“[We’re] trying to refine what has been done. Do we like what we see of what has been done and how do we go from there? Do we need another property-wide geophysics coverage? Do we need ground surveys? Are we going to be drill-ready by the time we get this assessment work done? So that’s where we are.”

In addition, the company is actively seeking out other uranium properties, extending its search not just to the Athabasca Basin region, but anywhere else in the world that it may be able to find suitable areas.

“We want to get everything rolling before the uranium spot price really takes off,” Mr Sykes says, “and hopefully have a discovery made before then. And we’re keeping our eyes and ears wide open and just looking to see what other opportunities are out there for us.”

With all eyes on the climate crisis and finding the safest renewable energies, the team at Baselode is fully focused on nuclear energy, which Mr Sykes believes to be the best option long term for cutting pollution and bringing back clean air.

“We believe in nuclear energy; we believe it’s a way forward for our whole civilization to move. You want to see blue skies? Go nuclear energy, there’s no doubt about it. It’s the cleanest, most reliable energy source we have available to us.”

With its innovative exploration methods for discovering basement-hosted deposits in the Athabasca Basin area, Baselode Energy is helping provide more uranium to the world for the growing global nuclear energy demand. Find out more about Baselode Energy Corp. (TSX-V:FIND) by visiting www.baselode.com or contacting Mr James Sykes directly at jsykes@uraniumgeologist.com.

Voyager Digital Ltd (FSE:USD2 | CSE:VYGR | OTC:VYGVF): Bringing crypto to the masses

1. Featured Image Voyager - Stephen Ehrlich, CEO - Executive-America

A public, licensed crypto-asset broker that provides investors with a turnkey solution to trade crypto assets, Voyager Digital’s goal is to bring a better, more transparent and cost-efficient alternative for trading crypto-assets to the marketplace.

Founded in 2018 and listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange (CSE:VYGR), the OTC Markets (OTC:VYGVF) and the Frankfurt Exchange (FSE:USD2), Voyager Digital is a small-cap with a market cap of $100 million. Voyager offers investors best execution, data and custody services through its institutional-grade platform, making it the ultimate, all-in-one destination for investing and trading digital assets on mobile, and well-positioned to continue its growth and reach profitability by early 2021. Co-founder and CEO Steve Ehrlich discusses Voyager’s impressive revenue growth in the last 12 months, its plans for product and geographic expansion, and the reasons why he and Voyager are bullish about the future of crypto-currency and alternative banking. 

Simplifying crypto

“The crypto-currency market is an extremely fragmented market today,” Mr Ehrlich explains, “with over two hundred global exchanges in the marketplace, where people can trade from around the globe on these different exchanges.”

The market is also fragmented in terms of custody, how people hold their digital assets, so it can be very confusing for the average retail investor to participate in one of the fastest-growing assets in the markets. Voyager’s job is to help customers navigate these complex markets and understand alternative banking.

“I got together with my co-founders, there was four of us – Phillip Eytan, who’s a serial entrepreneur, who started billion dollar companies like Socure and Pager; Gaspard de Dreuzy, who’s been in the capital markets; and then most notably outside of myself is Oscar Salazar, who was the founding CTO of Uber.”

The co-founders bounded together two and a half years ago to take a look at the competitive landscape of the crypto-currency market, bringing together the breadth of their knowledge to try and bring a more consumer-friendly product to market. 

“[We wanted a product] that really simplifies the markets but gives the consumer enough information that they can make a really good decision on which crypto-assets they want to hold, earn and invest in and trade over the near future. That’s how we came together, and we started building the product off of a few meetings.”

One of the biggest problems in trading crypto-currency at the moment is the fact that there are multiple exchanges. This means consumers don’t know where they should open up an account in order to start trading on an exchange.

“There is very little price transparency in the crypto market,” Mr Ehrlich says. “So one exchange can have a price of Bitcoin, and another can have a different price. You have no idea where to go. That’s one of the confusing parts, and it keeps the retail investor from really participating in that market because of the fragmentation.”

Another issue is that most investors don’t understand how custody works. There is a lot of talk about different types of self-custody – owning your keys and your coin – which doesn’t make sense to a retail consumer.

“So we have to simplify it and make it easy for people to understand security, custody and trading of these markets, which is what the Voyager platform does and brings to the US market today.”

Other market players tend to work in two ways: one initiates lots of exchanges on one side of the world, creating a complex trading platform, either on a desktop or mobile; the other tends to be full of apps that oversimplify the market, making it so that consumers can only purchase Bitcoin.

3. Editorial image - Voyager Digital -Executive-America
Voyager Digital is simplifying the crypto-currency process, making it more accessible to consumers

“We play down the middle. We want all the retail consumers to use our platform. I’m ex E*TRADE, I was there in the days when E*TRADE first grew up and started bringing online brokerage to the masses; we want to bring crypto to the masses.”

Voyager has four distinct differentiators from competitors. One is the offer of 42 coins for people to trade, more than is offered in the other two models. Secondly, not only can consumers trade but they can also earn interest without locking up the coins.

“[Thirdly] we allow people to transfer coins in from other places to fund their account, and then four is the ease of use of the app, where you can actually download the app and then fund and trade all within two minutes or less, abiding by all regulatory requirements and making it really simple for people to open, trade and buy their crypto-currency.”

Seasoned veterans

As far as Mr Ehrlich is concerned, the company is still in the early stages of its journey. The adoption of crypto-currency is in its infancy, and so there is plenty to come in terms of realizing potential.

“First and foremost for investors in Voyager, you’re getting in at an early stage, when we’ve only touched the surface of the number of investors that will actually open crypto accounts, trade and hold crypto.”

The company is looking to expand its offering to the market, with ideas about debit and credit cards, margin on trading, a desktop version of the platform, and utility to its token all possibilities in the future, which will expand margins and revenue for every customer. 

“Then there is our geographic expansion. We’ve just recently announced we’re going to enter the Canadian market by the fall of 2020, and we have plans to enter the European market, the Asian market and the Latin American market right after. So our investors are really getting in on the early stages of where we’re going to be twelve months from now.”

The company’s Board is made up of co-founders Phillip Eytan and Gaspard de Dreuzy, in addition to Jarrett Lilien, former CEO of E*TRADE Financial and a long-time friend and colleague of Mr Ehrlich, who brings a wealth of invaluable capital market experience. There is a similar level of experience in the company’s management team.

“Gerard Hanshe is our Chief Operating Officer, a long term capital markets guy, and Janice Barrilleaux, who is also ex-E*TRADE, runs our compliance and has been with us a long time and has long-term experience in the capital markets. So we’ve got a really experienced team here, which sets us apart from a lot of other crypto-currency companies.”

One of the benefits of this experience is in a regulatory sense. The team understands what regulators want and need, from Know Your Customer to anti-money laundering rules, and the company does everything it can to abide by those rules.

“The other thing is, we have a breadth of connections within the industry as we keep growing this out, and we see that there are quite a few people that have transitioned from the traditional capital markets into the crypto and digital world. We use those connections, that experience, to broaden our network and expand what we’re doing and our product.”

The team at Voyager Digital is full of seasoned veterans, professionals who have been around the block. In Mr Ehrlich’s case, 25 years in trading has shown him the ups and downs of the business and helps him navigate issues more effectively.

2. Editorial image - Voyager Digital - Executive-America
“We’ve only really been in the market for about twelve months with our product at this point in time. We’ve seen tremendous growth in the quarter ending June [2020]”

“I was around the stock market in 2001 when it crashed, around the financial crisis of 2008 and saw what happened there, so I’ve navigated these waters in difficult times, either as part of E*TRADE or running my own company. You can’t dismiss how important that is when you’re building a public company from the ground up.”

This means the company knows when is the right time to launch products, when to pull back, when to look at expanding the team and when to contract. Having gone through the difficult market cycles, the team is helping set Voyager Digital up to be the most successful public company and the only successful agency broker in the space. 

“We’ve only really been in the market for about twelve months with our product at this point in time. From a near-term perspective, we’re expanding our customer base. We’ve seen tremendous growth in the quarter ending June [2020]. We’re expecting to see more growth in the quarter ending September.”

The company’s immediate goals are product expansion, setting up a desktop version of the product, and adding some utility to its token. The longer-term vision is geographic expansion into Canada and to add debit and credit cards.

“These are all within our near, short and long-term goals, and we think in building out our product, building out our business, growing to be a tremendously successful company, these are on our horizon.”

With Bitcoin now becoming the digital gold, the company is bullish on crypto. Especially in the US, where money is being put back into the economy, people are looking for alternative banking options, which at the moment are gold or digital gold.

“In this virus time that we’re in, in this pandemic, most people do not want to use dirty dollars. They want digital dollars. I think all this is starting the adoption of crypto-currency. That’s why I’m so bullish on this – people want alternatives to what’s in the marketplace, and I think they’re starting to realize what is there and how we get to the future.”

Mr Ehrlich is right to be bullish. As of June 30th 2020, Voyager has amassed over 230,000 global users across its platforms, and has preliminary unaudited revenue of approximately $1.1 million for the ending of the fiscal year, a staggering year on year increase of 1,159%.

“We’re extremely happy about the progress we’ve made at Voyager,” Mr Ehrlich concludes. “We’ve seen progress continue through the month of July, and expect it to exceed our numbers over the near-term.”

By providing secure housing, and offering trading and withdrawals for more than 39 digital assets to its customers, Voyager Digital is simplifying the crypto-currency process, making it more accessible to consumers. Find out more about Voyager Digital Ltd by visiting www.investvoyager.com

XORTX Therapeutics (FRA:ANU1 | CSE:XRX | OTCQB:XRTXF): Redefining kidney disease treatment

Featured image XORTX - Dr. Allen Davidoff, President and CEO-Executive-America

A publicly-listed biopharmaceutical company with three clinically advanced products in development, XORTX Therapeutics’ focus is on developing drugs for kidney disease treatment, an area where there is a large unmet medical need for therapeutics.

Founded in 2012 and listed on the Canadian Securities Exchange (XRX), the Frankfurt Stock Exchange (ANU1) and the OTC QB (XRTXF), XORTX Therapeutics is a micro-cap with a market cap of $12.9 million. The company is focused on developing therapies to slow or reverse chronic kidney disease caused by Type 2 Diabetic Nephropathy and Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease (ADPKD). The CBQ spoke recently with CEO Dr Allen Davidoff, who holds a PhD in Cardiovascular physiology and has 17 years of biopharma experience, including leadership roles in three pharmaceutical companies. Dr Davidoff discusses the company’s strong and growing patent portfolio, the clinical trial evidence showing the potential effectiveness of the company’s approach for treating both acute and chronic kidney disease, and the focus on advancing well-characterised drugs to market to ensure the greatest opportunity for successful marketing applications.

Lowering uric acid levels

“The company is founded on the idea that you can take ideas that merit development,” Dr Davidoff says, “develop them through the early stages, all the way through the end of the first proof of concept studies in individuals with a given disease. So we really add value from an early idea through to the end of the first clinical trials.”

The company is focused on developing kidney disease treatments. Progressing kidney disease caused by Type 2 Diabetic Nephropathy or Polycystic Kidney disease starts because of the underlying cause, but as it progresses, xanthine oxidase, an enzyme that helps produce uric acid, becomes more active, accelerating the progression of the disease.

At present, therapies for progressive kidney disease focus on treating high blood pressure or glucose control, but do not address the mechanism of progressive kidney disease due to xanthine oxidase activity and high uric acid as drivers of progression injury.

“There are very good clinical trials suggesting that, if you lower uric acid in individuals with progressing kidney disease, you have the opportunity to slow or stop their progression, in some cases reverse that progression, and that means you can keep individuals off dialysis [which], while it’s lifesaving, is also life-altering, because it requires a lot of commitment.”

XORTX is developing these therapies as a first-in-class treatment to meet this unmet need. The company began to learn of these benefits in the mid-2000s, when it discovered that uric acid was driving a number of health issues, such as obesity, high blood pressure, insulin resistance, metabolic syndrome and diabetes.

“Along with those discoveries of this previously unknown role, there was an opportunity to begin to not only patent and expand that patent portfolio, but to test individual compounds, like our lead compound, oxypurinol. What we have seen over the course of pharmacology and toxicology and human studies, is that the drug is safe and effective.”

The drug is now being applied to clinical trials, and recent study meetings with the FDA have indicated that the program for oxypurinol and Polycystic Kidney Disease is ready to move into Phase III trials. The company is now producing the regulatory filings that need to be filed in advance of starting a Phase III trial, and will work towards initiating that in the future.

“We also have noted from the COVID-19 pandemic that acute kidney injury is associated with the worst outcome for individuals with a COVID-19 infection. We’re working with a number of groups from New York, Italy and Denver to develop that therapy quickly, as a way to treat and prevent acute kidney injury, and hopefully that means fewer symptoms from COVID-19 infection, a shorter path to recovery, and we hope decreasing the rate of death.”

Ongoing value creation

The company is a micro-cap with three programs in advanced stages, with a great unmet need being identified in Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease, type 2 diabetic nephropathy and in acute kidney injury associated with COVID-19. Despite all of that progress, the company’s market cap compared to comparable companies remains reasonably low. 

“We continue to work to add progress in terms of our regulatory and clinical filings, and we’re working towards setting up Phase III clinical trials in both of those programs. What that means is ongoing value creation should at some point see us move towards the mean of valuations. We expect that, for any investor, that’s a fairly compelling case.”

The company’s impressive executive team is comprised of a number of individuals with experience working in drug development, who like Dr Davidoff himself have worked in a variety of different areas.

“Collectively, executive members and directors have worked on every area of drug development,” Dr. Davidoff says, “from manufacturing to regulatory filings, to clinical trials, and all of the technical developments that are included in that critical path of progress. Some of those programs are now drugs marketed globally.”

Additionally, the company has a large number of individuals who are currently consulting for the company. The collective team is not only extremely experienced, but the majority of it has also worked on the xanthine oxidase inhibitor class of drugs.

“That gives us a special opportunity to not only understand the drugs and how they can be developed, but because of our experience developing these drugs in the past and reapplying them to these two areas, Polycystic Kidney Disease and COVID-19, we have a certain agility by understanding what the FDA requires [and] the critical steps needed to progress.”

The bonus to this experience is that the company has been developing oxypurinol, which the FDA has deemed reasonably safe and effective for a variety of uses. All this experience has created an extremely strong executive team. 

“With respect to our Board of Directors, we have individuals like Mr Bruce Rowlands, who has not only worked in pharma but also worked in the financial market space; Bruce Cousins, who was an executive with J&J for a number of years, and we’re fortunate to have him on our board; and then others like Paul Van Damme with a number of successful bio-pharma companies and Allan Williams who brings substantial public and retail market experience.”

The immediate goal for the company is to continue manufacturing and developing formulations for oxypurinol, which allows it to extend its patent portfolio and is also a step towards advancing the Phase III trials in these areas.

“Near-term, we see advancing regulatory filings, initiating those Phase III studies, and we have had a number of pharma companies around the globe reach out to us and we think that as we take these early immediate steps then we move quickly into the setting where there will be potential licensing discussions. That is where the value creation comes into play.”

In the long-term, the company seeks partners in both Autosomal Dominant Polycystic Kidney Disease and Type 2 Diabetic Nephropathy to develop through to late-stage clinical trials through regulatory filings and marketing. The company will however continue to progress regardless of the timing of the entry of those parties.

“We have a strong, experienced development team. We’re in advanced, late-stage clinical programs. We believe that these are highly de-risked, because we’re taking a drug that we know is eminently approvable and applying it to these new areas. That means we’ve proven out a lot of the key risk steps in the course of developing these drugs, and that should allow us very soon to change the way that kidney disease will be treated in the future.”

Dr Davidoff has been involved in life sciences and biopharmaceutical research for almost thirty years, with seventeen years in industry. His professional experience includes developing drugs in Cardiovascular, Neurological and Renal fields from concept to marketing applications and approval.

“I think the lessons [I’ve learned] are simple ones: commit 100% to any project you take on, remain rigorous about what’s needed to succeed, and to find that very early, but also look down the road for risk and understand what’s needed to risk-mitigate. A global business like drug development requires you to build and maintain a network and constantly strive to look ahead and understand that you need to prepare for what’s coming up.”

With two first-in-class programs moving into advanced stages of development, XORTX Therapeutics is helping improve the quality of life and future of patients suffering from chronic kidney disease. Find out more about XORTX Therapeutics by visiting www.xortx.com.

What happened to good manners in business?

Darren Woolley - Executive America

Ignoring people, being tardy, not giving thanks, cancelling or changing meetings at the last minute, missing deadlines and simply being discourteous. These simple infractions of common courtesy happen more and more, every day in business. People are busy being busy and so something has to give, is the often-quoted justification. But there is an argument that at a time when personal and professional reputation is as fickle as the latest social media update, it could be worth investing some of that precious time in good manners, especially in business.

Let’s look at some of the more common ones. Now, while these bad behaviors are often found universally, there are definitely some markets and some organizations where they are much worse than others. It was once said to me that “cultures are defined by the poor behavior tolerated”, which means that they must also have particularly poor cultures.

Starting with a very common and annoying behavior. When you request something from another person, and they acquiesce to your request, and you do not acknowledge this with a thank you. If we were dining together and you ask me to pass the salt and I did, would you not thank me? Yet every business day people make requests of others by email and when you respond with what they need, very few people say thank you. This is particularly true in the procurement process. Procurement requests a proposal and yet I find myself having to follow up for any type of acknowledgement that they received it. How easy would it be to reply with a simple thank you to acknowledge the completion of the request?

That leads me to the new most annoying, and that is ignoring people. In fact there is even a colloquial term for this – ghosting – the practice of ceasing all communication and contact without any apparent warning or justification and subsequently ignoring any attempts to reach out or communicate made by said individual. This is particularly hard on salespeople, who work hard to get the proposal to their client, only to never have that client respond again? If you decided to go with another vendor than have the decency to tell them so and why? If you decided not to proceed, thank them and explain why? If you just changed your mind, again, just say than you and explain. Is it so hard?

Next is tardiness. Running late. It is simply a passive / aggressive powerplay so saying to everyone else, I am so busy and so important that you can all sit there and wait for me to get better organized. In meeting driven organizations, tardiness is possibly the main driver of loss of productivity, as people are forced to sit and wait for you to turn up. Do you really believe that you are the only one who is busy? Are you really more important than everyone else in the meeting? In organizations that tolerate this behavior, it become the norm, as people begin to run deliberately late because there is no point being on time. I can recall a Chief Marketing Officer who was always running late. The CMO thought this was a reflection of them being busy and important. The CEO just thought they were hopeless time managers.

Similar to the last, but different is the person who is constantly changing or cancelling meetings at the last minute. Clearly their diary is out of control, and it can take up to four or five reschedules to actually have the meeting, if at all. Sure, occasionally the unexpected happens. But this constant schedule shuffling simply sends a message that either our meeting is not important to you, which is fine – let’s just cancel it. Or you have absolutely no control over your time and activities, which smacks of being a pawn rather than a player. It is due to these people there is a roaring trade in personal assistants and virtual assistants whose fulltime job is simply managing an out-of-control diary. 

There is a lot of talk these days about the importance of personal integrity. There are also as many definitions of integrity as there are people talking about it. My favorite and working version is “to make complete or whole”. What does that mean? It means to be my word. For my words and actions to be complete and whole, to be integrity. So, when I make a commitment to do something and I do not do it, I have no integrity in regard to that commitment. When you agree or commit to a deadline, a meeting, an action, by a specific time and date, others will be relying on you to have integrity to deliver. If you do not, it does not work, and the consequence is they are let down and disappointed. The cure to loss of integrity is to re-establish integrity and hold yourself accountable to deliver. That is integrity.

Perhaps a I have a high personal standard. One of my mother’s favorite sayings was “It is nice to be important, but it is important to be nice”. She held a senior leadership role in Guiding and was a better and more effective leader because people appreciated her integrity and acknowledgement. But if being a better and more effective leader is not motivation enough, then perhaps take this advice from an Executive Creative Director I once worked with who often told me “Be kind to everyone on your way up, because you will be seeing them on your way back down”.

Darren Woolley is the Global CEO of TrinityP3 Marketing Management Consultants, a micro multinational with offices in Sydney, Singapore, New York, and London, www.trinityp3.com

The infiltration of progressive politics within corporate social responsibility

Jeremy Sammut - protest-Executive-America

CSR – Corporate Social Responsibility – refers to the idea that to earn a ‘social license’ to operate, corporations must fulfil a range of social obligations beyond their traditional profit-making role. This involves considering the social impacts of company activities on the interests of non-shareholder stakeholders in the community

The key message – or rather warning – of my book, Corporate Virtue Signalling: How To Stop Big Business From Meddling in Politics, is that CSR is in danger of becoming a rubric to justify political meddling by companies in social debates that have little if any connection to the true business of business. 

Within the corporate landscape there an influential and strategically-placed CSR ‘industry’ pushing companies to do more and more CSR.  

The CSR professionals who occupy HR, people and culture, and corporate affairs divisions, and who operate inside the major consultancy firms, have an activist mindset. 

Their ultimate ambition is to subvert the role of companies into political players campaigning for ‘systemic change’ behind ‘progressive’ social, environmental, and economic causes under the banner of CSR. 

The influence of the ‘industry’ on business thought and practice at the highest levels has been clearly evident in the direction business has headed this year. 

BHP and Rio Tinto have become the first companies to support indigenous Constitutional Recognition. A group of leading company directors have also formed a new pressure group to encourage business to take the lead on the Republic. 

These developments underline the serious implications for the role of public companies and for Australian business in general:  if the proponents of CSR get their way, the kind of political involvement by business that we saw in the same sex marriage debate, will prove to be just the tip of the political meddling by companies. 

CSR is therefore threatening to fundamentally politicise the role of companies, and politicise their brands and reputations.

The significant transformation of the role of business – which would see shareholders money routinely used to engage in open political activism – and the risks that this entails for companies, are not sufficiently considered in the debate about CSR in business circles, mainly because the debate is dominated by those who are part of the ‘industry’. 

However, the solution to these problems does not lie is taking a simplistic approach that generates more heat than light, as adopted in much critical commentary that has accused companies of being taken over by politically correct ‘corporate lefties’.

There is a legitimate business case for some CSR activities, given the realities and complexities of the modern business and cultural environment in which companies operate.

CSR is legitimate when it involves, as a matter of good commercial judgement, managing social risks and stakeholder interests for the sake of the best interests of shareholders and the long-term financial wellbeing of companies.

However, the legitimate ‘business case’ for CSR also draws attention to where CSR crosses the line into inappropriate politicking – which is the point at which the activists seek a license to play politics with shareholders money on issues that have little, if any, relevance to shareholders interests.  

If the influence of the ‘industry’ on the CSR direction of business is to be curbed, corporate leaders must become more aware of the ‘business risks’ of CSR with respect to politicising company brands and reputations.

The reputational and branding arguments for CSR must be turned around to make the case against CSR by making an obvious – but rarely stated – point. 

Corporate involvement in divisive social questions on which there is no community consensus among shareholders, stakeholders, employees and customers, can have negative brand consequences for companies that acquire reputations for being ‘being political’, particularly at a time of growing social, cultural and political polarisation in society.

But even if awareness of the downside of CSR fosters increases, what precisely can corporate leaders who want to take a more hard headed business based approach actually do to counter the well-established doctrines, structures and momentum of the CSR industry that is institutionalised across business?

The solution is to introduce into the language and practice of corporate governance a new clarifying principle to overtly qualify existing CSR philosophies – the Community Pluralism Principle – which would read:

It is important for modern corporations to consider their impact on all genuine stakeholders in the best interests of shareholders. It is also important that engagement on social issues cannot be perceived to distract from company’s core business mission, duties, and accountabilities, nor negatively affect its brand and reputation in the market of opinion in a political sense. It is a matter for boards of directors and other corporate decision-makers to manage these risks by ensuring that companies respect and reflect the pluralism of Australian society and remain open to the views and values of all employees, customers, shareholders and stakeholders across the community. 

The ‘pluralism principle’ expressly flags the need and importance for companies to manage the business risks of politicisation and rule out any involvement in ‘systemic change’.

If it was inserted to ASX’s Corporate Governance Principles this new requirement for companies to respect the pluralism — the different views and values — of the community would hold company directors and other decision-makers accountable for ensuring CSR doesn’t escalate into political meddling. 

The pluralism principle would greatly assist those working in companies who might wish to push back against the CSR trend, and in the inevitable internal management struggle over the CSR direction of the company.

A counter institutional framework and set of ground rules like the pluralism principle to explain decision making around CSR means that those who want to push back won’t have to fight on the merits of particular issues – with all the professional and social risks of being seen as un-‘progressive’. 

Instead, they would be able to refer to the need to ensure companies remain non-political as a general principle, and to therefore ensure companies avoid getting involved with an issue that is ‘political’ – with political being a boo word – in order to uphold its requirements as per the pluralism principle. 

Dr Jeremy Sammut is a Senior Research Fellow at The Centre for Independent Studies. Corporate Virtue Signalling: How To Stop Big Business From Meddling in Politics is published by Connor Court and available now, www.connorcourtpublishing.com.au.

The grey zone: How business influence has become the new battleground for state warfare

Noel-Hadjimichael-skyscraper-Executive-America

In the late 1930s the business model was primarily vested in a national market – you operated in a town, region, city or at most national landscape. The titans of industry were men (just about always men) who sat at the top of social orders that were national in nature and shaped by national narratives. You were an American Company (even if you felt you were Texan or MidWest or cosmopolitan Manhattan), an Australian outfit (either a subsidiary of a British firm or a local home grown product behind protectionist trade barriers) or maybe a Canadian concern driven by the exploitation of huge natural resources, growing labour availability and progressive confidence in a Dominion that was asserting its unique story. Transnational or global was the rare exception like Coca Cola, Ford or BP… and the cultural mindset was still nationalistic.

Survivors from the Edwardian era of mechanical and technological innovation, from the trenches of Polygon Wood, Vimy Ridge or Gallipoli, and the global depression that gave free trade, international markets and free flow of capital a bad name. You were not capitalists or managers of capital of anywhere – you were citizens, community leaders and stewards of precious capital from somewhere. Customers, investors or critics shared your shared citizenship. 

Take us 90 years or just three generations to now, and we are in a business environment where the product is designed in Seattle, manufactured in Shenzhen, shipped to Sydney, used by a backpacker from Sherbrooke with profits eventually distributed to pension funds in Stuttgart, Sheffield and Seoul. Global markets have risen because of technology, access, and trade since the end of the Cold War.

Nationalism is dead… so we thought. Everyone was a student of the “end of history” and reveled in the consumption of the same products, listening to the same music, driven by the same social media and embracing the “one world” viewpoint of unimportant borders, broad live and let live attitudes followed by a blurring of differences in political systems and their redundant values.

But then reality struck: we had invasions of territory by Russia, cyber trolling of opinions across national boundaries, the buying of influence in political parties across Western democracies by “new money” friends of authoritarian regimes, bullying of universities that offered platforms to critics of the authorities in Beijing, St Petersburg, Havana, Pyongyang or Ramallah. All in a decade post the global financial crisis when North American, Australian or European corporations were struggling to return to acceptable returns on investment, productivity or capital. Boom time followed by the downturn.

Faced with global debates on gender, climate, diversity, inclusion and redress for past historic injustices, it was easy to think that your market adversaries were just other global corporations, opinion leaders and a media circus of 24 hours coverage. Corporate Social Responsibility is a well established feature of a mature and risk managing enterprise (private, public or charitable). Corporate National Responsibility (giving due regard to the demands and peculiar requirements of the sovereign state giving you your “license to operate”) is something that fails to excite or trigger the Western executive or decision maker.

But an old problem has returned with a vengeance from the Cold War era: efforts by nations that have differing concepts of what capitalism, markets and freedom are to coerce, constrain, condition western liberal democratic society businesses to their agenda – illiberal, anti-competitive, neglectful of human rights and fundamentally corrosive to the national interests of liberal democracies.

It is played out in what is alternatively called the “grey zone” conflict and is in the news almost daily. We never fail to notice the allegations of impropriety with decision makers or the questioning of our social cohesion. Yet the main focus to-date of “hybrid warfare” — which uses non-military means to achieve warlike ends — has predominantly been on tactical methods such as cyber attacks, fake news campaigns and espionage. But understanding hybrid warfare’s strategic context equips political and business leaders better to address it. 

In simple terms, hybrid warfare uses capabilities not normally associated with war to coerce or subvert. Such techniques are intended to delay recognition that an attack is under way, provoke paralysis in decision making through confusion and discourage the victim from responding forcefully due to the absence of “legitimate” military targets. China, Russia (and to lesser degrees Iran and North Korea) are taking on capitalist democracies and hoping to re-make the international political, economic and trade systems through a coordinated hybrid effort that is taking place largely outside the traditional military or diplomatic realms. 

BRICS, the emerged Chinese development banking sector, the Belt and Road strategies and vast capital flows by the global wealthy from closed societies into Mayfair, Melbourne, and Manhatten all shape our acceptance that little can be done by tired, tense and politically divided free societies. 

The goals of these hybrid efforts appear to harm economic strength; undermine the legitimacy of key institutions such as governance bodies, academia, diplomatic entities and the media; sow social cohesion discord; and weaken the bonds between the nations and international organisations such as NATO. The erosion of economic resilience and the weakening of cultural values are probably the more pressing threats and likely the hardest to reverse once they are accomplished. 

Cyber attacks on private companies, state managed infrastructure and core government entities are a chilling example of grey zone warfare: something that sits below the threshold of naked violence or breaches of international law. 

With entities as diverse as the National Cyber Security Centre in London, the RCMP in Canada, the FBI in the US and Department of Defence in Australia all giving recent alarms over the threat profile facing civil society (in particular business and political decision makers) from State and State-sponsored  interference, the time to plan a modern style of deterrence is long overdue.

Policy voices like the RAND Corporation, the Royal Unites Services Institute, the Australian Strategic Policy Institute and Canada’s Mackenzie Institute have all pointed towards the growing risk profile posed by hybrid warfare and the corresponding requirement to bolster national responses.

Business is not in the business of defending a nation. But is it is a vital stakeholder in upholding the civic values underpinning its own legal, economic and cultural validation. 

Defence, security, intelligence and critical infrastructure leaders operate in an environment where they depend upon the reliability and resilience of private sector entities, their staff, managers and ultimately shareholders. Just as pension funds and mutual investors are long term players in capital markets, business is a long-term stakeholder in the preservation of Western pluralist free societies. 

Any security threat is a market challenge just as significant as the climate emergency, mass people movement, unfair trade practices or corruption. 

Shareholder value, brand or reputation management all contribute to today’s CEO headaches – but rising competition between great and emerging powers also raises the question: “have we met our corporate sovereign nation responsibilities?”. Consumers and shareholders via the media have plenty of opportunity to pass judgement on corporations that fail the test of public opinion.

Business leaders excel and profit from the freedoms derived from free societies under the rule of law. Defending these societies is no longer a luxury in a world only a few mouse clicks or fake news stories away from harm.

Noel Hadjimichael is a London based public policy consultant in the security, defence and civil society space with relevant experience working in politics, the civil service, industry and the charitable sectors.

I’ve just been appointed to the board, what now?

Paul Smith- board appointment cravat-Executive-America

At the Future Directors Institute, we help next generation leaders overcome the challenges and obstacles of becoming influential non-executive board directors. This most often starts with the finding (and securing) of their ideal first position, whether that’s on a company board, nonprofit, school, start-up etc.

Assuming you have overcome the most significant challenge, having enough time, we’ve often found that once you achieve this initial goal, there are many new challenges to deal with. It’s also worth noting that time continues to be a challenge, but if you’ve found the time to secure a board role you probably have the time for all the meetings, preparation and other duties of a director.

Based on the experiences of hundreds of younger directors, I’ve compiled the most common challenges new directors are most likely to encounter, as well as how to best overcome them in order to make the transition from board amateur to board influencer.

Figuring out exactly which skills you’ll need

One of the most common questions we find new directors asking is “What kind of skills will I actually need?” This stems from the common belief that before you can join a board, you must have already maximized your skill development. This simply isn’t true.

You don’t need to be at your professional peak to be a great board director. In fact, many effective directors are at the beginning of their career. The likes of Parrys Raines and Holly Ransom are still in their 20s and are both already influential board members. As a new director, you aren’t always required to have an extensive list of skills and specialist achievements. Often, all you need is an open mind, the right level of experience, an eagerness to learn and that all important, unique perspective.

Of course, it is helpful to have a clear idea of the type of technical skills you’ll need. It’s not entirely necessary however, to begin working on them right away. You can build these skills throughout your board career, once you have a more profound understanding of the company’s structure as well as the roles and responsibilities of its board directors.

For example, the most common skills-based question we get is about finance knowledge: “Can I become a board director if I cannot fully understand financial statements?” Again, it depends on the type of organization and what they need from you. While it is your responsibility to be able to govern to the best of your abilities without relying solely on other directors’ skills, the reality is that you cannot know everything—you just need to know enough. You might not need this knowledge immediately, but your aim should be to acquire it quickly.

Whenever you develop the necessary skills, your network and connections will be critical. Make sure to surround yourself with many mentors, perhaps a coach, and others who can assist you in expanding your skills. Enlist their help to get a solid understanding of the structure of the organization, the roles and responsibilities of the directors on the board, and the specific duties you will have to undertake.

Better still, get trained up beforehand.

Finding your voice and becoming influential

It can be uncomfortable when you feel that you lack presence and influence because you’re the newbie in a situation. It’s understandable if you feel apprehension and nervousness when you join a board. Indeed, these feelings can continue deep into a board career. You are not alone, though, and the most confident-sounding person can be hiding a mess of nerves and ‘speaking-up anxiety’.

Fortunately, there are really simple and effective ways of overcoming these feelings. First, remember that you belong there. It sounds stupidly simple, because it is. You have been accepted onto the board, and that gives you an equal voice with everyone in the room regardless of tenure.

Next, be as prepared as possible. This includes getting to know your fellow directors before your first meeting and continuing to build those relationships. You’ll find that your first board meeting will feel a lot less nerve-racking than it might otherwise because you’ve already met a few (if not all) of your colleagues.

NB: If the board is effective and professionally run, it will have a comprehensive onboarding and orientation process that will get you up to speed quickly. If it doesn’t, ensure that you help create one based on your experiences.

The more you know your audience, the more influential and helpful you can be, on both an individual and an organizational level. To learn about your audience on a larger scale, reach out to key company stakeholders such as management, major donors/investors, suppliers, and important customers. You should ensure that doing so doesn’t break any protocols, so check with the chair first.

Depending on the company’s culture, the board and chair may or may not encourage that sort of transparency and integration. If you encounter resistance, it might help to remind the chair that the more you speak to and understand the different stakeholders, the better you can serve and govern them in your board role.

Adjusting your expectations

As a leader holding both executive and non-executive positions simultaneously, you’ll have to get used to switching hats, and often quickly on the same day. If you have been well-trained in the differences between management and governance then this will be a little easier.

It can be hard for even the most practiced to move from being involved at a granular, hierarchal and operational level to providing guidance and oversight at a collective board level. You’ll potentially want to get into the trees when you must keep your view on the forest. The best way is to understand how best to transition.

Allow time to get yourself mentally prepared. Some of our program graduates have a cheat sheet of reminders to ensure they go into a board meeting with their governance hat on. Whatever you need to do, just being aware of which hat you are wearing is a step closer to being a truly effective director.

The other part of expectations management relates to resources. We often see those who have only ever worked for large companies struggling with the lack of operational resources in say the nonprofit that they are a board director for. It’s also the same in reverse and I’ve seen a few joining company boards overwhelmed with what is possible and at their disposal.

When to talk and when to listen

Even after you’ve overcome the first three challenges, it’s important to know when your input is (and is not) needed. This is not about having the confidence to speak up in the first place. It’s about speaking only when you have real value to add.

Knowing when to speak can come from your preparation. Read the necessary papers and conduct all research beforehand so you know what will be discussed. Understand your own point of view and why you have that point of view. With this preparation, you will be able to join in with the proper relevancy and knowledge.

Not only will prior preparation enable you to mix well with your fellow directors, it’ll also get your ideas heard faster and to better effect. Demonstrating that you’re well informed on the topics you’re speaking about will encourage your colleagues to listen to you and respect your opinions. You can further extend your influence by talking to directors outside of board meetings too. Establish yourself as an authority in whatever areas you’re passionate about, and people will pay attention.

However, no board is going to appreciate the input of someone who is clearly talking just to be heard or who is repeating what’s already been discussed by others. So pick your battles, do your research beforehand, and really think about the value of what you’re trying to say. If you are invited to contribute but don’t have anything new to say, just say so. You’ll earn more respect for moving things along and not wasting precious time.

If you’re struggling with knowing how to approach your new position, it can help to consider the board as a family. You have to work on building relationships and trust, getting to know them, and even dealing with any potential dysfunction (because some families are like that!). Remember that you have been recruited because they have seen something in you. If your confidence falters, remind yourself that you have a right to be there, no matter whether you’ve been with them for five minutes or five years.

The most important thing is to be consistent and patient. Take one step at a time and you will find your stride. Work on building a great support network of mentors and teachers around you, and lean on these people for opinions and advice when you’re feeling lost. No one has achieved success alone—all of the most successful people have had supporters around them the whole time.

So, in summary:

  • You deserve to be there. They appointed you.
  • Say it as you see it. Why hold back?
    However, don’t speak unless you have something valuable to add. It’s ok to say; “I have nothing new to add”. You’ll potentially increase your influence if you only speak when you have value to add.
  • Practice being courageous and confident. Take acting classes or practice with your independent board mentors!
  • Be prepared, draw together different issues, and arrive with questions.
  • Manage your expectations and your different executive v non-executive hats.
  • Try testing your ideas in subcommittees or with individual directors.
  • Keep developing your skills in key areas and become known as a trusted source of well-thought out opinion.
  • Learn how to interact with different types of people and get the most out of the relationships. Remember, the board is just a group of humans.

Paul Smith is an author, and founder & CEO of the Future Directors Institute, www.futuredirectors.com.

Artificial Intelligence (AI) and its effect on search engine optimisation (SEO): What you need to know

Senka Pupacic-Top 10 SEO

As with almost all developing technologies, Artificial Intelligence (AI) is quickly becoming a significant force being used by global search engines. AI will assist greatly in making search results more accurate for internet users. Therefore, understanding AI and its significant influence with search engine optimisation is now a necessity for all business owners wanting to lift their game by being visible to their future clients in 2020. 

First of all – what is Artificial Intelligence? 

From Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein to the practical application of the self-driving cars of today, Artificial Intelligence has almost always captivated the human mind – both in literature and in real-world constructs. But what is AI, exactly? 

Essentially, AI allows machines to learn and develop from experience in much the same way humans do. Rather than performing just one or several tasks repetitively as per a specific program, AI allows for the experience to contribute towards a machine’s future decision-making processes. Relying heavily on natural language processing and deep learning, these technologies enable computers to be trained to perform many specific tasks by recognising recurring patterns in the vast amounts of data they process.

What makes AI so important? 

As the name suggests, AI adds an ‘intelligent’ aspect to currently existing products to almost everything from consumer products to internet search engines. From a search engine optimisation point of view, the relationship between artificial intelligence and SEO not only dovetails seamlessly but improves the experience for the end-user. However, AI is generally not developed and sold as an individual product but instead used to enhance existing products. For example, Siri was added to updated Apple products rather than being made available as a standalone service. 

The combination of similar technologies such as conversational platforms, smart machines, automation, and bots, along with vast amounts of data can be used to improve a variety of applications – both domestic and professional – ranging from intelligent security systems to investment analysis products. 

How will AI help improve SEO? 

Search engines sift through numerous data points to provide the most useful and relevant web pages for their user – and Artificial Intelligence thrives on data. The more data it acquires, the more comprehensive its algorithms become, and therefore the more it learns and can predict. Just as an algorithm can learn to play chess, it can also determine which products or services a specific web user may be interested in. These algorithms adapt to each new piece of data they receive, ensuring they are always learning and applying new information to future decisions.

When it comes to Artificial Intelligence, SEO becomes significantly more adaptive and reactive to web user’s queries, learning more about each user and applying their interests to search results. This incredible level of accuracy is achieved through deep neural networks of information available from various interactions with multiple applications. For example, many people now use Google as their primary source of information and organisation. The more people use Google’s products such as the Google Home smart speaker, G-Suite, and of course, the global search engine where it all started, the more accurate the algorithm becomes.  

Due to this level of accuracy, AI is very likely to determine the entire future of SEO and associated practices in a variety of ways. Through my detailed work, discovery and working closely with Google Analytics, I have been watching how social signals were strong earlier in the year and now seem to be weakening. The way topics are weaved and expanded upon within niche markets is becoming more critical than ever before.

How videos and images will affect Artificial Intelligence and SEO 

For many years, search engines based their results entirely on text-based searches only. Although audio, video and images have almost always been essential in the online world, search engines were unable to process this media in their search algorithms until fairly recently. However, as technology is now advancing at such an incredible rate, the relationship between AI and SEO will see such media becoming more relevant and usable in web searches. 

Rather than only processing the manually inputted SEO data such as meta tags, text descriptions, and subtitles to find specific keywords, search engines will soon become smart enough to process the audiovisual signals often found in non-textual media, and rank the results accordingly. 

The ability of AI to discern the content within audio, image and video files will ultimately lead to a new type of video creator, specialising in the creation of search engine optimised video content – in much the same way traditionally text-based SEO techniques had on writers.

What will the role of AI in SEO be in 2020 and beyond? 

Naturally, search engines play the most crucial role in SEO. As search engines become smarter, so too has their level of influence increased. Because of this, SEO professionals have had to adapt and refine their methods continually. By 2020, it is estimated that at least half of all Google searches will be voice queries. The search engine giant is addressing this rise in voice search by updating their Google Assistant to increase its understanding of the natural conversation.

Not only is Google improving their voice search capabilities, but all other aspects of online search and results displaying. Context of searches and results are becoming more pre-emptive, making for a smooth search process for web users.

As Google and other search engines increase their capabilities, so too must business seeking to increase their online presence. As developments grow in artificial intelligence, SEO methods must adapt, also.  

Artificial Intelligence and SEO working side by side 

Thankfully, AI can also help with search engine optimisation. Although discovering precisely what words and phrases you need to optimise are vast pieces of the SEO puzzle, Artificial Intelligence tools can help with that, as one of AI’s greatest assets is finding patterns in huge sets of data – including search volume data.

Using AI tools can not only help you to create new content but also optimise existing content to improve your search rankings.

These days, local search is essential – especially for local businesses with a physical location. Ensuring your business is accurately displayed in local search results can be tricky. Still, with the help of artificial intelligence, this information-based issue can often be dealt with quickly and easily.

Topic clusters and pillar page creation is also a highly effective SEO method, as it helps the business to own entire areas of the subject matter by producing content based around several search terms. Although this task can be time-consuming, AI is enabling the process to become streamlined, thus increasing productivity.  

How AI and SEO can increase your business 

In the digitally-focused world, we now live in, having your business website ranked highly in Google search results is one of the most powerful things your organisation could do. As the number of potential customers turning to Google to find products and services they require is ever-increasing, having little or no web presence is now tantamount to throwing money away. By ensuring your website keeps up with the rigorous demands of search engines and web users, you can enjoy increased profits and peace of mind, as your new future clients keep finding you.

Senka Pupacic is the founder of Top 10 SEO, www.top10insydney.com.au.

Current issues facing asset intensive businesses

Susan Lubell - Plant engineering and maintenance - drive

In the current national and global economic uncertainty, and Covid-19 response, business leaders are faced with key decisions – what production facilities to shut in? Which manufacturing site can be re-tooled to convert production to  a new product? How to forecast production demand and financial resiliency in the face of so much uncertainty? How to decide when to replace large critical assets while understanding the production impact, costs, and risks?

What improvements does your business need?

These same questions and many more have confronted leaders in other asset intensive businesses around the world. A decade ago, there was a collective realization that many organizations had the same challenges and opportunities for improvement – namely to drive business values from their assets. It was spurred along further as many previously public utilities transitioned into the private sector realm. Government and regulatory agencies wanted assurance that these assets were being well managed and that service levels for the public were being maintained. The ISO5500x series of Asset Management standards were born. Business benefits explicitly expected and stated in ISO55000 include: 

Improved financial performance: improving the return on investments and reducing costs,  while preserving asset value and without sacrificing the short or long-term realization of organizational objectives;

Informed asset investment decisions: enabling the organization to improve its decision making and effectively balance costs, risks, opportunities and performance;

Managed risk: reducing financial losses, improving health and safety, goodwill and reputation, minimizing environmental and social impact, and can result in reduced liabilities such as insurance premiums, fines and penalties;

Improved services and outputs: assuring the performance of assets can lead to improved services or products that consistently meet or exceed the expectations of customers and stakeholders;

Demonstrated social responsibility: improving the organization’s ability to, for example, reduce emissions, conserve resources and adapt to climate change, enables it to demonstrate socially responsible and ethical business practices and stewardship;

Demonstrated compliance: transparently conforming with legal, statutory and regulatory requirements, as well as adhering to asset management standards, policies and processes, can enable demonstration of compliance;

Enhanced reputation: through improved customer satisfaction, stakeholder awareness and confidence;

Improved organizational sustainability: effectively managing short and long-term effects, expenditures and performance, can improve the sustainability of operations and the organization;

Improved efficiency and effectiveness: reviewing and improving processes, procedures and asset performance can improve efficiency and effectiveness, and the achievement of organizational objectives.

These asset management benefits have a line of sight to the current business environment and a solid understanding of financial constraints, risk and uncertainty. By its very nature, asset management has a broader focus on value creation at all levels in the organization and the integration between functions and departments – it is more than managing assets.

What are the expectations of your business stakeholders? How can asset management support the realization of value while balancing financial, environmental, and social costs, risk, quality of service and performance related to assets? How can these asset management benefits advance your business objectives?

A changing landscape

The asset management landscape, in Canada and globally, is rapidly changing which presents both challenges and opportunities. Challenges include stakeholder expectations and competitive pressures to provide more performance services at a lower cost, and an acceptable risk. Many businesses struggle to elicit the most value from their assets given limited financial and human resources. This presents a significant opportunity for progressive businesses to adopt leading asset management practices by striking the right balance of structure and discipline with flexibility and innovation to consistently achieve improved strategic results.

The amount of value at stake to be won or lost with how well assets are managed can be incredibly high and material to a business’ success. 

Uptake for asset management has been swifter in the UK and Australia where the stakeholders of asset-owning organizations such as government, regulatory agencies and non-government organizations are setting increasingly higher expectations for care and governance of assets particularly in municipal, infrastructure and utility sectors. 

Demand domestically for improved asset management approaches is beginning to grow. According to the Canada’s Long-Term Plan for Infrastructure, “Canada needs a long-term approach to investing in infrastructure to improve the quality, accessibility and sustainability of services that Canadians use every day… Asset management is a structured way to maintain and improve infrastructure while also collecting data about its use and condition.” To support this aim the Government of Canada has provided funding to the Federation of Canadian Municipalities for its Municipal Asset Management Program. This program is helping Canadian Municipalities to proactively manage their physical assets. 

Uptake is considerably slower in asset-intensive industrial sectors among publicly traded and private companies despite arguably more financial value and opportunities at stake.

Developing a new organizational culture and new way of thinking

Change is not going to come by simply saying “Make It So”.  Resources (time capital, leadership) and organizational focus will need to be invested to make the needed changes and improvements.

While the concepts, practices and processes that support good asset management are present in many businesses, it is the integration between functions and departments and a holistic approach that drives value. Ensuring that staff are competent in Asset Management with a combination of formal education, applied skills and growing experience provides confidence in their ability to lead your organization and deliver value for your stakeholders. 

PEMAC Asset Management Association of Canada has partnered with post-secondary institutions across the country to deliver comprehensive education leading to two Canadian certifications in Asset Management.  They are:

Certified asset management professionals (CAMP) have the education and applied skills to establish an asset management framework and system for their organizations. These professionals typically work in Asset Management departments or in key functional roles such as Production Operations, Engineering, Strategic Planning, Supply Management, Information Systems or Finance to make holistic and integrated recommendations and decisions on behalf of their organizations. They are frequently located in centralized head offices with a span of influence over multiple production areas.  

Maintenance management professionals (MMP) have the education and applied skills to establish and sustain Asset Management for a production operation facility – whether this is a food production plant, a water treatment plant, a manufacturing plant, an oil refinery, or a municipal recreation center and housing authority. Typically coupled with backgrounds in Engineering or Skilled Trades, these individuals and their teams have the skills and experience to make decisions for the assets under their span of control.

Additionally, PEMAC has an important role in setting high standards to advance asset management principles and practices for organizations within Canada. To this extent, PEMAC is actively engaged with our partners in the World Partners in Asset Management (WPiAM) to develop and promote an exciting new globally recognized professional credential scheme for asset management in the second half of 2020. From the WPiAM October 21, 2019 news release:

“The Global Credentials Scheme will provide a laddered career path in asset management for individuals who are looking to advance their skills and improve their ability to contribute to the success of the organizations they serve. This competency-based scheme will allow organizations to ensure that the individuals they hire anywhere in the world have the knowledge, skills and experience to apply asset management principles in various contexts.”

Susan Lubell is the President of Plant Engineering and Maintenance Association of Canada (PEMAC), www.pemac.org