Interview with Managing Director Bruce St.John
Bruce St. John joined Canada Wood China in January, taking on the role of Interim Managing Director. His mandate includes:
- Recruiting a permanent managing director
- Aligning the goals of Canada Wood China with the goals of industry
- Finalizing the operational merger with FII China
Let’s check in with Bruce to get an update after his first three months.
You have travelled to China many times in the past for business. How has it been living in Shanghai? Is it different than you expected?
Living in China and traveling through China are completely different experiences. When you travel for business it is usually 4 – 5 days: you have jetlag and are on a full agenda of visits and travel, making the trip a blur. As a result, I used to dread my China trips.
When you live here you get to explore the cities sites, restaurants and architecture. Now I have been here for 3 months and there is so much I still want to see and explore. I had no idea that Shanghai had so much to offer as a city and it has greatly exceeded my expectations.
We have set the bar high for a new Managing Director. What combination of attributes are you seeking?
The next Managing Director should have the business background needed to lead and set direction while holding everyone accountable to their goals. An industry related background and Chinese language skills would also be beneficial. They will also need to be able to communicate effectively with a broad group of diverse stakeholders, both in Canada and in China.
Industry, the associations and our government partners each have a role to play in developing new markets. Do you consider this public-private partnership model a good approach?
The reorganization in June has helped to create a single channel to the market which will be helpful on the long-term. While there are many partners involved from a funding and management position in Vancouver the delivery is through a single entity which is Canada Wood China. Industry companies each have their own strategies and Canada Wood China’s role is to create opportunities and open the doors to allow them to enter the market. Ultimately, everything we do here is for the benefit of the Canadian forest industry.
As we implement our strategies this year and communicate them back to Vancouver the partnership will improve as there will be a high level of transparency which will reduce the questions and uncertainty.
China is going through an economic transition, which creates uncertainty. How optimistic are you about market growth potential in China over the next five years?
One of the benefits of living in China is meeting other ex-patriots who live and work here. I have met a number of people from Fortune 500 companies and they, and their companies, are all very bullish on China and think that the growth is just beginning. The recent 13th 5 year plan has set some broad goals, as an example: double GDP, move 100 million people to the cities, broadband access for 70% of households ; and increase high speed rail mileage to 30,000km from 20,000km.
The government also wants to reduce the “toxic” state owned enterprises which will have corresponding job losses. All of these activities will have an impact on an individual basis but when combined with other agendas will certainly have a broader impact. The concern will be the 3rd and 4th tier cities which are not performing as well as the larger cities.
What are the key changes you want to make at Canada Wood to improve operations?
We need to run Canada Wood China like a business and have clear measurable goals and objectives that people are held accountable to delivering. Canada Wood China needs to lead the direction on China and advise the stakeholders where funding should be spent. In the past few months we have also worked hard to ensure that our activities are closely aligned with Canada Wood China’s new strategy. For example, our government relations team has developed a plan which is both closely aligned with “the business” and focus on what Canada Wood China needs in cooperation with what the China governments want to see delivered. Communications will be critical to our external stakeholders but also internally so staff knows what our objectives are and how are we doing on delivery. Everyone must work closely together and support each other and not work in an environment of isolation.
What has been the most rewarding part of this posting so far?
I am really impressed with the team at Canada Wood China and how they are all willing to take on new ideas and change. The integration has gone well and it is great to hear how everyone wants to work as a team. As we have worked through integrating process and brought structure into the business, it has been very rewarding to see the potential opportunities that will be created. On a personal note the people and city of Shanghai have welcomed my family and myself which has been very rewarding.