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Role Models and Branch Plants

Among the many challenges facing entrepreneurs and innovators in Canada is the lack of role models. People who have ‘been there and done that’ are a huge source of motivation and inspiration for others. In Ottawa in the mid 1990s, the presence and prior successes of Terry Matthews and Michael Cowpland (first at Mitel, and then later at Newbridge and Corel) had an enormous impact on the technology cluster.

It would be very helpful if we had more such role models.

One group of people who are not, however, very valuable role models in this regard are the management teams of the local branch plants of multinational giants, even if they are technology giants. This group attracts far more press coverage than they warrant. For instance, the CEOs of Twitter Canada, Google Canada, and Microsoft Canada are regularly featured in news stories. This is horrid journalism, likely driven by a mix of pure laziness and ‘advertiser bias’. These folks are local marketing and sales executives – they certainly are not particularly knowledgeable about entrepreneurship or innovation. Moreover, the excessive attention to their thoughts crowds out attention that should be devoted to real entrepreneurs and innovators – and sends the strong (and terrible) message that we as a a society place the middle managers of large multinationals in higher regard than real entrepreneurs.

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