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From optimism to opportunity

24th CEO Survey—Canada and Alberta insights

From optimism to opportunity: 24th CEO Survey—Canada and Alberta insights

Alberta alumni virtual event

Listen to PwC leaders discuss insights from our 24th CEO Survey and share Alberta public and private company perspectives on key themes including Workforce, ESG, and regulatory concerns.

Featured speakers

Reynold Tetzlaff

CA, Alberta Region and Calgary Office Managing Partner, Calgary, PwC Canada

+1 403 509 7520


Jean McClellan

National Consulting People and Organization Leader, Calgary, PwC Canada

+1 403 509 7578


David Bryan

FCPA, FCA, CIRP, LIT Partner, Deals & Alberta Region Private Leader, Edmonton, PwC Canada

+1 780 441 6709


Janice Noronha

MSc Partner, Risk Assurance Services, Montreal, PwC Canada

+1 514 205 5693


Matthew Fuller

Partner, Capital Markets & Accounting Advisory Services, Calgary, PwC Canada

+1 403 509 7341


0:00 Introduction

Matt Fuller: My name's Matt Fuller. I'm a partner in our Capital Markets and Accounting Advisory Services group here at PwC Canada and the Alumni Partner Lead for Alberta. I'd like to welcome each of you as we kick off summer with a virtual fireside chat “From optimism to opportunity,” as we discuss our findings and perspectives from our 24th CEO Survey with our very own PwC panel.

For today's event, we've brought together a diverse and strong group of industry leaders. So let's start with a quick round table of introductions. I'll throw it over to Reynolds, who's being a bit shy today and having some technical difficulties. So Reynold, we can start with you.

Reynold Tetzlaff: Yeah. Sorry, everyone. I don't know what happened, my account is not working on my computer right now, so Reynold Tetzlaff, I'm the Alberta Managing Partner for PwC.

Janice Noronha: Great.

Matt Fuller: Janice.

Janice Noronha: Thank you. So I'm Janice Noronha, Partner in our Sustainability and Climate Change Practice. Been in this field now for more than 20 years and advising companies on their corporate strategies, value creation as it relates to ESG. Thank you.

Matt Fuller: Dave?

Dave Brian: Hey, good afternoon, everyone. My name's Dave Brian, I'm the Private Company Services Leader for Alberta, and it's awesome to be here with everybody.

Matt Fuller: Great. Last but not least, Jean.

Jean McClellan: Hi everyone, I'm Jean McClellan. I lead the Workforce of the Future practice for Canada and that's really all things human in our world of business. Nice to be here.

Matt Fuller: Great. Thanks everyone.

1:33 Background on the CEO Survey

So to begin, I just wanted to give everyone a bit of a background on our CEO Survey. In its 24th year, the CEO Survey aims to inform and stimulate the debate on how businesses are facing today's challenges. The global survey is traditionally released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, except for this year due to the pandemic. After the global release, the Canadian data is analyzed and released to explore Canadian priorities and how Canadian sentiment differs from the global perspective. The survey was conducted in January and February of 2021, and we had a record level of Canadian participants this year, with 337 chief executives from across Canada, 61 of whom reside right here in Alberta. Insights from the survey reveal what CEOs are prioritizing for their businesses to thrive in the current environment. So for today's fireside chat, our findings from the survey will be themed around Alberta, public and private company perspectives on key areas, including workforce of the future, ESG and regulatory concerns. 

2:36 Key themes from the survey

So perhaps I'll start off with you, Reynold. Perhaps you can give an overview of some of the key themes that emerged from the study this year.

Reynold Tetzlaff: Sure. Thanks, Matt. What's interesting, normally with the CEO Survey, it's a pretty good barometer for what people expect the economy to do going forward. If you look at this year, for example, 72% of Canadian CEOs expected global economic growth to improve over the next 12 months. But if you look historically, in 2018, that number was 72%, in 2019, it dipped to in the 30%. Then all of a sudden last year, it was 14% and this survey is done January and February. So optimism was at an all time low of 14% before the pandemic ever even hit, unless these CEOs maybe knew something we didn't, it's quite interesting to look at the facts and show that the economy does trend with how the survey goes. Then if you look at the Canadian CEO in particular, and we had a great turnout for the CEO, as we mentioned, really there were a few key items that came out of it.

One was around cyber, there were some interesting facts around on climate change, and then people was also a key theme in this. Cyber, probably isn't new or surprising that it would be high on the list and high on list of threats for growth. If you think about all the digital, all the virtual, for the working remote and just the way the world is right now and all the threats, it was really wasn't a surprise that it was there, but what's interesting is what happened ever since the survey. We looked at all the large international cyber incidents that have happened over the last few months. It's quite interesting that this was a major threat seen by most CEOs and to see how that's playing out.

Another one was around ESG. The ESG one is interesting, in that a lot of the Canadian CEOs are probably looking to invest less in ESG, verses some of what's happening in and around the globe. There is a difference there and a difference and how serious the rest of the globe, but maybe it's because Europe's been living in this ESG world longer, but even within Canada, regionally, there are differences as well, West, verses East that I'm sure we'll get into.

Then lastly is around investing in people and people was a key theme and really it's investing in leadership and talent development, are the number one investment spot, regarding the people section of the survey. So maybe just quickly on Alberta, because Alberta's interesting as well. Alberta, the key threats were overregulation in government policy, versus nationally and internationally, it was cyber and pandemic were really the top threats, which is quite interesting and probably not surprising for people based on the world we've been living in here in Alberta, but there is still growth and anticipated growth in Alberta where it was still optimistic, where 72% of the CEOs were optimistic about growth.

But in Alberta, out of all the major provinces, some of the CEOs expected their revenue, their own personal revenue to increase only 31% in their company, versus globally, they thought it was going to increase by 72%, the optimism in the economy. So there was a difference there, probably because we've been living in a downturn for as long as we have, I think people are pretty cautious as well. So I'll leave it at that, Matt, but that's a high level overview of some of the key themes.

6:15 Difference in optimism between private and public companies CEOs

Matt Fuller: Great. Thanks Reynold. But before we go into those three key themes that emerged, Dave, was there a difference in optimism that you're seeing between private and public companies?

Dave Brian: Yeah, it's super interesting, Matt, we got some really interesting insights. When you peel back the layers, it was interesting to me, first of all, to set the stage, 70% of the respondents to the survey were private companies. So you've got obviously a big private company influence on the respondents. But what we found is generally speaking, private company CEOs were, what we called, fairly optimistic when it comes to the global economy and revenue growth, but they were really, really optimistic when it came to their own growth expectations.

So a little bit of that disconnect there, and they were certainly much more bullish than their public company counterparts, in terms of what their own growth expectations will look like coming out of our COVID setback. The other piece that was interesting to me and we'll talk a little bit more about that particularly when Jean's presenting is private companies, CEOs, expect their head counts to increase, I think that ties to their expectations of growing revenue. They expect they're going to grow revenue, expand, they'll need more people. So it was a couple of interesting insights about the optimism of private companies in Alberta.

7:42 Over regulation and policy as a top threat to growth for Alberta CEOs

Matt Fuller: No, that's super interesting. Thanks Dave. So for the first key theme, is that nationally cyber was the biggest threat to growth, whereas locally in Alberta, it was about over-regulation and policy. So Reynold, can you comment on this?

Reynold Tetzlaff: Sure. It's probably not surprising like I mentioned already, around cyber. What is surprising around cyber, is the fact that while it's a top threat for growth, only 61% of CEOs in Canada have factored cyber threats into their risk management activities and only 69% are actually going to increase their investment in the area, which is lower than I think we would expect. Then over-regulation, we've been living in this for the last 15 years around regulation and policy and concerns around government policies, and so it's not surprising that's really high in the Alberta region, with regards to threats in growth and everything. We've been living in it forever, so.

8:40 How workforce strategy can help alleviate the concerns about over regulation and policy

Matt Fuller: Right. Jean from a workforce of the future perspective, how do you think that workforce strategy is going to support or help even alleviate the concerns about overregulation and policy?

Jean McClellan: Yeah, so we know that regulation and policy is here to stay. It's likely going to increase, it's going to change and we're going to have to change with it, whether we like it or not. So that, when you couple that with what's happened in the pandemic and the wild ride that we've all been on, the workforce is tired. So it's no longer possible to just keep layering on added things, like regulation and policy. So we really need to re-engineer what our workforce is doing from the ground up. So, really taking a hard look at what skills we have, how we interact with tech and AI, how we've built our leadership skills and not just at the C-suite, but all through the organization, all of those components are really important now, because our workforce is really taxed. When we're going to take on new policy, new regulation, we have to re-engineer.

Policy new regulation we have to re-engineer.

9:50 Opportunities companies have to dig into their ESG strategy when it comes to over regulation and policy

Matt Fuller: Right. And sorry, I got a bit of an echo there. And Janice, what are the opportunities that you see companies have to dig into their ESG strategy in that vein as a way to alleviate concerns of  over regulation and policy?

Janice Noronha: Yeah, absolutely. Well, companies can be thinking and acting on ESG in a very proactive way. You know, there's an opportunity to prepare for and really positioned business models so that they can take advantage of government regulations and policies. When you think about it from a social perspective, we're already seeing a lot of investment and deeper dives into health and safety programs, wellbeing of people, as well as social equity. The crisis that's happened over the past year, a lot more going into human and indigenous rights and really aligning this with the government's objectives around safer, more inclusive, accessible, and equitable societies.

And from an environmental perspective, we're also seeing many industries starting to take advantage of opportunities to truly decarbonize their businesses in alignment with the federal government's ambitions towards net zero. And what that brings is really efficiency in the business, process improvements, fuel switching opportunities, investments in technologies, such as hydrogen, all the way to carbon capture and storage.

So I think it's really quite an exciting time. And locally in Alberta, I think there's going to be really interesting opportunities come up. An example being the oil sand pathway to net zero initiative, a really interesting example of companies aligning with the federal and the provincial governments to really promote and accelerate investment in research and development into new technologies, while at the same time engaging local communities to truly benefit from local resource development. So a lot of opportunities ahead to take advantage and prepare.

11:49 Private companies concern on over regulation

Matt Fuller: Right. And Dave, is there a public/private lens to add to that?

Dave Brian: Yeah. And I know we'll talk a little bit more on ESG, and I'll bring a bit of a perspective from private companies on that topic a little bit later, but Reynold touched on over-regulation and government policy, and that obviously was a big theme out of the private companies. And I think, as Reynold articulated, it's due to our focus on the energy sector, which tends to be impacted by these regulations and these policy changes. But what we saw through the pandemic is some changes in the private company space. And as a result, some of the private company CEOs seem to be less concerned about that. And where that comes from is a lot of them have shown resilience in the past when been policy changes or regulations they've just found a way to navigate through. And it might be a little bit easier because they're a little bit more resilient, maybe a little bit more ability to have a higher ability to adapt to change than maybe some of the big public companies.

The other piece that I thought was interesting and came out in my conversations with some of our private company clients is they've started to shift a little bit more to a global customer base. And so, their customer base isn't necessarily just in Alberta and just impacted by Alberta regulations and Alberta policies. They've expanded out globally. So if things get a little too dicey in Alberta, for example, they've pivoted and gone to markets where maybe it's easier to do business and to do different things and try new things. It's not that they're going to be gone forever, they come back, but they've done a good job of shifting in sort of a little bit of an uncertain world and adapting to a more global economy. And then, so they're not as impacted by these regulation changes.

13:41 Alberta CEOs taking the threat of climate change seriously

Matt Fuller: Great. Thanks, Dave. Now moving on to ESG specifically in sustainability, now in the survey, the regional differences were certainly interesting. Janice, can you touch on Alberta CEOs taking the threat of climate change more seriously than the average?

Janice Noronha: Yeah, absolutely. When you think about it in Canada, the CEOs broadly, about two thirds, 68% actually haven't factored climate change into their strategic risk management activities. And this is somewhat concerning at a time when action is critical, and just under half have had even plans to increase spending compared to more than about 60% globally. So if you look at Alberta CEOs on the other hand, it's interesting because they appear to have taken the threat of climate change and much more seriously than the average. So while they are less optimistic about the government's ability to balance these short-term economic needs with long-term environmental calls, during this recovery particularly, they are more likely actually than other provinces in Canada, to be planning to increase investments in ESG initiatives. Now, this could actually be because they are trying to alleviate pressure to decarbonize, while at the same time, really focused and laser-focus on operational efficiencies.

Now, interestingly from an industry lens perspective, if you look at Canadian CEOs in energy, utility and even resource sectors, they are some of the biggest proponents of spending on ESG initiatives. About 70% of them, ESG is expected to be the most popular area of investment growth over the next three years. And they're really not waiting for the government, at the end of the day. It's really the industry needs capital. And so, and the capital markets are truly directing them to what they need. So we're seeing that kind of movement happening on a broad view.

15:35 Gap in the results between private and public companies surrounding ESG

Matt Fuller: Great. And Dave, you mentioned it earlier, but just there's a huge gap in the results between good private and public companies around ESG. Can you tell us a little bit more about this area?

Dave Brian: Yeah. And I completely agree with what Janice said. But what's been interesting is that gap, Matt, that you talked about, between pub co's and privates, and the CEOs of the private companies are less likely to be investing or concerned about ESG right now. And the only thing that I can tie it back to, and based on some of my conversations, is that concept of they've got different stakeholders right now. And so, you're not getting shareholder groups, for example, showing up at your annual general meeting, concerned about your environmental policies. That's just not happening at the private company level. And so, I think that there's a little bit of a sense that it's not going to touch us or we need don't need to worry about it. And I would say that in the short term, that might be the case, but long-term, you have to think more that this is coming. It's going to be cascading down.

And where we're already seeing that is we're seeing some of the banks, for example, or private equity firms are saying, "We're interested in supporting you as a private company, but we want to see your ESG strategy. We want to make sure that your strategy as a private company aligns with where we want to go as a private equity firm."

The other piece we're seeing is, let's say, Suncor, is your client. You may hear as a member of their supply chain, somebody saying to you, "We need to see what your ESG strategy is because we're holding all of our suppliers accountable to the policies that we're trying to demonstrate as an organization." So you really can't avoid it.

And the last one, and Jean touched on this too, is also employees. We've got lots of instances where employees are now asking the question of, what's your firm's ESG strategy and how will that impact me if I decide to come and join your organization? And we saw that come out in our D2D, that concept of it doesn't seem to be hitting private companies yet, but it's coming and it's coming on multiple fronts. And so, you need to be starting to think about what is your policy look like? And it's not just the environmental part, it's the social part, it's the governance part. All of those needs tie together because people will be asking questions around what you're doing and how you're being part of this movement.

18:20 Workforce strategy supporting social elements of ESG

Matt Fuller: And that was a great time. And we talked a bit about strategy overall, the public/private company differences and gaps. And Jean, how can a company's workforce strategy support social elements of ESG?

Jean McClellan: Yeah, and it definitely does, and I think it all starts with trust. So we see that as a work community, we're challenged in that regard. So you look at businesses, governments, educational institutions, media. There's a lack of trust in the world of work right now. And that is where our first focus needs to be. And so, it really puts an onus on the leaders in those areas, no matter what part of the world of work you're from, to really lead and get out in front with purpose and values and ethics. And so, now the conversation and the narrative has to be much more than just the bottom line.

Beyond that, as we look at ESG, I would say that many organizations are quite focused on the E part of ESG, right? The environmental part, net zero climate change, that is starting to permeate our conversation. But as Janice mentioned, the social part is quickly becoming a key area of focus. So you see, for example, diversity, equity and inclusion, as one of those things that's taken center stage with the Black Lives Matter movement. And it's really something that is top of mind. So the key for organizations now is to move these initiatives off of something that is just reporting, just compliance, just a project on the side, to something that is truly embedded in the processes and the structures in our organizations and in our everyday culture. And that is something that is quite a fundamental change for most businesses.

20:05 Businesses adapting their workforce strategy to create value and the importance of upskilling and wellness

Matt Fuller: Right. And keeping it with you, Jean, our third trend in the survey is workforce strategies. So 51% of Alberta CEOs say they plan to change their organization's culture and workplace behaviors. How important do you think it is for businesses to adapt their workforce strategy, to create value amidst the impacts of the pandemic?

Jean McClellan: Yeah, it's extremely important. So when you look at the optimism, it just really goes to show the business resilience that is here in the province. I think it goes to show the resilience that our workforce and teams have. And so, that obviously is now translating into confidence for the future, but that confidence isn't strategy. And so, we have this brilliant opportunity to say, "So now what?", instead of, "I want to go back to the way it was." And it is really keeping that kind of mentality and mindset at our leadership tables and in our conversations with our teams that that really is going to make that fundamental shift. So from a people perspective, we know that CEOs are looking to make investments in leadership and talent. This pandemic changed the way we work and it put pressure on all levels of leadership in the organization.

They put pressure on all levels of leadership in the organizations. So while many of our senior leaders said, "Hey, we can adjust to the change. We know how to coach and reach out to our teams," those middle managers, the ones that are potentially new leaders, the supervisors, the ones out in the field, have been really, really struggling with this and things like conversations about wellness. I have to say personally, I've never had so many conversations about wellness and I had to really dig into some of those skills, and most of those skills aren't just naturally there for our leaders in our organization. So leaning into some of the investments and helping them through some of these new conversations in their lives can be really a value for an organization.

So 75% I think, are planning on spending at least moderately in these areas over the next three years. So I think that is a good investment in something that every organization should be considering. It's interesting, over the past, we've seen investments in upscaling in a broader digital skills and the like, and we're seeing that pay off as well. So that, that availability of key skills that we saw was of issue a couple of years ago is starting to come down the list in priority. So that's really a testament to organizations leaning in on up-skilling their people and digging in, in that regard,

The pandemic really has focused CEO's minds on many things, but I want to bring it back to that wellness piece. Again, we know that digital investments have been really important. We know that people are leaning into wellness, but again as I mentioned before, as we see this pace of change come, at just exponential pace, at an exponential pace, as we see these disruptors like the pandemic come at us from left field, we know our workforce in the future is going to have to pivot, have to think differently. So how we create wellness and productivity all at the same time is really the next wave of conversation that has to happen.

23:57 Private and public companies on workforce strategy

Matt Fuller: Yeah, and Dave, on that front, are we seeing a difference in how private companies are considering these changes in workplace behaviors and culture compared to different companies and public companies?

Dave Brian: We are, but like with the ESG, it's coming. So I think Jean, you said it perfectly. The issues that public companies are facing are also going to be experienced by private companies. So they're not putting it top of radar, but it needs to be, and with the risk of just repeating what Jean said, it's interesting because there is absolutely a war on talent right now. It sounds cliche, but it's happening. We're even seeing it at PwC, but the people that we're talking to, the pandemic forced people to think differently and we're seeing the demand for flexibility in the work environment. Jean touched on these, the wellbeing of staff is certainly super important. One of the things that I think has caught people off guard is so many employees now, and organizations have realized that, hey, we can do some jobs remotely, and we can do jobs sitting at home.

I was speaking to a client the other day who was talking about losing someone to an organization in Silicon Valley, and they were poached. This person was poached with the offer of, hey, you're already sitting at home. Why don't you sit at home and work for us? You can come down to California a couple of times a year, and we'll pay you a lot more and we'll pay you in US dollars. So if you're somebody who's very comfortable working at home, and this is an opportunity that you might not have even thought of two years ago, because you'd be thinking, geez, do I have to move down to California, it's really expensive, I'm not American. All those thoughts would be going through your head, but it's flipped around now and some of these organizations are saying, "We can go global in our search for talent and we can go global for people." So if you haven't set yourself up for success with your own people, you're going to see organizations like this one out of Silicon Valley in showing interest in some of your best and brightest people and for the first time, they'll start thinking about, wow, that that is kind of cool to go and work for that company in California, where they would have never thought about it two years ago.

Matt Fuller: Yeah. That global search is interesting and something that'll be interesting to see how that develops over the next few years.

26:23 What Alberta companies can look forward to this year

Now moving on, Reynold, Albertans are very concerned. We touched a bit about this earlier around overregulation and government policy. But if we flip that, however, if they're focusing on the ESG and the workforce of the future, what are some of the positive outcomes we can all look forward to this year?

Reynold Tetzlaff: Yeah, I do spend lots of time in the industry, Matt, and talking to executives. I actually feel like the CEO survey while it was positive and optimistic globally, and reasonably positive locally, I actually think people are even more positive, that I'm more positive on the economy now than I would have been even six months ago. I really feel like we've turned the corner. We've been living in a rough market for quite a long extended period, even before COVID. Now I look at it and not only is the physical market turning, the prices are better on for some of our products, but we were already investing in things like ESG and in areas where we needed to invest so that we can track and raise capital. So I do think that that's one key area. We were ready for some of this and preparing for probably before the rest of Canada.

Then maybe the other one is, we've been living in a downturn for the last period. We've been having to retrain people and repurpose them and fit for today's world, and even our schools like SAIT and NAIT have been repurposed to retrain some people along the way. So I do feel like even from that perspective, we've been working on this for the last two, three years on fit for growth and workforce of the future. So I do think that we were preparing for this, and now that we're in this world where it's hard to attract talent and there's really a war for talent, I do think we're ahead of the curve here in Alberta, which I think is great.

28:10 Looking forward from an ESG lens

Matt Fuller: All right, thanks, Reynold. Janice, do you have a perspective on what are some of the positive outcomes around ESG that we might see?

Janice Noronha: Yes, now's the time to do more. Investors are increasingly concerned about ESG impacts in their capital allocation decisions. ESG is really set to become an absolutely important opportunity, not just in Alberta, but broadly opportunity to expand longterm growth prospects and to really do that in collaboration with government and drive... And policy developments that are going to drive investments into this transition that we're starting to see towards a sustainable and more prosperous economy. At the end of the day, robust ESG plans will actually be a differentiator for the companies that capitalize on them. It's a real way to market products and services to build that resilience into supply chains, as already noted, to help attract the right talent to your organizations, build that trust with stakeholders, particularly the younger workers who are so aligned in their values to the sustainability and environmental agenda. So a lot of positive outcomes. I think it's the view that companies take on this agenda and really using it as a lens towards that value creation opportunity.

29:31 Looking forward from a workforce strategy perspective

Matt Fuller: Great, and Jean, what are your perspectives?

Jean McClellan: Yeah, I think it's been a hard time through the pandemic, but... And we know that there's the war on talent, but quite frankly, you need to see the other side of that. So the great thing is that people are disrupted anyway, and they've never been more open to working differently, to thinking about things differently, to believing in their abilities to pivot and change and do remarkable things in very short periods of time. So there's this wonderful opportunity to harness that enthusiasm in your business. So as you're thinking about your workforce strategy going forward, as you're bringing people potentially back into your offices, don't bring them back to the way things were. You have this opportunity to really deconstruct and think about things in new ways, and that can make you achieve your strategy faster, it can improve customer service, it drops money to the bottom line, and it improves retention. There's so many benefits to really just taking this time to think through what that strategy needs to be going forward.

Yeah, it is really remarkable. So it's just, there hasn't been a better time in history yet really to really think about these people, the people structure and the issues, and how it's going to not only build a wonderful place for your teams but also make your business better. So I think there's a lot of positives to look at and look forward to.

31:12 Final thoughts from a private company standpoint 

Matt Fuller: Yeah, thanks, Jean. Dave, any other final thoughts?

Dave Brian: Yeah, and Jean and I maybe should have compared notes because I'm just echoing everything she says. I mean maybe it's great minds think alike. I don't know, but the comments that I have from a private company standpoint is, obviously things have changed significantly because of COVID and the world will probably never go back to the way it was 18 months ago, but when we first went into the lockdown at the very beginning, there was panic, and then there was the big kind of the lockdown, the layoff of staff, the like, we're going to just hunker down and see what happens next. Then there was that, okay, we need to stabilize and figure out how we work in this new environment because we don't know how long this is going to last. I think it lasted way longer than anybody expected. Then there was that, we need to think differently about how we're doing business stage.

I'll give you a specific example on that one. We had a client who had lots of bricks and mortar locations and they just couldn't keep them going because of health regulations, staffing issues, whatever. So they moved to an online platform, forced their customers to move on to this online platform, it had a great uptick, customers are now very comfortable with it. So they're thinking a lot about, well, it just does not make any sense for us to go back and reopen all these bricks and mortar locations that we had previously. Sales are better, or working at the convenience of our customers because it's 24 hours a day, seven days a week, can go to our website. So it would be really easy to slip back to the old ways of doing things and just go back to pre-COVID and the good old days, but to Jean's point, it's a unique time in history that the smartest companies leveraged this opportunity to think about doing business differently, think about how they approach the market. So my one recommendation would be is, we all are going to have a-

And so, my one recommendation would be, as we all are going to have a story through this. We're all going to have stories about what we did differently and how we've changed. And I would say, don't be hesitant to tell your story because people want to hear it. And to that bricks and mortar clients, stakeholders, customers, banks, they want to hear that you took advantage of an opportunity, turned a crisis into something more optimistic and changed the way you did business. And you're stronger. You're better. And you're not going back. So don't hesitate to tell that story because people want to hear it.

Matt Fuller: Great. Thanks, Dave. And thanks Jean, Janice, and Reynold as well. So we've covered a lot of information in that fireside chat. We hope you found the information valuable, able to draw parallels to your businesses. So we'd like to turn it over to you all. If you have any questions for our panel.

34:02 Q&A

We did have a couple come in, and around a lot of ESG. So maybe I'll throw this to Janice. And then, perhaps to Reynolds. Regarding ESG initiatives, does PwC have any idea of the type of capital spend the net zero initiatives will drive in Alberta? And how is that other capital investment in Alberta?

Janice Noronha: Well, I mean, we at PwC have really recently done a study on exactly that question, but more broadly within Canada. And some of the big investments that we're expecting to see will be around major expansions in non-greenhouse gas, electricity generation, new energy storage facilities, including smart grids and sort of intimate energy patterns as part part of the renewable power generation opportunity, as well as a very rapid scaling of technologies to capture and store emissions produced from, for example, blue hydrogen and consumption of traditional fossil fuels.

So when you start to look at that broadly, we've estimated about up to $1.5 trillion in investments, and that doesn't even take into consideration distribution and supporting infrastructure requirements, but we are starting to see more and more discussions happening. We don't actually have at this time what that portion of the Alberta investments would be. But we do believe that a large portion of that will be coming from the government. There's accelerated plans happening from the federal government, the provincial government, but also a lot of the sort of large institutional investors playing and very interested in bullish on supporting the transition and financing the low carbon economy.

Reynold Tetzlaff: I can chime in a little bit too, Matt, just on... I agree with Janice, a lot of the spending is initially going to come from the government I think. Like it's going to be hard to obtain a strong ROI on some of these projects in the early years and it really is, but the fact is this transition is happening. It's happening around the globe. And so you can either ignore it or become part of it and see how it fits into your business model. And that's just a fact of life right now. And I would say we can see it in some of the discussion by some of our larger energy companies. They've acknowledged it, they're investing in it and then they're moving forward. And so, is there a clear path? Probably not, but the fact that they acknowledge it and they realize they need to kind of go down this path to be able to attract capital is the key right now.

Matt Fuller: Right? Yeah. And we actually had another question here. That's a bit of a separate question, but almost a bit of a follow on. With the shift to energy transition and the fact that many energy companies are looking to expand here in this area, do you think... And perhaps, Reynold, acquisition costs could get to be too high resulting in overpayment in the industry, which ultimately could result in lower ROIs that won't generate the returns that shareholders might expect?

Reynold Tetzlaff: Yeah. I've dealt with enough international companies looking to put money in the Alberta market to know it really comes down to project certainty, how some of these projects fit into their modeling and then ultimately what's the ROI going to be. And until they can get project certainty, all the larger companies and really figure out what the real ROI is. Like these projects, as Janice mentioned, they're not even in the billions and some of the infrastructure needed is in the trillions of dollars. And so before companies spend 2, 3, 4, $5 billion, they really need to know what the return is going to be. So yeah, I do worry a little bit that there could be some overpayment in the early days because if you rush in to fast, none of this is going to happen as fast as maybe people think. Like they're all mega projects with major dollars behind them. So my advice would be to go slow and sort of take your time on some of these large ones because there's lots of uncertainty still, and they're all big dollars.

Matt Fuller: Great. Another question here, maybe throw it to you, Janice. A recent publication from the U of C’s School of Public Policy recommended Alberta take CSR DEI requirements out of the hands of regulators and leave it to the financial markets to drive mandates in those areas. Do you think that the focus on ESG has evolved to the point that a market driven approach could be effective? Or do we have more room to grow before that becomes a reality?

Janice Noronha: Well, I mean, I would suggest that actually that's the reason that ESG has taken such a top agenda rule. It's not really come from government or policy makers. It's truly come from the investing community, driving action, driving responses, better and more disclosures to start with. So I do think it will become a hybrid. We're moving down a journey. Companies and organizations are playing a substantive role in leading this agenda and positioning their businesses at... The regulators, the securities administrators are all sort of coming along on board to almost identify and align. And I think the biggest role that they will have is maybe in the standardization and the how this is actually done in a way so that... We have a lot of different standards, a lot of different requirements happening. Companies have many requests coming at them to do this correctly.

And I think everybody's looking for that standardization and uniformity in how it's... So it's likely to be a hybrid approach. I think business will take the leadership and they probably should to drive the economy forward in a way that is sustainable and just, but at the same time, I think government and regulators will have a role in advising on how the standardization might happen as well.

I just might add... Oh, sorry. I just might add from a diversity, equity, and inclusion perspective. There's a lovely body of research now emerging that shows that when you have an inclusive culture, when you have a diverse workforce and leadership and board, that you are more profitable, you are more innovative, you grow faster, you access new markets. So yes, the social imperative is there, but it's just plain good for business as well.

Matt Fuller: Great. Reynold, was that you that was going to jump in there?

Dave Brian: That was me. And believe it or not, Matt, I wasn't just going to repeat Jean. So we actually have divergent thoughts, Jean. So I think Jean, you had talked previously about trust, right? And I was on a call today and it was some of our counterparts in Europe and they were talking to Janice's point about the role that regulators are going to play. And the conversation was a lot around people are throwing out terms like net zero by a certain date. And now people are starting to say, well, what does that mean? And how do we prove it? And what is the framework to be followed? And to your point, Janice, I think what we're going to see is the public will start saying, how do we trust what you're saying? Which the regulators will then step in and say, we need to know that this net zero has been achieved, but what framework, how do we report it? How do we make sure it's standardized?

So to your point, it will be kind of industry driven. And it's already being seen because these comments being made, including by us as PwC, but how do we validate it, make it trustworthy. All that other piece will come afterwards and probably pretty quick.

Matt Fuller: Yeah. Great. Well, thank you, Reynold, Janice, Jean, and Dave for a great session. And I hope everybody took a lot out of that. I know I did. If you have any further questions, please feel free to reach out to any of our speakers on or your PwC contacts. We're happy to meet with you on broader teams to review the themes or discussing the specific content we covered today.

I hope you enjoyed our chat.

  • 0:00 Introduction
  • 1:33 Background on the CEO Survey
  • 2:36 Key themes from the survey
  • 6:15 Difference in optimism between private and public companies CEOs
  • 7:42 Over regulation and policy as a top threat to growth for Alberta CEOs
  • 8:40 How workforce strategy can help alleviate the concerns about over regulation and policy
  • 9:50 Opportunities companies have to dig into their ESG strategy when it comes to over regulation and policy
  • 11:49 Private companies concern on over regulation
  • 13:41 Alberta CEOs taking the threat of climate change seriously
  • 15:35 Gap in the results between private and public companies surrounding ESG
  • 18:20 Workforce strategy supporting social elements of ESG
  • 20:05 Businesses adapting their workforce strategy to create value and the importance of upskilling and wellness
  • 23:57 Private and public companies on workforce strategy
  • 26:23 What Alberta companies can look forward to this year
  • 28:10 Looking forward from an ESG lens
  • 29:31 Looking forward from a workforce strategy perspective
  • 31:12 Final thoughts from a private company standpoint 
  • 34:02 Q&A

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