“There’s lots of different ways we can contribute to this effort” — Michael McCain & Michael Burns

Published by Speaking of Business Podcast on

Transcript

Goldy Hyder:
Hi, I’m Goldy Hyder, President and CEO of the Business Council of Canada. You’re listening to Speaking of Business, conversations with Canadian innovators, entrepreneurs, and business leaders. Folks, I don’t need to tell you these are extraordinary times. In light of the COVID-19 emergency, we’ve temporarily suspended our regularly scheduled series of conversations with Canadian CEOs, but we’re not going away. Instead, we’re going to pivot to the health emergency itself. We’re going to explore the impact on companies and workers across the country and we’re going to find out how business leaders are responding to the crisis. My guest today is Michael McCain, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, one of North America’s leading food producers with 13,000 employees and operations in Canada, the United States and Asia. Also joining me is Michael Burns, President and CEO of Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation in Toronto. These two gentlemen have really stepped up to help frontline health workers and the fight against COVID-19. So let’s talk with them about what they’re doing and how others can help. Michael McCain, welcome.

Michael McCain:
Good to be with you, Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:
Now, as I said, these are extraordinary times for all of us. How is this health emergency affecting Maple Leaf Foods?

Michael McCain:
Well, first of all, we would express with great humility and gratitude that we are stable and secure in the middle of this chaos. And we’ve been designated in the food supply chain as an essential service, which obviously is attractive in one instance, but more importantly, I think it highlights the obligations to contribute to the war effort if you will, in as many ways as we possibly can in the middle of this tragedy.

Goldy Hyder:
You and I have spoken about this before and you just used the phrase the war effort. I mean to you, this is very much a wartime situation. What is it that you as a business leader should be doing and we should be doing during this war time situation?

Michael McCain:
First of all, I think it’s important that we recognize that the economic recovery as quickly as we possibly can is important to that effort. And certainly all of the business community across the country, corporate Canada and small businesses are focused on the continuity of their businesses and important to recognize that many parts of our economy are in a very dire situation with this community effort. Having said that, I think as you pointed out at the outset, Goldy, that it is really, really important that corporate Canada, particularly those that are stable in these difficult times, that they step up in ways that are far and beyond what we’ve maybe done in our normal philanthropic or social responsibility realm, that we step up in very significant ways to contribute to the community’s effort in dealing with this. It is like a war effort and the magnitude of our response to that effort on the front lines is where I think the entire business and corporate community can make a difference.

Goldy Hyder:
Yeah, that’s well said. As you know, we at the council here had been focused on putting the health emergency and the response to it above all else and that’s why we’re pleased that Michael’s been able to join us as well. But before I turn to Michael Burns at Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation, let me also ask you though, you and I have spoken, and this is what we want to talk about today, about a new initiative that you feel that the business community needs to launch with a certain amount of urgency targeted towards helping frontline healthcare workers against COVID-19. You’ve committed two and a half million dollars from Maple Leaf. How much money are you hoping to raise?

Michael McCain:
Well, before I say that and identify how much is required here, let me just specifically highlight that many parts of Canada are stepping up in really important ways and there’s lots of different ways we can contribute to this effort. Having said that, when I look around at really, really intense situation that we’re going to be facing over the next several months and think through who the real frontline war heroes are in the situation, my mind turns directly to the health care workers. And I heard that the hospital foundations were thinking through the possibility of raising money to support these healthcare workers who are going to be going through the most horrific, absolutely horrific set of circumstances over the course of the next several months. Making just the most challenging and emotionally difficult decisions, that caring for people with maybe inadequate protection, putting their own health and safety at risk for all of us in our communities. Working at an extraordinary pace with very limited support system behind them.

Michael McCain:
And I was told the hospital foundations across the country are led by Michael Burns and the Princess Margaret Cancer Centre Foundation to coordinate this effort. We’re going to try and raise some money to support them and I spoke to my board quickly. It was a very quick decision said, look, we really have, we’ve got to make a contribution here. We’re obviously trying to support food security things across the country, which is something we’re connected to. But this is not a time for going to our age old places where we normally would go, this is where we need to look for “ands”, not “ors.”

Michael McCain:
So I asked the board to if they’d immediately step up with a two and a half million dollar investment. And I’m pretty hopeful that everybody in the business community obviously assuming that their financial situation is at least stable or semi-stable, contributes to this effort. I’m, some rough calculations, I think we can make a difference if we raise maybe $200, $250 million. And I think that’s absolutely in the art of the possible across the country, coast to coast. And maybe Michael could speak to exactly the initiative itself and how it’s being organized.

Goldy Hyder:
Thank you for that backdrop. I thought it was important that people understand the context and how these things come about. Our listeners I think would be, would appreciate the learning there. A great opportunity for me to segue to Michael Burns. Michael, first of all, let me reiterate what Michael McCain just said on behalf of Canadians and certainly the ones I represent in the business community with over two million employees, thank you. Thank you all on the front lines of the healthcare system for what you do. It’s a system that was already stretched and where it’s about to endure a lot more challenges here. And so we’re happy to have this conversation with you about what can we most do to help the situation and to be able to manage and mitigate the risks and minimize them as we go forward. So how do you see this working, Michael?

Michael Burns:
Yeah. Well let me echo what Michael has just said, and that is it certainly feels like wartime and it’s going to require not just government, but the private sector and the public sector to come together and work as one. And of course we want to recognize Michael’s leadership and Maple Leaf Foods and their commitment of two and a half million dollars to help us launch this fund. Really, I think that the approach is we’ve got to move quickly. We’ve already established a fund that can accept money, provide personal and business receipts for those who are donating as well as provide additional support with respect to reporting back on the impact of the money that’s going to be raised and spent across the country.

Michael Burns:
But we’re really looking to hospital foundations from coast to coast to coast to identify what are their top priorities to help support frontline professional health care workers to ensure that they have everything that they need right now as they battle this on the front lines. And so at Princess Margaret, we’ve got a lot of capabilities here that we can certainly deploy in our cancer centre. We can share best practices with others across the country and we want to play our part to help identify and support hospitals across Canada.

Goldy Hyder:
Now, is this the first time or is, would a similar response have taken place during SARS? I mean, what can we learn from our past if you will?

Michael Burns:
Yeah. There’s no question that certainly the Toronto healthcare system is in a much better place as a result of that experience back in 2003. We’ve been tested as a system in Toronto and certainly I think we’re going to benefit from that experience. So better protocols, guidelines, rapid response. We are building and have been for weeks now and this is happening across the country capacity within our system to deal with what we’re anticipating will be a large surge in the next two to three weeks. Obviously social distancing and other things that the governments have done both at the federal and provincial level hopefully will flatten that curve so that it doesn’t overwhelm the healthcare system. But there’s no question that having gone through the SARS epidemic 17 years ago, there were lots of good learnings that came out of that, that are going to benefit the Canadian healthcare system. No question about it.

Goldy Hyder:
How do you see the financial support being a value then in the short to midterm?

Michael Burns:
With the fund established and hopefully with money coming in, we are going to be reaching out to all of the hospital foundations as I mentioned, to identify where their top priorities are for their frontline healthcare workers. We will have a National Advisory Board that will review all of those applications and then we’re going to get that money out and we’re going to get it out fast. This isn’t something that we need 12 months from now. It’s something that people require today. So we’re going to make sure that we’re nimble, that we’re fast and that we can get the money out to those who need it the most.

Goldy Hyder:
How are the people in the hospitals holding up, Michael, in terms of their emotional reactions to everything that they’ve had to go through, let alone the stress of the job?

Michael Burns:
Yeah, I think it’s difficult for everybody. I mean these are highly skilled professionals who, as they will tell you, that this is their job, that the challenge we have right now for many of them is that they’re battling two fronts. There’s the work front and then there’s the home front. A lot of pressures on everybody in the healthcare system to not only be able to perform their jobs, but also they’re mindful of the fact that this particular virus can reach anybody, including the ones closest to them in their lives. And so we got to be mindful of that. We’re really trying to pull together as one team. And certainly as a foundation and foundations across the country, we’ve got to be ready to fill those gaps and make sure that we’re alleviating the stress that is certainly on them right now is as they manage through these difficult challenges.

Goldy Hyder:
Well, look, thank you again for not just sharing what you’ve done with us, but also what everybody on the front lines is doing. I hope that you are aware that there’s a concerted effort underway in collaboration with the governments as well as business to respond to the requirement for PPEs in terms of the gear and the equipment that’s necessary in the hospitals. The website that the government has set up, buyandsell.gc.ca allows you to go right online and figure out what it that the government needs. And so many of our businesses, so Canada Goose today, for example, a member just announced being able to make the medical attire that’s necessary. We’ve got a number of them looking at sanitizers. We’ve got them looking at the equipment necessary to disinfect. But the money again will go a long ways in helping if we’re able to get this campaign successful.

Goldy Hyder:
And, Michael, before wrapping up and getting a chance, not just to say thank you to you for initiating this, but you were very much out in front in terms of taking this very, very seriously. Can you tell me how your employees are and how they’ve reacted and whether you’ve actually been able to see the results of your early leadership in terms of how to respond to this issue?

Michael McCain:
Well, I think I’d answer that in a couple of different ways. Obviously we were early to the response of social distancing and isolation and work from home policies and no travel policies and basically with an interest of protecting our people as much as we possibly can. But equally recognizing as an essential service that our facilities, our supply chain still had to operate. And so we needed to protect our people while simultaneously ensuring the continuity of the physical infrastructure. We happen to operate in high health pathogen controlled environments in the first instance. So managing in these kinds of environments, these pathogen sensitive environments is part of our normal operating mode. So we’re reasonably accustomed to procedures that are required to create distancing and the control of potential pathogens in our midst. So having said that, we’ve got a plethora of operating protocols and quarantine protocols have been implemented very rapidly over the course of the last two or three weeks.

Michael McCain:
And I think our people, to answer your question of how they’re feeling, I think first and foremost, they are feeling the responsibility of our obligation to supply Canadians with food in the middle of this crisis. But also appreciative of the fact that we are putting our people’s safety at the top of our priority and paying the most attention to that.

Michael McCain:
Finally, the investments that we’ve made, whether it’s the two million dollars that we’re raising in addition to our normal activity around the Centre for Action and Food Security to support food security across the country, the two and a half million bucks that we’re putting into this fund for healthcare workers, some of the other knowledge sharing things that we’re doing. I think that our people are very much appreciative of the fact that we are recognizing our social, our responsibilities to the community and not just the business in a crisis like this. They really appreciate and respect that. I would finish by just asking maybe Michael Burns to say who to contact in the event that they want to step up.

Goldy Hyder:
Great idea.

Michael McCain:
We’ve committed two and a half million dollars. We’ve, we’ve challenged everybody in the food industry to match that and if they do that then I think we’ll achieve our goals collectively. Michael Burns, who should they contact to send you money?

Michael Burns:
Yeah, the best person right now would be myself. They can reach me at Michael.burns@thepmcf.ca. I’ll be taking any inbound requests for more information or questions that people might have. We will be setting up a website which we will be hopefully going live with by the end of the week, early next at the latest where people will be able to get more information as well as hospital foundations will be able to apply for grants that we want to get out to them. So best to reach me in the short term and we’ll make sure that it’s well advertised that there will be a site with more information for them to get what they require before they make their commitment.

Goldy Hyder:
Terrific. Well, look, I can’t thank you both enough for your leadership in both your respective arenas and I have every confidence that we’ll be able to get that kind of fundraising done across this country because our people right now are feeling a tremendous sense of gratitude for all it is that people in our healthcare industry and in our food industry do to take care of us during this critical time. Thank you so much for joining us. We really appreciate it.

Michael McCain:
Thanks, Goldy. Thank you for organizing this.

Michael Burns:
Thanks, Goldy.

Goldy Hyder:
And that’s another addition of Speaking of Business, a special edition during these trying times and we hope that we’re able to bring you more conversations with CEOs and how they’re managing through this COVID-19 crisis. Join us again. Until then, I’m Goldy Hyder. Thank you for joining.

In light of the COVID-19 emergency, we’ve temporarily suspended our regularly scheduled series of conversations with Canadian CEOs. But we’re not going away. Instead, we’re going to pivot to the health emergency itself. We’re going to explore the impact on companies and workers across the country. And we’re going to find out how business leaders are responding to crisis.

Today’s guest is Michael McCain, President and CEO of Maple Leaf Foods, one of North America’s leading food producers with 13,000 employees and operations in Canada, the United States and Asia.  

Also joining is Michael Burns, President and CEO of the Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation in Toronto.  

These two guys have really stepped up to help front-line health workers and the fight against COVID-19, so let’s talk about what they’re doing and how others can help. 

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