Discover a Global Saskatchewan
through Kent Smith-Windsor
Executive Director, The Greater Saskatoon Chamber of Commerce
Kent Smith-Windsor takes pride not only in Saskatoon's local culture, but also Saskatchewan's position on the global stage. With significant insight into Saskatchewan's international impact, he acts as not only a leader in the Chamber but also promotes all the province has to offer to countries around the globe.
"Be persistent but respectful."
Veronika: It has been stated that the Chamber works to make Saskatoon a city of opportunity. How does international trade assist the Chamber to achieve this goal?
Smith: A significant component driving the prosperity of Saskatchewan and Saskatoon in particular is a direct result of international relations. We produce about forty million tones of food, but we only have one million people. So it makes sense to sell our resources to other Canadians, the U.S., Europe, and China.
It has been mentioned that there is no better person to describe Saskatchewan than Kent Smith. How would you describe Saskatchewan to an international investor?
We have almost limitless resources, but a small population base. We have distance to market issues, competitiveness issues, and transportation issues, but we still provide a high quality product even in a difficult climate. We have had courageous people throughout the years that have worked to help make Saskatchewan one of the best economies in the world.
Most people are unaware that Saskatchewan has had significant global exports. Why do you think this has been largely unknown?
Most of our customers are elsewhere. A lot of our successful businesses are better known in the global markets rather than the local market. With Saskatchewan's business culture, it's very much under promise and over deliver. If you look at various sectors, you'll find that Saskatchewan has held a highly esteemed place in terms of technological advancement and achievement under adverse conditions, but there's a Canadian insecurity that happens around this. If you look at the agricultural expertise that has been acquired for the planet over the last hundred years, you'd be very hard placed to find anyone that has learned how to grow crops in a hundred frost free days, and deal with the adverse moisture conditions that we have. However, we tend to benchmark ourselves against others rather than reflecting on our own inherent attributes.
How is it that you first became involved in international business and trade?
From a chamber perspective, that's what we are. Chambers were designed to create rules for trade. If you follow the history of global trade for the past five hundred years, you'll see that Boards of Trade and Chambers of Commerce assist with dispute resolution, surety of goods, and arbitration cases.
How crucial is it to build contacts overseas?
It's very important. You have to bring something to the table. If you can't explain to others what's in it for them, then don't expect those contacts to have meaning. It's important to be credible and not overly boisterous in your enthusiasm around a project because business people see through that right away. Business people seek the truth, and the fluff gets in the way of people being able to develop trust.
What skills do you find have assisted you in conducting business nationally and internationally?
Love people and love my place.
Do you believe that having a very energetic culture helps Saskatchewan build a good image to potential international investors?
It does, but I think it's very important to think about it in a market of one. When people talk about quality of life, they tend to pigeonhole it a little bit. What I mean by that is that it's wonderful that Saskatoon is able to benefit from a symphony. It adds to the quality of life for those who are passionate about symphony, but that's just one component of society. If you think about different elements being able to speak to people, the variety is what creates the spice of life here.
What advice would you give to students, or anyone who is interested in an international business career?
Experience it in anyway you can, for example some will travel. Young people have to be a little bit more aggressive. It is not about being boisterous or disrespectful, it's about saying how can I get involved. Be persistent but respectful.
When you travel for business, do you prefer to travel directly 'in and out' or do you take your time?
I'm an, 'in and out' kind of guy. I'm not a big tourist when I go into business mode. When I'm a tourist it's hard for me to turn my business brain off.
What is one item that you never travel without?
My day timer.
What has been your best or worst culinary experience overseas?
My best one was in Denver and it was at Ruth Chris' Steak house. The steaks were superb and the company was even better. The worst one had to be in England. I had been travelling for about twenty hours and finally got a hotel room in Coventry. I was trying to find something to eat, but all of the restaurants and bars were closed. They had an in-service menu, but the prices were not comfortable. It cost five pounds for a baked potato and eight pounds for a toasted cheese sandwich. I decided to get the potato. And the thing came up and it was about an inch and a half in diameter and there was just butter beside it, so that was disappointing.