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Gladu brings Lake Nipigon development experience to national business position

Thursday November 1, 2012
Submitted Photo
Jean Paul Gladu of Bingwi Neeyashi Anishinaabek (BNA) has taken on the CEO role of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business.

Jean Paul Gladu of Bingwi Neeyashi Anishinaabek (BNA) acknowledges that Aboriginal businesses have a lot of ground to make up.

After all, the Aboriginal business sector in northern Ontario is less than 10 years old, while many of the industry players in the region – whether in mining or forestry or other resource sectors – are companies with over 100 years of experience.

Yet Gladu is more optimistic than ever that Aboriginal entrepreneurs and businesses are on the cusp of becoming major players in the national economy.

“The next few years are pivotal,” Gladu said. “I think we’re going to see a lot more change and a lot more development happening.”

Gladu, formerly the CEO and president of BNA’s development corporation, is bringing his community development experience to a national stage as the president and CEO of the Canadian Council for Aboriginal Business, a position he took over in September.

“The opportunity to reflect on our community’s circumstances has really helped sharpen my understanding of where the opportunities and challenges lay (nationally),” Gladu said.
“It’s about building relationships with industry. How do you build those relationships, how do you procure opportunities from those relationships, and how do you get in front of them from a human resources position?”

One of the key ideas Gladu believes lies at the heart of Aboriginal business success is the ability for First Nations to separate economic development organizations from the political operations of chief and council. He noted the importance, when working on partnerships with industry, of having long-term stability as well as a board of directors that is reflective of the community. That long-term stability can be jeopardized by changing chiefs and councils, he said, making it important to have an economic development organization operate as a separate entity.

“We’re starting to see a move to the creation of economic development corporations,” Gladu said. “Chief and council continue to govern, and continue to work closely with the economic development corporation, but we know the economic development board is going to be in it for the long run.”

He cited impressive numbers from a study that the CCAB recently conducted on economic development corporations across Canada. There are over 250 such corporations, with an average of 185 employees and average annual sales of $28 million.

“That’s what industry wants to see, and what First Nations and Metis groups want to see. They want to see long-term success, and that only gets created when you create the stability long-term and keep it as apolitical as you can,” Gladu said.

Yet it is not enough to simply set up a development corporation, he added. Individuals within First Nations have to step up to create businesses, which provides more resources for the development corporations to work with and help grow.

“You start to build up this value chain,” he said. “That’s what governance is about. It’s about getting at every level that you possibly can, from the people who are sweeping floors to the people running engineering firms and everyone in between.”

While Gladu understands that much of the Aboriginal business sector in northern Ontario is going to be driven by natural resource sectors such as forestry and mining, he encourages communities to think longer term than just the resource opportunities coming in the immediate future.

He hopes communities can avoid the boom and bust towns seen in the non-Aboriginal context, where towns die once the mine or mill shuts down.

“The mining could be anywhere from 10 to 15 years, maybe longer,” Gladu said. “It is important to capitalize on the investments in human resources, and build the skills, the business acumen, so that those can be leveraged to whatever the future may hold. The better prepared we are by obtaining all the benefits from these developments, the better off we’ll be.”

Much of Gladu’s optimism as for the future of Aboriginal businesses has to do with the amount of support he sees coming for First Nations from corporate Canada. He said that industry is finally starting to see the value in investing in First Nations people, not only in an altruistic way but also as a business investment.

“The businesses in this country are really getting behind it. They see the value,” Gladu said. “Why are we thinking about importing a workforce? We’ve got the youngest, fastest growing workforce in this country in Aboriginal people. Invest in them and you start to develop more businesses and more higher wage jobs for Aboriginal people and you start getting a higher net benefit.”

That corporate buy-in is something CCAB is encouraging, especially through its progressive Aboriginal relations (PAR) program that issues accreditation to companies that have earned the status of being respectful partners of First Nations. The PAR program is one way CCAB is helping Aboriginal communities be able to identify good corporate partners, while rewarding industry for good practices, Gladu explained.

“There’s a huge shift happening,” he added. “Just look at the large corporations saying ‘we recognize there are challenges, but we also recognize the opportunities and we want to invest in those opportunities.’ And it’s happening.”

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