Diversity Innovation Leadership Organizational culture

Innovating together: Connecting as a global organization

In this episode:

While Canada is a hub for creative potential and innovation, we're also known for exporting our best business ideas. Is there more to that story? What will it mean for all companies to become more 'global' in the future?

For Global Ivey Day 2021, we're joined by Michael Tamblyn, EMBA ‘08, CEO of Rakuten Kobo, Fenton Jagdeo, HBA ‘16, Co-Founder of Faculty, and Nicole Haggerty, HBA ’89, PhD ‘04, Associate Professor at Ivey Business School. Together our panel examines the phenomenon of 'being global,' and what it really means for Canadian innovation to scale up on the global market.

Other ways to listen:

Key Topics:

0:00 - Introduction
4:09 - Michael Tamblyn on how Kobo looked to expand to international markets; gaining necessary capital and embracing local differences in each new country
7:52 - Fenton Jagdeo and trying a new model when growing Faculty; shifting cultural norms and trying to insert themselves into a market that hasn't traditionally existed
11:53 - Nicole Haggerty on how Ivey Business partnered with business schools across Africa to share the case learning method
17:39 - Radical curiosity as a means to go down a "productive rabbit hole", create connections, and explore beyond your comfort zone
23:07 - Finding a combination of fearlessness, humility, and institutional resilience when trying to expand into a global market 
28:26 - Internal mindset and perspective expansion as the first step of thinking globally; overcoming stereotypes and biases
32:30 - Advice for individuals/organizations who are looking to start expanding to a global market; examples of how local preferences/cultures impacted Kobo's strategy (Japan and France)
37:32 - Creating a market that doesn't have a blueprint/has not previously existed; going to where your potential market exists and listening to what they want/like
41:30 - Final comments/thoughts from the panelists
45:03 - Conclusion/Outro

Additional Resources:

Note: the views, thoughts, and opinions expressed in this multimedia content do not necessarily represent those of Western University, Ivey Business School, or The Ivey Academy and its affiliates. This content has been made available for informational and educational purposes, and its appearance on the Site does not constitute an endorsement.


Podcast Transcript:


MAZI RAZ: Hello, everyone. Welcome to the Ivey Academy podcast where we discuss current topics in leadership and organizations, unpack the latest research in the field, and look at trends across different settings for insights to share with our audience. My name is Mazi Raz, and I'm the director of Learning Design and Strategy at the Ivey Academy.

We at Ivey the Academy acknowledge the Anishinaabek, Haudenosaunee, Attawandaron, Lunaapeewak, the peoples who are the original storytellers and the caretakers of the land on which we are situated. We commit to honoring their past, present, and future. I'd like to encourage everyone to reflect on the History that has brought you to reside on the land and the traditional territories of the Indigenous peoples where you live, work, and play.

I'd like to encourage you to join us in working towards creating a just, vibrant, and inclusive community for everyone. In today's sessions and panel discussions we're accompanied by three brilliant lively guests. I'm thrilled to introduce a good friend and mentor of mine Dr. Nicole Haggerty, Associate Professor Ivey. Nicole is HPA grad of '89, and PhD 2004. We also have a Michael Tamblyn, a graduate of Ivey EMBA 2008. Michael is the president and CEO of Rakuten Kobo.

Last but not least, we are with Fenton Jagdeo. Fenton is HBO of 2016. Fenton is the co-founder of Faculty, a platform of self-expression and reimagining grooming. Fenton is also the youngest ever commissioner to sit on the board of TTC, one of the largest public transit systems in North America.

Friends, the title of today's livestream is how Canadian companies can activate global connectedness. Canada certainly does not suffer from a lack of creative ideas and innovative individuals. In fact, because of Canada's diverse workforce, we can expect more colorful business ideas and innovative services of products that are deemed valuable. We do however sense that Canada has possibly experiencing certain difficulties in scaling up globally.

For the most part, most of our ideas remain quite local. There could be many reasons for this. For example, not many ideal models for competition or for benchmarking, challenges related to IP protection for innovative ideas, difficulty in partnering with other institutions who are willing to collaborate, and of course, the general attitude around success and subsequently a relatively lukewarm appetite for being global.

The central question we aim to explore today is this in the context of scaling up innovation, what would it mean for Canadian businesses to be global? And here's a provocation. Before we get too busy with different reactions to the post question, might it be useful to open up what we mean by being global. I'd like to suggest we see being global from three different angles.

First, this is the simplest and perhaps the most exhaustive, meaning, that is being international. From this angle being global concerns with challenges and economic benefits of crossing national borders or geographies. The second meaning of being global is connected to the natural habitat of humankind, our globe, and the planet Earth in general. Here we can and we should trace business activities that relate human social activities and natural environments as a whole.

The third meaning and one that I think might interest us the most is considering globality as the quality of being involved in enriching social relations. Being global isn't just about finding through lines and common denominators, but developing and maintaining the ability to encompass differences. It means that tribes, races, gender expressions, ethnicities, indigeneity, and nations do exist, and that to smooth over them is to lose something rich in the human condition.

Put differently, globality as an awareness that constitutes the society primarily by its inclusive human framework rather than distinct geographies or borders. Let us get a sense of what you think about globality. From your experience when you think about globality, tackling which one of the following critical aspects would afford your organization to look wider and scale up across the globe? Let's spend a few seconds and think about the question and pick that one critical choice. Michael.

MICHAEL TAMBLYN: Certainly we were looking at going global, at starting to expand outside of Canada, the biggest question was access to capital was do we have gas in the tank to take a model that we built here in the Canadian market and how quickly could we get it to as many different countries as possible? And that wasn't about innovation, that wasn't about lack of will, it wasn't about lack of desire, it was just about do we have the money to make it happen?

MAZI RAZ: Michael, if you don't mind sharing with the audience here, what do you actually do in your business?

MICHAEL TAMBLYN: Sure. Kobo is one of the world's largest e-reading platforms. We sell e-books and e-readers in 150 countries. Every week we have about 45 million users around the world. And so we're based in Toronto but have operations across Asia, the Americas, and Europe. And we have our revenue fairly evenly split between North and South America, Europe, and Asia. .

And that's because from the beginning we knew that although we were based in Canada. Canada just wasn't big enough as a market to support both our ambitions and the kind of scale that we knew would be necessary to compete. So we knew we were going to have to build a global platform, we knew we would be competing against the giants of tech. And so a question for us was how do we create differentiation?

While a lot of our competitors were fighting over the US market, we moved very quickly to expand around the world. And one of the ways that we did that, one of the ways that we created differentiation was by not trying to treat every country the same, by not treating this as purely a platform problem that was about how can I create a replicable experience that treats every country identically?

We did it by partnering locally, by embracing what was different about each of the territories that we were in, hiring people with local expertise, and embracing difference at the same time as we were trying to embrace globality. And so that idea of trying to contain multitudes is something that's baked into the company not just in terms of what we sell, which is I think about 6 and 1/2 million books in the catalog, tens of millions of books sold every year, and not just in terms of the languages that we encompass. I think we have books in 96 languages that we sell now, but also in the people who we've brought into the organization and the diversity of territories that we operate in.

MAZI RAZ: That's beautiful and fantastic. Michael, I'm curious the wisdom to respect and recognize the differences of the parts of the globe that you were trying to reach. How did you come by that wisdom? Was that something that through experimentation or through past experience that you got to?

MICHAEL TAMBLYN: I think it came first of all from having some people in the company who had a degree of international exposure already who didn't come in presupposing that a North American perspective was going to be a European perspective or was going to be an Asian perspective. And then those very first hires, those very first employees that we found in each of those local markets being opening to listen to that input to say here's how the Netherlands is different, here's how a French reader is different from a German reader, here's how a person who loves literature in Italy is different than a person who reads books every day in Japan.

Being open and aware to that, and also just making sure that those first people that come into the organization can be advocates for that territory it can help to reflect the needs of users in that place.

MAZI RAZ: That's fantastic and beautiful, thank you. Fenton, from what I understand of your business, you are in the business of allowing individuals to be more creative and self expressive. And to do that, there's a certain degree of respect that is required for the individual as opposed to thinking that one model fits for everyone. In your business and from that point of view, how do you see globality?

FENTON JAGDEO: Yeah, totally MazI. And it's really interesting because when Michael talks about globally, he's talking about it from a classic definition of what it means to be global and what it means to understand the context in which different international players are able to coexist. At faculty which for context is a modern grooming company but when you strip away all the marketing, what it really is our play at driving cosmetics towards a market that has never used cosmetics historically before and that's the male audience.

When we think about that, globally for me means one thing in particular. And bear with me because I'm going to get super philosophical about it, but I promise to bring it back down into reality. Globally comes from this idea that you can deepen the consciousness and see the whole world around you. And it's almost a way to describe globalization. And what that truly means is this idea of being multidisciplinary when it comes to tackling challenges, when it comes to thinking about your business.

And depending on the industry that you are involved in especially one that hasn't changed for over 100 years, i.e. The cosmetics industry, think about how that playbook completely shifts. So for faculty there's a couple of things that are really interesting. We are a business that's trying to shift cultural norms, and we have a tough job. We're trying to build a community of people who are interested in self-expression, who are unconcerned with the gendered consumption, and who are more concerned with being themselves.

We're effectively trying to create a new market. And the problem for that is within the world of cosmetics, a half a trillion dollar industry that has existed for almost 100 years. That playbook that already exists it just doesn't work for us. We have to throw it out because we're catering to a completely different market. So knowing that arena that we play in and thinking about globally as this mindset of understanding different disciplines that come together to problem solve, to create new solutions and to build on this definition of innovation, which is the creation or crystallization of something new and something viable, we have to come up with our own playbook.

So how do we take awesome tropes and concepts from the world of technology and incorporate it into how we acquire customers? How do we look at the world of fashion, and streetwear, and hype culture and try to find ways to get guys into our funnel? How do we learn from the systems in agriculture that exist on supply chain and try to incorporate it into the way that we build our products?

And it's that idea of thinking across disciplines and throwing out the classic playbook that I think is so crucial to this idea of globality, which I think and I was doing some research on the definition because globality to me seems like a bit of a made-up word, but it comes from a sociologist based out of Britain called Roland Robertson. And effectively what he defines as is the intersection or the intensification of consciousness. So being able to take from these different industries to build a new playbook to help drive success, drive innovation, and create a long lasting ROI for your business.

MAZI RAZ: Fenton, I'm detecting a sense of unlearning in some of the comments that you're making and some of the ideas that you're sharing with us is that if we have been having certain mindsets, we may have to go through a process of unlearning them as we are thinking about globality. And you also raised a series of questions that are I suspect the questions that are best not answered immediately that we can consider those questions as perhaps guideposts going forward and always keeping them.

This is really an interesting way of looking at thinking about the path forward and being global through those questions that will guide us and perhaps we should not rush into answering them. That's very fascinating. Nicole, you are in a practice of turning minds, you are in a practice of enriching people's lives through education. And I know that you have been not only interacting with people from all over the world through your practices both in research and teaching, but also recently you took on this new role of Ivey's, the first initiative that has had with Africa. Tell us a little bit more about your experiences and from your point of view what do you think globality is.

NICOLE HAGGERRTY: Thanks, Mazi. I loved being on this panel. So first of all, thank you for inviting me here because I want to pick up on something that Fenton mentioned talking about an academic and that is the idea of the intensification of consciousness. You know I've always thought of myself as an entrepreneur of ideas. And so my work really reflects on globality in two ways. On the research side, I've spent years looking at how the different tribes of business managers and technologists, the IT people, how those tribes create paths to value leveraging technology.

And so interestingly at that microcosm level of course it's not necessarily dealing in different countries except that managers and technologists seem to come from different planets when it comes to how they come together and create value from innovation. But on the teaching side, I think that's where I've had the most opportunity to think about globality and how we need to prepare our students for two things, intensification of their own consciousness, and an appreciation of their place in the world in a way that is expansive while also being humble and opening up their capacity to see.

And I want to talk about the continent of Africa. In particular I noticed in the chat as I was watching the screen blow up of where people are at that we have somebody from South Africa. And there may be others with a background if not currently located there but a background on that continent. And here's what I'd say that I started to encounter. The purpose of the curriculum innovation I created, the Ubuntu management education initiative was there was many different goals of that.

One was the realization that our colleagues from business schools on the continent of Africa, particularly in sub-Saharan Africa had a desire to embrace an experiential learning in case based education, and that we had a role to play maybe in supporting that in collaborating with them to support it. And the second piece of that that was an important recognition is we don't have a lot of cases about Africa about business and about entrepreneurship on that continent.

And that creates a major blind spot for our school and for our students because we don't talk about it. And not only do we not talk about it, we are let's say enframed by a single story of the continent. The author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie and great economist named Dambisa Moyo both talk about this issue of outside of the continent, most people have a very single story of that continent.

And the consequence is that we tend to approach understanding these differences and opportunities from a very narrow frame of reference, which is about poverty, and war, and starvation. And that precludes us from having a lens of seeing opportunity, of seeing sort of a thriving business community, of seeing a lot of local innovation that we could import here.

And we approach it therefore as a business opportunity from a very particular kind of narrowed objectified mindset. So the program I run allows Ivey students not just to well, it allows Ivey students to first of all break open and break down that single story through the conversations that we have and then also when pandemics permit to travel and go there. This year we're actually doing it virtually. So my students are working with African students and African business schools using Zoom technology.

And that partnership allows them to develop new case material but also show how to learn from cases and those cases are all about African business. So that's sort of the work I do. And it is all predicated on using the Ivey classroom to open up the world.

MAZI RAZ: Thank you, Nicole.


As I'm listening to all three of you, I'm getting a sense that we our starting point here in this conversation has been a respect and a recognition of differences. And as we are thinking about being global, that's one place to start. But to me that raises a question that is simultaneously philosophical and practical, is that how do we connect with these differences? How do we find a way or perhaps a means of reaching to and connecting?

Recognizing exactly what you just said Nicole is that we may not have had a great deal of experience or conversely we may actually have had some stereotypical understanding of these differences. How do we overcome these stereotypes, and how do we practically figure out a way of connecting to these differences? Fenton, any thoughts or any ideas about this question?

FENTON JAGDEO: Have you ever heard of the term radical curiosity? Radical curiosity for me is this relentless desire to go down what I'm calling this productive rabbit hole to learn, to understand, to empathize, and to get knowledge under your skin in a particular topic that you may not be completely versed in. Now radical curiosity if used correctly can do one of two things.

The first thing that it can do is it can really help you create connections to your daily life from how you work to where you're operating in and relate that back to the business innovation that you were trying to build. The second thing that radical curiosity will allow you to do is continue to build connections and spaces that you might not have ever dreamed of building connections. So how are those applicable?

I think the first thing is for a company like Faculty and I'll tell a very brief story that walks through why radical curiosity is so important. But when we were thinking about our launch in July of last year, the first product that we were going to launch was a concealer. All right. A concealer is a makeup product. And the reason why we wanted to launch it was because it's got the highest demand amongst men and lowest barrier to entry.

The problem which many of the audience members have pointed out is that there are certainly some large capital constraints when launching makeup products and even launching from a global perspective. So we thought well, damn, we can't launch this because it's tough, what can we launch instead? And I remember reading a GQ article and seeing nail polish on one of my favorite celebrities hands. And I was like that's really interesting. I don't know anything about nail polish, I don't know anything about nail products, so this could be an interesting angle.

And we got deep into it. We understood it, we got the cultural relevance, we learned the significance of guys wearing nail polish, its history from the world of punk to now as a movement for self-expression. And we ended up pivoting the entire product suite starting with nail polish. And that was arguably one of the best things that we have ever done. But we wouldn't have known that if we just trusted conventional wisdom. We wouldn't have known that if we trusted what we saw in the industry to be true and follow that exact same playbook.

So radical curiosity, this rabbit hole that you can go down based on a couple of really great Easter eggs that point you into a path of post school success can be so great and can be so important. And now from a people perspective, you're building connections all the time, you're, driving relationships you're learning more. And at the end of your journey and learning experience, you end up having this portfolio of people who you can rely on and who you can work with to help build the business in whatever capacity you choose.

So be curious, and be radically curious, and always challenge convention and challenge what you do because chances are you don't know everything.

MAZI RAZ: Fenton, I suspect this notion of radical curiosity that you are mentioning. By the way, I loved this idea of productive rabbit hole, and I can totally see that I'm going to be using that term so many times from not one. But this notion of radical curiosity I suspect it is highly related to what you said earlier about this intensified consciousness and heightened awareness.

It is one thing. I mean, in the world of learning, I'm always constantly asking myself the question how do I help people be different or be who they want to be? Can I just simply stand in front of the classroom or in a boardroom or on a subway and tell someone that be curious? I suspect that doesn't work. So what are the ways that we could help people develop this radical curiosities in them? In your experience, one of the ways for us to ignite that curiosity in them? Any thoughts or any ideas based on your experiences here?

FENTON JAGDEO: Yeah, totally Mazi, and you're right. I think what we're not all pundits in everything. And it's hard for us to sit on a subway and I can tell you that firsthand and tell someone to be curious because it just wouldn't work out. But I think there are a couple of ways you can use radical curiosity as a muscle. And it truly is a muscle that has to be developed over time. I think the first thing is what are you reading?

And most people would argue that you should be reading concepts, ideas, the future of insert your favorite industry that's related to you because you want to be an expert in that industry. I actually want to challenge that convention and strike up another method. What are you reading outside of your industry, outside of your business line, outside of your way of operating that helps contribute to your development and subsequently your company's development?

And how through those readings, how are you connecting that back to the business that you run on an everyday basis? So it's a function of two things I think. It's one how are you exposing yourself to new ideas, reading amazing things, looking at documentaries if you are not a reading person, and exploring things that are completely outside of your comfort zone. And how are you making the conscious connections back to your industry? And how can you take a little bit of that knowledge and relate it back to what you're doing?

And this is like your classic toolkit for driving innovation is thinking about the different industries and adjacencies that sit around where you sit and trying to bring a little bit of that into where you operate as a way to be constructive. So you've got to be reading, you've got to be learning outside of your industry, and you have to be comfortable knowing that when you are engaging with these different topics you're not going to know everything. But that's the point of this.

MAZI RAZ: That's strange. Michael, I suspect that Fenton's invitation to people to read differently and widely is something that perhaps you would enjoy hearing about.

MICHAEL TAMBLYN: Music to my ears. There you go.

MAZI RAZ: What are your thoughts or concerns about how to connect with other human beings recognizing and respecting differences but at the same time reaching out and connecting?

MICHAEL TAMBLYN: For me it's this really interesting mix that I think needs to be cultivated when you're starting to sort of come out of your business comfort zone at this odd mix of humility and fearlessness. And the fearlessness part is kind of easy like so much of a business education is kind of about jamming a certain level of fearlessness into people giving them a set of tools that make them feel that they can accomplish anything whether or not they actually can.

And then that's what propels you forward. But balancing that with a sense of knowing that you don't know everything, being open to ask the question, being able to kind of create some vulnerability within your own organization so that people feel OK about asking those questions, about digging a little bit deeper, about trying to uncover the subtleties of a particular market or the needs of a particular customer.

One of the things that I think we push and pull on a lot in innovation driven economies is we overemphasize the fearlessness and the idea that we can create universal solutions for problems. That is that engineering mindset, we'll find one way and then we'll be able to roll it out across the world. And the humility part is how you pick up the nuance, is how you find the places that it doesn't fit. And there can be a ton of opportunity in both being aware of it and being able to encompass it.

I guess the other piece that I think we found important is a certain amount of institutional resilience that over the course of trying to be open to new ideas, about trying to go into new places that people haven't been, mistakes are going to get made, you're going to take hits. It is going to be hard. If you knew how hard it was going to be probably wouldn't do it. And so can you build some of that grit into the company so that people can shake off a setback and then get back to that sense of what more can we know and how can we get better?

And so I think you take that, you mix that with the radical curiosity that Fenton is talking about, and you end up with this really interesting toolkit of being able to go into places that you haven't been trained for, you end up going into markets that you don't know much about and be able to start learning. And then from that learning find ways that you can create value.

FENTON JAGDEO: We should be charging for this Michael.

MICHAEL TAMBLYN: Totally agree. I totally agree.

MAZI RAZ: There's something really fascinating that you mentioned Michael about making sure that we don't only see innovation through the engineering lens with respect to all engineers out there. And the world would not have actually been so beautiful without engineers. But the idea of that one solution fits all.

And it's something that there are some scholars and researchers are actually talking about the approach that Silicon Valley has these days is that for every solution there is an app. And if you really want to solve the world problems, press this one button and everything will disappear. You're challenging that and you're suggesting that no, nuances matter, and paying attention to those nuances are precisely what's necessary to develop that global that global mindset.

FENTON JAGDEO: It's interesting because it was one of the greatest challenges that we had while raising funds for Kobo in the early days. We did the Centil Road tour raising venture capital. And the hope was that you could see it in the eyes of every BC that you sat down with. It's like OK, you've got a piece of software, you've got something and we're just going to be able to sell like a lot of it with a small number of employees to 100 million people.

And the answer was, well, actually these countries are all kind of different, they're all going to require a slightly different solution to kind of make it work. We think we can do that in an efficient way, but it's not one master solution to own them all. And that's the only way that we can make ourselves different than Amazon, Apple, Google, like that's actually how you win against a company like that.

And frankly like a lot of investors just found that too scary to go after. The ones that said yes in the end we're pretty happy that they did.

MAZI RAZ: Beautiful. Nicole, being a scholar of information technology and the whole of the world that is around that, I suspect that Michael's point of view and approach is something that you've encountered in research and in the work that you do. Am I correct?

NICOLE HAGGERRTY: Yeah, absolutely. Yeah. I was busy thinking about the other thing that they were talking about, but let me pick up on this because I think the interesting thing about technology is that people see the surface which is here's a piece of technology and they don't understand the deep structure of the path to value creation through management capability.

And that management capacity to say Yeah, we may have a piece of technology but how it interacts with its social conditions in any given market matter. And so that nuance and pulling out the sort of unique managerial approach even given sort of a common idea of a reader with books, that is where unique value is created. That is the place where unique value is created. And that's a managerial challenge more than it is a technological challenge.

And so the point I want to pick up on that I heard from both my colleagues here Fenton and Michael is the journey towards globality as a mindset starts with the interior mindset of the individual. There's an interior learning that has to take place inside the individual. And for Fenton what I heard was it starts with reading outside of where you're at. And with Michael it starts with being in a geography and figuring it out. There's a certain amount of you talked about grit and resilience Michael.

When I think about how do we bring that into the Ivey classroom? So that's what I hear, that's what motivates me that motivated my own journey. It started with a Ted Talk. Sorry, but it started with a Ted Talk. This I mentioned the author Chimamanda Ngozi Adichie has a Ted Talk I implore you all to watch it, the danger of a single story. If you've not watched it, watch it.

Here's why I start my course with that. I start many conversations with it clearly this one being a one I hate to plug a Ted Talk, but it's a pathway in into the inside of what is my single story? The first thing it does and the first thing I use it for is to challenge people to think about the single story we have of a whole continent, the continent of Africa, and the danger that harboring that single story has for how our capacity to even see difference, our capacity to even see opportunity.

But it also affords an opportunity for us to be reflective on our own single story. What is the single story of me that other people have, the single story others have of my organization? Cosmetics for men, like what are the single stories people have? That how do I break down those single stories? And I think for Ivey students the work that I do is focused on two things because it's also been my own journey personally. That is humility.

The character attribute of humility is about being reflective, being open minded, and being a perpetual learner to be able to see when am I not making things visible, not accounting for the single perspectives I might have. And the other is collaboration because collaboration brings cooperation and interconnectedness. And you put those two things together and facilitate the discovery of those things in our students in ourselves, then you've got the right interior platform for an exterior approach to globality and interconnectedness.

MAZI RAZ: You make me want to come to your class next time around and actually take your course because these are lessons that I very much would like to hear, get involved with, and practice on an ongoing basis Nicole. So I'll make sure that I'll figure out a way of enrolling in your course.

NICOLE HAGGERRTY: You're welcome any time Mazi. Everyone's welcome. I have a dream of an alumni based collaboration with these African business schools because it is a unique capability of the Ivey community who use the exponential case based method and to engage in conversations about business from that platform. So alumni program here we come.

MAZI RAZ: Here we come, fantastic. Michael, the question that has been on my mind I mean we're really talking about some very interesting human aspects and really we're lifting the hood and truly looking at what's underneath this notion of being global and embracing curiosity, humility, collaboration for the purpose of being global. As an executive, as someone who's been really experienced, a highly experienced and successful in this world, what advice do you have for people who are about to embark on this journey? What are some words of wisdom that you may want to share with them?

MICHAEL TAMBLYN: I think one of the most important things that we did was that we looked at the idea of being an international company with intention. And there were so many decisions that we made very early on before they were commercially relevant, before it was going to turn into revenue that allowed us to not just be a North American company, to not just be a Canadian company. And they felt like expensive, dangerous, risky decisions at the time.

As soon as you decide to support multiple languages, as soon as you decide to do multi locale, everything slows down, everything becomes more complicated. You take on a lot of engineering baggage, you take on a lot of logistical baggage. But it was absolutely the thing that determine whether or not we we're standing here today. We made those decisions early on. A lot of our competitors said the US it's the largest market for e-books in the world. That's where we're going to spend all of our time.

And so that allowed us to move to every other country where it looked like digital reading might have a chance of taking root very quickly. And it bought us two years of running time. It allowed us time to build market share, it allowed us time to find customers and build brand, and kind of build loyalty, but it started with these really rugged gnarly conversations at the beginning. It's like this is going to be painful until it starts to pay off. But if we hadn't, we would have been like a lot of our competitors kind of locked in a single language, single territory world, and then try to figure out afterwards how do we get out. And realizing that then it's even more difficult and more expensive.

And in the meantime, everything we were doing from a people perspective, everything we were doing from kind of a philosophical perspective was based around this idea that we're trying to encompass a world of reading. We're not just trying to be a great Canadian digital bookseller. And there were really going to be four or five global platforms that are going to dominate the space and that we could coming out of Toronto actually be one of them.


There are a couple of places where and I look at reading culture specifically that we really got pulled in different directions depending on the territory that we're in. I look at the difference between, say our Canadian market and our Japanese market. Japan is a huge territory for us. And yet in Canada let's say 2/3 of the reading is happening on e-readers, on dedicated devices that we've manufactured and sold. In

Japan almost everything is smartphone. E-readers not a product category at all. And that didn't just mean that we had to have a really good experience for smartphones for e-reading, that's something that we had to do everywhere. But we found that the reading culture there is almost entirely graphic novels and manga. So about 60% of what we sell in Japan is illustrated content, it's graphic novels. And that the expectations around how you view that are incredibly high.

So we would have publishers turning us inside out to make sure that the way that we rendered images had absolute fidelity to the paper product that they were selling on newsstands every day. The speed and the rate at which people could zip through manga, this ferocious pace was something that we had never experienced anywhere else. And then the rapidity at which they were expecting recommendations, new books, get me to the next in the series, move me through this particular genre or this particular artist were things that we'd never encountered before.

So like one capsule example of just one reading culture very different from other ones that we've seen. We have other places where the challenges are regulatory. You can't discount a book in France. You have to-- like everybody has to sell them at the same price. It's the law. So all of this beautifully elaborate price management discount curve sensitivity and stuff that we built for other territories suddenly went out the window when you're really competing on experience.

So two examples of what looked to be very straightforward countries that actually required us to kind of rip apart big parts of the product and think about them differently.

MAZI RAZ: Hey, that's beautiful. And I agree with Fenton, we actually should start charging for this. These are some really great words of wisdom for people. Yes we should. Fenton, there is something really unique about your experience, and that is that you're not just very interestingly global, but you're also connecting with and perhaps simultaneously building a nonexistent conventional marketplace. It wasn't out there. It's not something that you're like stepping into a market that was well defined with parameters of success and whatnot. You actually had to define it. And in that experience, would you be willing to share some of your key learning with people?

FENTON JAGDEO: Oh, yeah, certainly Mazi. And it's been an anthropological journey to say the least. I feel like I'm an Explorer trying to understand this new audience that I'm trying to build that could be seen as an adjacent audience or one that doesn't exist or what have you. So when we think about finding our customers, we think about generations and we think about where that generation lives, where they exist, where they eat, where they breathe.

And for us, the primary target for our business is Gen Z I have the misfortune of being a millennial. So we're the talk of the town, the class clowns. But Gen Z is a whole new market that thinks critically about the businesses that they're interested in. They think critically about the environment, social causes. They own $140 billion worth of buying power in the US and that's going to globally scale over time. And they're looking for businesses that lead with intention as Michael said, that are authentic, that come with the true purpose and a value in the philosophy that they align with.

So where do they live, and where do you find them? And quite frankly whether we like to see the pandemic as something that's limited us in terms of our globalization, it's actually been quite helpful to learning and to understanding this new perspective. It means I can go on to the world of Instagram and look at the cultural leaders who are dominating the space and dominating the culture that we look up to, see the people who are following them, and go down that rabbit hole and find those like minded people.

When you start to get a sample size of 100, 200 people of who you're analyzing on a constant basis, you start to see a couple of things that are predominant pillars within that generation. And then you can start to find these people everywhere. Another great way that we try to find our customers is the content we put out. We try to put out amazing content that speaks to people. And the people who it speaks to will engage in discussion in conversation and we can learn from them.

And we're constantly talking to this generation in one way, shape, or form, whether it's through these interviews or conversations or through the world of TikTok, or Instagram, or social media. And quite frankly, some of the stuff means that we have to go outside too. And I believe that in a world where we get back to what's normal, we're going to the parades. We are going to the hot spots where people hang out, we're having conversations with them.

And getting back to that whole ethnographic research and an anthropological journey, we're really just trying to witness and view it all happening right before our eyes. So that's sort of the surface level approach.

MAZI RAZ: So that's radical curiosity in practice.


MAZI RAZ: Lived and embody, this sphere, thank you. And Nicole, I'm probably going to say something a bit controversial here, and if I'm incorrect, please correct me. I suspect this notion globally, the danger of the single story just doesn't happen only with respect to globality and across nations. Even local it is exceptionally valuable single story.

NICOLE HAGGERRTY: It is yes indeed.

MAZI RAZ: Not just only from a global point of view.

NICOLE HAGGERRTY: 100%. And that's the moment when I realized that the that for the work that we do that is the right video to get us started, but for the opportunity for individuals to sort of open themselves up in a really authentic and vulnerable way. Their reflection on their own single story and then where else they see single stories playing out it was probably the most magical two hours of conversation I've had with Ivey students in ever.

And I've been doing this for 30 plus years. Yeah.

MAZI RAZ: Since you were like four or five perhaps.

NICOLE HAGGERRTY: Oh, God love you, Mazi. Yeah.

MAZI RAZ: If there's any last words of wisdom that you wish to share with people, that'll be fantastic. Let's go with Fenton first, and then Michael, and then we'll return back to Nicole at the end.

FENTON JAGDEO: There was an interesting piece that Nicole mentioned around innovation, having a portion of its scalability coming from management systems. And I wholeheartedly believe that when I think about innovation it's broken up into the client side and the people side on the internal. As leaders within the community, I always implore the end of these talks to think about your workforce and to think about how you can drive inclusion in that workforce, and to think about how you can drive a workforce that comes from different disciplines because there's so much magic in the brainstorming and the idea creation of people who come from such various backgrounds.

And having a human lens is proven to show an incredible financial return. That shows up on an income statement and is not just a PR plug. So for the sake of radical curiosity, for the sake of innovation, and for the sake of going global, do your best to bring in a workforce that represents that. And I promise you, you will be on your way to driving profits like never before.

MAZI RAZ: Thank you. Michael.

MICHAEL TAMBLYN: I think there's a bit of a tendency in Canadian business to think modestly to look at what a good, nice sized success would look like. And so I think there's kind of been a general narrative about how do we inject more of that fearlessness into Canadian innovators, into people that are starting new companies in Canada. And I absolutely agree with that. And that was the momentum that powered us forward is that you absolutely could build a global business from Canada.

But the humility piece is important too because that in the end was what allowed us to stick in different markets. Being Canadian, encompassing diversity, not having a legacy of being an imperial power, being a dominating power was what allowed us to go into territories that really resist that kind of legacy and history. So having the kind of notional Canadian flag on our lapel was something that allowed us to work in countries and with companies who in many ways we're trying to defend themselves against encroachment from other big companies, from other places.

So embracing that Canadianess as opposed to trying to starch it out and just becoming a slightly colder Silicon Valley is a unique opportunity for us. Can you take all of the virtues of tolerance, and diversity, and openness that are embedded in this country and power that with the fearlessness that we know that a great education from somewhere like Ivey can help to inject along with a lot of plain old homegrown ambition. So that's what I would love to see.

MAZI RAZ: Thank you, Michael. Nicole, I know that you also have a lot to share with us.

NICOLE HAGGERRTY: Let me leave you with one word, the word is Ubuntu. Buntu is a South Bantu word that means I am because we are, I am because we are. That is the name we chose for the Ubuntu management education initiative. And it's that spirit of interconnectedness that I encourage everyone to find a way to embrace. I am because we are, that's Ubuntu.

MAZI RAZ: It's very beautiful, thank you. Thanks to all of our panelists. You were amazing, you were lively, you were generous, and thank you very much.


Thank you for tuning in and listening to this episode. We'd like to extend further thanks to our guests for taking the time to share the knowledge and insights with us. The Ivey Academy podcast is produced by Melissa Welsh, Shaun Ekeler Grant, and Joanna Shepherd . Editing an audio mix by Carole Eugene Park. If you'd like this episode, make sure to subscribe for similar content in the future. Please visit Ivey Academy dossier or follow us on LinkedIn, Twitter, and Instagram using the handle @ Ivey Academy. If you liked this episode, make sure to subscribe for similar content in the future. You can also learn about our organization, the Ivey Academy and check out all our activities, events, and programs. Thanks again for listening. We look forward to having you with us for the next episode.


About The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School

The Ivey Academy at Ivey Business School is the home for executive Learning and Development (L&D) in Canada. It is Canada’s only full-service L&D house, blending Financial Times top-ranked university-based executive education with talent assessment, instructional design and strategy, and behaviour change sustainment. 

Rooted in Ivey Business School’s real-world leadership approach, The Ivey Academy is a place where professionals come to get better, to break old habits and establish new ones, to practice, to change, to obtain coaching and support, and to join a powerful peer network. Follow The Ivey Academy on LinkedIn, Twitter, Facebook, and Instagram.