Aboriginal Business Talk with Michael McMullen

Small Business Canada

Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce.

Michael is President & Founder of MCM Consulting Limited. MCM client firms cover a broad spectrum including Public Relations, Pharmacy, Marketing, Municipal Corporation, Federal Government agency, Technology, Film Production, Junior Hockey & Human Resources.  MCM provides strategic path direction, analysis, implementation planning & execution platforms for all clients.

MCM Consulting led Michael to a 15-month engagement with Ashley Furniture in 2013-2014 in Brandon, Florida.  As COO & EVP, he was accountable for the growth and expansion of the $2.4 Billion North American Licensee Division. Other engagements have included a six-month stint as interim President of a technology company operating in the “Internet of Things” space.

Prior to founding, MCM Consulting Michael served as Executive Vice President for the North West Company for the Northern Canada Retail Division from 2007 – 2013. His portfolio covered 132 stores stretching from the coast of Labrador to the border of Alaska.

Prior to the North West Company, Michael had many years of experience with large and small retail firms.  As President and CEO of Warehouse One The Jean Store, he led the firm from bankruptcy in 2002 to a 105 store operation primarily located in the western provinces.  His extensive retail background came from IKEA North America where he held a number of Executive positions over a sixteen-year career, including Director of Human Resources for North America and as a Retail Division Manager, North America.

Michael is now a Governor of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce, previously served on Executive of the CCC Board of Directors & as the Chair in 2014 -2015. Since 2016 he has been Vice-Chair of the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, a Director for Diabetes Canada & the CEO & Chair of SickNotWeak, founder Michael Landsberg’s, Toronto based mental health Foundation.

How does it feel to be the head of such a great organization?

It’s a privilege to represent this part of Canada’s demographic in Manitoba where the Indigenous percent of the population is 17%. I’ve been engaged with The Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce for over 3 years now. We were at a low point when I entered and we have made remarkable strides,

What are some of the projects and initiatives that you’re hoping to put in place that can benefit SME owners?

The most important thing is leading by example. At the end of last year, we launched our indigenous leadership series. That included speakers from the private sector. For us, it’s demonstrating that there is a path towards success and that these leaders are examples of that, and the Indigenous entrepreneur can learn from that and have the same success. The strongest initiative that we are launching is our Procurement Initiative with Western Economic Diversification Canada. Manitoba added 9.3 Billion dollars to the economy last year. Many indigenous businesses don’t easily gain access to government procurement at any level – national, provincial or municipal. And we’re proud of the initiatives we’ve launched to benefit SME owners.

SME owners face a lot of challenges during the start-up phase of their business. What would you say is the biggest challenge that the Aboriginal community faces when it comes to starting their business?

Fundamentally, it’s the same as most entrepreneurs. The biggest difference is that Indigenous entrepreneurs often lack the initial exposure at earlier stages of development. There aren’t that many role models in place on reserves where many of these individuals grew up. Networking and understanding the gateways to starting a business to get financing, to supply chain and distribution is often more difficult because of the lack of exposure from an earlier age.

The government of Canada has been putting in place several resources and services in place to encourage Aboriginals towards the path of entrepreneurship. What is the number one benefit that the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce has put in place to help Aboriginal entrepreneurs?

It’s hard to articulate the number one benefit. A pragmatic benefit- we just signed a contract with a national insurance company that would supply benefits that are tailor-made to the Indigenous population. If I launch a business, how do I take care of myself and my employees at a cost-effective rate? This recent contract with the national insurance company should certainly help with that.

The number one benefit overall would be practical things – the policies we’ve advocated the last couple of years which include the duty to consult process and procurement. We have many Aboriginal entrepreneurs who are operating from their house, and I love that aspect of Indigenous entrepreneurs.

Can you tell us about some of the programs and resources that the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce offers to SME owners wishing to expand their business?

It’s not old school networking. I think it’s driving awareness to forward momentum. I give the example of one of our Indigenous entrepreneurs that funds startups and small businesses run by Ian Cramer. Ian is the CEO of First Peoples Economic Growth Fund. For the Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce, it’s often about connecting the dots between SMEs and sources of financing.

Would you say that there has been an increase in Aboriginal businesses in the last few years? What do you believe caused it?

There has certainly been an increase. Just in Manitoba, this report just came out – there are over 700 Indigenous businesses in the province. We account for 35,000 jobs and 1.1 Billion in salaries.

When we look closer, what inspired that? There are breakthrough companies. They’ve elevated the Indigenous brand and that’s given encouragement to the rest of the community. It was well stated by the President of the Manitoba Metis Federation, David Chartrand: Indigenous people have always been traders. Its part of their cultural heritage. For me, we can’t claim that it’s totally cultural in nature but it is part of the makeup. I would say that with the increase in Indigenous education, business success has increased. That has encouraged others to take those natural instincts, combined with education and launch forward.

The Aboriginal Chamber of Commerce prides itself on its values of the seven sacred teachings: Love, Respect, Courage, Honesty, Wisdom, Humility and Truth. How is the ACC putting these values into place when it comes to helping Aboriginal entrepreneurs?

We looked at our bylaws 2.5 years ago and some of the 7 sacred teachings didn’t reflect our culture. Maybe it seemed quite formal, but it was crucial for us to integrate the 7 teachings in our culture. It was easy to write that down on a piece of paper but the challenge was how do we lobby that? What we can do as a chamber of commerce to embrace those changing?

We’re bringing in Dr. David Suzuki – one might think that he is an environmentalist and doesn’t exactly embrace the resource center. However, if we embraced the 7 teachings, we would see that we can certainly learn a lot from him.

Our goal is to apply each teaching effectively. You counterbalance the David Suzuki visit to a month later, having a Procurement Initiative that will embrace the resource center: how do indigenous entrepreneurs have a foothold in business supply chains and distribution.

We respect others. We have the courage to listen to others. And we’re honest with ourselves that we may not know everything which leads to wisdom. This leads to humility and ultimately leads to the truth.

What is the best advice you can give to SME owners who are looking to go on the journey of entrepreneurship?

Start! Just step forward and start. It requires courage. The humility aspect is that it’s ok to ask and search for answers. It’s ok to share your thoughts. It’s ok saying that this is a weakness that I need to address.

Look for good role models. You can learn a lot from researching other firms that have been successful. There are enough Indigenous businesses that you can learn from.

I’ve been in multi-billion dollar organizations and we’ve talked about stumbling forward. For an SME, I would say launch. A failure to launch leads to “would’ve could’ve should’ve”. It’s very much about encouragement for us.

Our advice is to address individual’s barriers in a long run manner. And by defining them, you can find solutions to step across them.

On a final note, what inspired you to go into this career path?

My work with ACC was inspired by 2 things:

My experience as the Chair and Executive in the Canadian Chamber of Commerce for 6 years was very inspiring. I spent most of one year visiting a lot of small communities. The Indigenous population and reserves are typically in small towns, or often in a town within a town. The Chamber of Commerce in small communities are not only an engine for commerce but a chamber and engine for culture. It’s the cultural engine that sustains the community.

The second inspiration is that I’m one of the few Canadians that has had the privilege of travelling to 170 First Nations and Inuit communities. Seeing these communities firsthand and seeing the spirit of some very challenged communities, has inspired me to work in an organization that can make real differences. That can drive the underlying economic foundation. What inspires me is to ask the question: As an organization, can we move the dial to bring communities with different backgrounds together. Can we do that? I think we can.

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