An Exclusive Chat With Duncan Sinclair

Small Business Canada

Duncan Sinclair – Chair Of Deloitte Canada And Chile

Duncan Sinclair is the Chair of Deloitte Canada and Chile, and a member of the Deloitte Global Board. Throughout his 32-year career, Duncan’s professional activities include serving public and private global businesses in the mining, telecommunication, consumer business, manufacturing, real estate, and construction industries, as well as national and regional governments.

Duncan is passionate about developing those around him and building a better future for Canada and Chile. Duncan currently serves as Chair of the Long Term Investment Organization and sits on The Princess Margaret Cancer Foundation Board of Directors. He is a member of the advisory board of the Global Projects Centre at Stanford University, the Lazaridis Institute at Wilfred Laurier University, the Smith School of Business at Queen’s University, and the Junior Achievement of Central Ontario Board of Governors. Duncan believes in the impactful role business leaders play in shaping stronger, more prosperous communities.

When CanadianSME sat down with Duncan Sinclair, Chair of Deloitte Canada and Chile earlier this year to understand his role and his organization’s affinity for purpose-led, inclusive leadership, the global pandemic we face today was rife with unknowns. Its impact, now synonymous with our shared reality, seemed mysterious, unfathomable, near impossible. Yet here we stand. Several hard and uncertain weeks later, united as we work to respond to the crisis while preparing for the recovery of our economy. As Duncan and his Board of Directors, and Executive Leadership Teamwork diligently to oversee and manage the unprecedented challenges of today, the ethos of purpose-led, inclusive leadership continues to influence every decision. It sits at the core of who Deloitte Canada is for its leaders, its people, its clients, and its communities. And it manifests in the actions of Duncan and the Board to work in close concert with firm Leadership to weather the storm and ensure it is positioned for continued long-term success. It is a challenge coupled with opportunity; one Duncan and his Board are equipped to tackle. Together, we explore Duncan’s role leading the governance of the largest professional services firm in Canada, and his perspective on our new era ahead.

First, tell us about your position as Chair of Deloitte Canada and Chile. What is the most critical part of your role?

I have the honor of serving as Chair of Deloitte Canada and Chile where I lead its Board of Directors. Together we engage in effective governance of our firm by overseeing its strategic direction, financial and operational performance, people and culture, and risk and reputation management. We always operate in the best, long-term interests of our people, our clients, and our communities.

While I enjoy working alongside my fellow Board Members and in a separate yet united role with our Executive Team, a critical part of my position is to collaborate with my fellow partners to serve our clients, support the needs of our people, and contribute to the inclusive growth and prosperity of our two countries. A key part of the future success of Canada and Chile is helping entrepreneurs scale their businesses and create future global powerhouses that remain controlled and head officed in our countries. Today, more than ever before, this remains a priority for me. As we respond, recover, and thrive in this time of crisis, the focus will be to rebuild a greater, more economically inclusive society in Canada and Chile. Such efforts will require businesses to invest in new and innovative products and services, ultimately supporting the ecosystem of future entrepreneurs to help them continue to grow in an inclusive society. Our ongoing collaboration with federal and provincial governments across the various programs they are creating to support small-medium enterprise is a critical part of how we will support our entrepreneurs through this crisis.

In this time of unprecedented disruption, what role do the Chair and Board play in the leadership of an organization?

As we live through this unique moment in history, a board’s focus on the long-term position of an organization as well as short-term crisis decisions that must be made is a critical factor in an organization’s ability to emerge from the crisis and push forward into a refreshed era of economic recovery and opportunity. I believe in this unprecedented time, that boards and Executive teams must collaborate to bring their organization successfully through this crisis. Beyond the critical needs of ensuring that an organization’s people are healthy, safe, and able to support their families and loved ones, boards must also keep an eye on the horizon, balancing decision-making between what is right for the short- and long-term, and always leveraging this lens to stay true to the organization’s purpose and shared values. This is how we are navigating the crisis in our firm—supporting management in near-term choices by thinking through what the mid- and long-term impacts will be on our brand. We are entrusted with this responsibility, and this crisis is a true test of ours and any board’s ability to govern with distinction.

You speak about the horizon and the social contributions of your organization. As we head into the ‘next’ normal, how will Deloitte be part of the story?

I think the world and its citizens can collectively admit that none of us were ready for the rapid global impact of COVID-19, and the unprecedented challenges it has revealed in the capacity of our healthcare systems, the quality of our digital infrastructure across our two countries, and on a global supply chain. These are some of the public policy issues COVID-19 has brought to light regarding the long-term structure of our economies, and the investment choices we need to make to re-store consumer confidence and allow our economies to recover into the future. These are all issues Deloitte is already working on with organizations and governments to respond to the COVID-19 crisis, as well as recover and thrive in the months ahead as we engage with other business and government leaders to rebuild our countries’ economies.

I’m proud of the way that our people have pulled together to support each other working from home, taking on leadership roles in the support of their family members and friends, and continuing to engage with and support our clients and the broader community.

It is a real test of our organization’s culture, and commitment to a long-term purpose and shared values to see how people respond in a crisis. I am confident in our ability to create a successful long-term future for our people in the years ahead.

To date, we have been freely sharing our thought leadership, including our live, AI-driven economic recovery dashboard, across a wide group of clients, governments, and community leaders to provide insights and strategies for how to navigate various aspects of the COVID-19 crisis and help these groups recover.

Our readers are often members of the small and medium-sized business community. Tell us about some of the offerings Deloitte has in place to help business owners succeed. How will these offerings be adapted in light of COVID-19?

At Deloitte, our focus is to help solve our clients’ most complex problems. We form partnerships for the long-term. Over our global organization’s 175-year history, we’ve continued to listen to our clients’ needs to continuously evolve the services we offer. We’ve branched out well beyond the legacy of audit and tax services— while still important to both us and our clients today—to provide a suite of advisory offerings that serve clients big and small. This time in history is no different. As we assess and understand the critical needs of our clients today and in the future, we’ll reimagine how we can best support their businesses, future-proofing them for the road ahead.

Regardless of the size of the enterprise, all business is personal. Being able to create longterm, trust-based relationships with clients is essential for any business to thrive.

Our firm does this by being strategic and thoughtful, supporting our clients as we work together to plan and implement new strategies. In the past and present, this can include finding and raising capital to grow their business, developing new and innovative programs, creating succession planning for their teams, or seeking the benefits of new technologies to enhance their digital platforms like cyber and AI. In the journey ahead, as the landscape of what our clients require continues to evolve, we’ll continue to adapt our offering, listening to our clients, and deploying services that mirror their needs. This has been a critical facet of our 175-year history, and part of how we will remain relevant for 175 years more.

Let’s talk about company culture. Having had extensive experience in leadership roles, how can leaders positively contribute to the culture of an organization?

At Deloitte, we’ve done extensive research on the question of leadership and what it takes for leaders to be successful in organizations in Canada and Chile. A few years ago, Deloitte Canada released a publication that spoke to the need for greater courage by corporate leaders to create more long-term value. Two findings from that report stood out to me: one is that leadership starts with you, no matter the size of your team or the place in your organization. Having the courage to speak up, offer new ideas, and challenge the status quo is critical for growth and success in any organization. Second, it’s critical for leaders to put a deep emphasis on creating a culture that unites its people across experiences and geographies, encouraging team members to be authentic and lead with purpose. This will help ensure organizations thrive, propel their employees to be successful, and elevate the overall community to become economically prosperous in an inclusive way.

Can you tell us about the strategies Deloitte uses to foster a culture of inclusion and help people lead with purpose?

Making an impact that matters is our purpose and guiding star that unites Deloitte globally as a firm. It’s in our DNA to be purpose-led as an organization, and instill our shared values in our people. When we truly live our shared values, we foster an environment where everyone feels included and inspired, and we build a collective mindset to work together, empowering each other to do our best work every day.

I want to share a recent thought: prior to our new remote environment and physical distancing, when I walked the halls of our offices in Canada and Chile and heard the variety of languages spoken and the openness with which different customs and cultures were celebrated, I felt confident in the culture of inclusion we’ve built and will continue to safeguard. I give our people full credit for being open and welcoming of each other’s diverse backgrounds and life experiences. While leadership can set the tone, it’s the people across the organization who do the real work of creating that successful and inclusive culture together. I have no doubt this inclusive workplace continues as our people shelter in place, working from the safety of their homes. They are connected in spirit and action.

In closing, as businesses face tough decisions in the weeks and months ahead, how can boards and leaders contribute to a strong company and societal culture?

At Deloitte, one of our shared values is simple: take care of each other. This rings true today more than ever. During this time of extraordinary challenges, governance and management teams are uniquely positioned to look out for one another, while reinforcing a culture of inclusive human concern for the physical and mental wellbeing of their people. The best laid strategies will only come to fruition if the people executing them feel like they are part of an organization led by purpose, with their best interests at mind, and trust at its core. Deloitte, like all organizations at this time, is putting its people, clients, and communities first. It’s a simple strategy, but effective, to contributing to a wider societal fabric, on the path to becoming the best countries in the world to live and work.

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