Why Shopify’s Tobias Lütke is No. 2 on the 2021 Maclean’s Power List

Union Eleven, CC BY-SA 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

Shopify’s founder and CEO Tobias Lütke held the number two spot in Maclean’s annual Power List.

Soon after Vancouver’s landmark Dressew Supply went into lockdown mode in mid-March, David McKie, co-owner of the warehouse-style shop famous for its overflowing aisles of buttons, zippers and multicoloured fabrics, began to see surging demand for cloth and elastics by people wanting to make face masks. But there was a problem—McKie had never gotten around to building a website for the business, so a skeleton crew of three, down from Dressew’s usual 30 employees, was left frantically trying to fill orders by phone. Something had to change. So in April, McKie bought a laptop and a camera, and within two weeks the nearly 60-year-old family business had joined the COVID-19 e-commerce boom. “There’s so much more we can do with it that we haven’t done,” he says, noting Dressew only handles orders for curbside pickup for now.

The company behind the scenes of Dressew’s rapid pivot is one that has powered tens of thousands of similar transitions over the last year by desperate Main Street retailers across Canada and helped dramatically reshape the country’s retail landscape—Shopify, the 15-year-old Ottawa-based software company that lets merchants easily set up online stores with just a few clicks.

FT: Canadians seethe over lockdown-defying politicians

Image by kristinekelly from Pixabay

In his Christmas Eve video message, Rod Phillips, finance minister of Canada’s largest province, sat next to a crackling fireplace and commiserated with the people of Ontario that they could not “be in person with as many family and friends as we’d like to”.

In reality Mr Phillips was on vacation at a luxury resort on the Caribbean island of St Barts. Despite rushing back after his trip was exposed, he resigned on New Year’s Eve. The daily tally of politicians and government officials who have flouted stay-at-home recommendations to travel abroad over the holidays has sparked outrage in a country that places a premium on following rules and has a low tolerance for hypocrisy in public life.

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What cities will look like after the pandemic

As part of a package of stories for Pivot magazine’s January/February issue I looked at some of the ways the pandemic and lockdowns have reshaped urban life.

  • Future cities – What we do: COVID-19 changed the way we experienced arts and culture. What does the future hold for the cultural industry?
  • Future cities – Where we work: Farewell to the workplace as we knew it. Welcome, the pandemic-inspired office space that will take its place
  • Future cities – Where we live: Will remote work and other factors speed up the flight to suburban regions—and beyond?
  • Future cities – How we moveLess public transit use and more cars. Automation and shifting priorities will shape the future city.

Maclean’s Charts to Watch for 2021

When it came time to compile this year’s collection of charts to watch, our seventh annual year-end chartstravaganza, it was obvious the elephant in the room would be 0.125 microns in size. COVID-19 has left its mark on every facet of our lives and by extension, the economy. The disruption to how we live, work and interact with each other caught the entire world off guard. As one economist remarked when approached for a chart this year, “perhaps an epidemiologist would have more insight into 2021 than an economist.”

Still, the struggle to make sense of this pandemic economy and its many contradictions continues. Against this backdrop we reached out to scores of economists, business leaders, investors and analysts and asked each to chose a chart that will be important to Canada’s economy in 2021 and beyond, and to explain why in their own words.

Report on Business magazine: Canada leads the world in pandemic spending

The coronavirus crisis has forced countries around the world to dig deep to save their economies. But when it comes to pandemic spending, Canada is in a league of its own. Ottawa is on track for a $343-billion deficit this year. Compared to 2019, the country is expected to see its fiscal outlook worsen more than any G20 nation, with a change in its deficit equal to 19.6 pe cent of gross domestic product, according to the International Monetary Fund’s (IMF) most recent fiscal monitor.

While budgetary hawks have expressed deep concern with the federal government’s refusal to commit to a timeline for balancing its books, Prime Minister Justin Trudeau has defended the massive volley of spending by arguing the economy would be worse without it.

So did Ottawa get bang for its deficit buck?


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Report on Business magazine: CEO of the Year – All Canadian small business owners

Credit: Google Streetview

In March, Yoo was gearing up for yet another busy spring fashion shopping season, but it never happened. At least, not in the way she envisioned. With her store deemed non-essential and ordered to close amid the pandemic lockdown, Yoo spent the next month with her small staff photographing and cataloguing every item to sell over the internet. She’d already taken small steps into the e-commerce world, but now she converted one of the shop’s three rooms into a photo studio to keep pace with surging online sales. Then, when another luxury consignment shop shut its doors, Yoo snapped up $500,000 of its stock to add to her offerings.

“The workload is more now—I work 100 hours a week—but we’re doing similar to or better than before,” she says. “I’m one of those people who looks at the cards I’m given and adapts, and this whole thing has been an exercise in adapting and finding creative ways to survive and reinvent your business.”

Yoo’s journey is a microcosm of the gruelling ordeal thousands of small and medium-size businesses have endured during the pandemic.

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Pivot: Paul Martin is expecting big things from the next generation of leaders 

One of Paul Martin’s hallmark initiatives as prime minister was the Kelowna Accord, a five-year, $5-billion agreement aimed at closing the social and economic gap between Indigenous and non-Indigenous Canadians. His government’s defeat meant the accord was never implemented, but after leaving politics, he launched the Martin Family Initiative (MFI), a charity aimed at improving education, health and well-being outcomes for Indigenous children and youth in Canada. He spoke with Pivot about his foundation’s evolution, the role of the private sector in tackling social problems and whether we should worry about the explosion in government deficits.

FT: Trudeau’s grand, green spending ambitions come at a cost

Justin Trudeau – Prime Minister of Canada, CC BY 3.0 via Wikimedia Commons

In the early days of the Covid-19 pandemic, as cases and the death toll mounted in Canada, Justin Trudeau and his finance minister, Bill Morneau, sought to assure nervous businesses and households the government had the tools to tackle the crisis.

Now, after racking up a projected C$343bn deficit to stabilise the economy, the acrimonious exit of Mr Morneau from cabinet has spawned a new level of uncertainty at a critical juncture in Canada’s recovery — one that has pitted Mr Trudeau’s ambitious plans for a post-pandemic stimulus barrage against the spectre of unending deficits.

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FT: Chrystia Freeland appointed Canada’s finance minister

Hildenbrand / MSC, CC BY 3.0 DE via Wikimedia Commons

Justin Trudeau has named deputy prime minister Chrystia Freeland as Canada’s new finance minister, putting her in charge of steering the country through its economic recovery from the coronavirus pandemic.

Ms Freeland, a former journalist with the Financial Times who won praise for her handling of trade talks with Washington as foreign affairs minister during the Liberal government’s first term, is the first woman to serve as federal finance minister. Bill Morneau abruptly resigned from the post a day earlier.

In the cabinet shuffle to appoint Ms Freeland, she will keep her current job as deputy prime minister while giving up her role as minister for intergovernmental affairs to Dominic LeBlanc.

In her new job Ms Freeland would oversee the rebuilding of Canada’s economy after the Covid-19 crisis blew a hole in the country’s finances and sent the economy into free fall.

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Stewart Butterfield, total slacker

Thinking about the knock-on effects of the Great Pandemic of 2020 is enough to make anyone philosophical – and Stewart Butterfield more than most.

In the three months since companies worldwide switched off the lights and sent their employees home, it has become more obvious by the day that millions of workers are now permanently unbound from their cubicles. “There are second- and third-order effects to this,” Mr. Butterfield says via Zoom from his house in San Francisco, his hair dishevelled and face bestubbled (although not necessarily any more than was the case before the pandemic). “What does it do to the commercial real estate market, to the tax base and to the restaurants next to office buildings? What does it do to the distribution of high-income jobs around the country?” Do people in Toronto making $150,000, he wonders, continue making the same salary even if they decide to move back to Manitoba to be close to their elderly parents? And what does that do to the economies of smaller towns, where houses cost $80,000 instead of $800,000? “There are so many things you can’t really even imagine the net effect of,” he says.

Granted, Mr. Butterfield is prone to deep thinking, what with his master’s degree in philosophy from Cambridge. But he’s also the Canadian co-founder and chief executive of Slack, the company that has, in large part, enabled the dissolution of decades of office culture – a generational shift with massive cultural and societal implications.

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