Global Business Forum returns with eye to the future

‘We’re working to incorporate young leaders, and we want them to play a key role’

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As the Global Business Forum turns 23, it is shifting one of its major focuses to the next generation.

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This year there will be 10 MBA students from across Canada who will be taking part in the two-day conference at Fairmont Banff Springs, and in future years it will expand to include international students.

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It is a nod in the direction of co-founder Doug Mitchell, who died suddenly this July and who prioritized the need to mentor young people in business and life.

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“We’re working to incorporate young leaders, and we want them to play a key role,” said Lois Mitchell, who co-founded the forum with her late husband and currently sits as a co-chairperson.

The forum was a priority for the Calgary power couple — Lois is a former lieutenant-governor of Alberta and Doug was one of the city’s biggest figures in sports and business.

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Doug’s vision was to make people look at business from a global standpoint, to see how it can connect to Alberta and how they can better contribute.

“Doug loved to see new things, new innovation happen, and this is really what the forum is about,” said Scott Thon, president of operations for Berkshire Hathaway Energy and a speaker at this year’s forum and close friend of the Mitchells. “It’s bringing diverse ideas from around the globe and thinking about how we can make Alberta a better place.”

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The goal has not changed, but the global picture has been altered by 2½ years of pandemic, major weather events, strained supply chains and now eight months of war in Ukraine that has exacerbated all of it.

This year’s theme is The Path Forward: Striving for a New Dawn and includes sessions on global order, the energy transition, future uncertainty, the U.S.’s role in the new global order, the rise of India, trade and the U.S. midterm elections and its impacts on Canada, and the war in Ukraine and its implications for the West, among other topics.

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“You know, let’s face it, new disruptive forces are at play, and global geopolitics have taken a turn that people didn’t expect with Russia being such an aggressor,” said Mitchell. “So for all the progress we’ve made, we still have a lot of setbacks. We need to continue to build bridges with us and us seeking out a true understanding — we can never stop learning about each other.”

She added this type of program allows participants to begin to look at how these issues impact us and to become part of the long-term discussion and planning.

There is an interconnection among the sessions, but from a global view, they are all important in their own right.

“All of those pieces are actually going to influence how Alberta continues to prosper in the next 100 years,” said Thon.

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The forum has not missed a year since it began in 2000, and even managed remote hybrid versions the past two pandemic-stricken years. This year, it will be a full house with 225 people for sessions on Thursday and Friday.

“There’s no substitute for being able to be face-to-face with one another to learn and to exchange ideas and solve problems,” said Byron Neiles, forum co-chairman.

In keeping with the path forward theme, the challenge for organizers as the forum comes up on a quarter-century, is how to keep it fresh and maintain it as a must event on the conference calendar. They spend a full year building each conference and looking into potential themes and speakers.

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Neiles said it is all about ensuring topics are of importance to Canadians, and speakers are at the head of their field. It’s a formula they have used since the beginning and will continue to use.

“(Doug’s) vision has endured for 23 years and steadfastly held for a very long time,” he said. “Because it’s been a successful recipe, it needs very little tinkering from year to year.”

Among the speakers this year are Alastair Crooke, the founder and director of the Conflicts Forum in Milan, Italy; Greg Abel, the new chairman of Berkshire Hathaway Energy; Stephen Poloz, the former governor of the Bank of Canada;  Lt.-Gen. Arne Bard Dalhaug and Vice-Admiral Angus Topshee; David Jacobson, former U.S. ambassador to Canada; Ivo Daalder, author and president of the Chicago Council on Global Affairs; Perrin Beatty, president and CEO of the Canadian Chamber of Commerce; and Scott Mitchell, son of Doug and Lois and founder and CEO of the Canadian Premier League and managing partner and CEO of the Hamilton Sports Group.

Twitter: @JoshAldrich03

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