Board of Directors
From Our Chair
The long history of the chamber movement can be traced back to 1599 when the words “chamber of commerce” were first used in Marseille, France. Chambers at that time provided local merchants a public forum to discuss issues facing them as a business community. This representation of common interests became the foundation of chambers of commerce and boards of trade worldwide. 417 years later the movement remains, established in virtually every city of the world. Acknowledging this tremendous legacy, I am honoured to be you Chair of the Surrey Board of Trade and feel humbled knowing the capabilities and legacy of those in this position, decades and centuries before me and most notably, those in recent memory.
As Groucho Marx once said “I don’t want to belong to any club that would accept me as one of its members.” In my case, I had to make an exception. I stand before you with a sense of pride in the SBOT as well as a sense of urgency. Surrey is a growing community with numerous challenges and opportunities. It is my job, as your Chair and leader, to ensure that our board of directors, CEO and staff identify the right priorities and make the right decisions that benefit you, our members, and for Surrey Business overall.
It is important for you to know that every year your directors, staff and CEO come together to review and update the organization’s Strategic Plan, setting targets and measureable outcomes for the organization. Critical to this process is understanding and establishing those services of most value to our members. The needs of our members is the corner stone of our business model and will be a prime objective of mine this year. So, as I intend to do throughout the year, I am reaching out directly to each and everyone of you, to encourage you to tell us and me what is important to you and to ask you…what do you want to see from your organization? I am also here to encourage you to ask yourself…. how do I make a difference in my business, my community, my City? The answer? Get involved – attend events, network, volunteer, join committees, become an active member. Become educated on issues and opportunities facing your business. The board of trade is about you and for you. Make your membership work for you.
Directors, I am speaking directly to you now. You play a vital role in listening, identifying and defining those issues important to our members and businesses in Surrey and in helping me set a strategic course for the next year. I have heard loud and clear that you want the SBOT to continue to be a strong advocate on behalf of our members and to lead the way in establishing the very best service delivery model and value proposition possible. I will make that our priority. I will rely heavily on your judgment and experience on abroad range of issues and in turn will expect your very best, your active involvement and well-informed input. I will provide my leadership and vision for this organization and commit to valuing your opinions, respect your time and input and will work to make us a strong, unified team. A strong board creates a strong organization. As Somerset Maugham said, “it’s a funny thing about life – if you refuse to accept anything but the best, you often get it”. Surrey Board of Trade members deserve our very best!
As I look forward to the upcoming year, I am full of optimism and enthusiasm for the change, growth and opportunities that lie ahead for Surrey and the Board of Trade. Within a few decades, Surrey will be the largest City in BC. As your Chair, now more than ever, I recognize the need for the Board of Trade to show leadership and to continue to provide strong advocacy and voice for those that have none. As in the past, the SBOT will continue to fight for improved infrastructure, especially pushing for light rapid transit and fair tolling policies – to move people, free up travel time for goods and commodities and to connect our communities and City. In the upcoming year, we will be having a provincial election. The SBOT will be working hard to advocate for issues important to businesses in Surrey and will be asking the tough questions to perspective members of the legislature during the campaign.
As Chair I recognize and will continue to advocate for a creative culture and the education of our youth as the foundation to future success and commit to continued efforts to breakdown silos and strengthen the Board of Trade’s commitment to coordinated approaches to youth-business opportunities in terms of training and education, partnering with our institutions of high education, school boards and grass-root engagement with our youth, such as our Youth Leaders of Today Mentorship Program and Youth Entrepreneurship and Advocacy Action Plan.
During my term the SBOT will work to strengthen the chamber movement and our unique SBOT brand locally, nationally and internationally by increasing membership and continuing to foster active involvement in advocacy, economic development, tourism, finance and tax policy, manufacturing and agriculture, land use and development, skills training, women in business, workplace issues, mentorship, education, training, international trade, crime and social policy, etc. I am committed to seeing that the SBOT continues to work hard to ensure our new immigrants feel welcomed, become well trained and are a vibrant part of our City (through initiatives such as our Newcomer Entrepreneur Program). The SBOT is committed to bridging companies with newcomers and will continue to show leadership through action, asking how we can best support newcomers based on their own assets and capabilities. Using my discretionary powers, I intend on appointing representatives to our board from both the aboriginal and immigrant/refuge communities to better help us understand the challenges facing those individuals and helping them to become successful in business. It will also be a focus of mine to improve the gender balance of our board moving forward.
Under my watch, the SBOT will remain active on social outreach, crime prevention and other chronic issues affecting business. The SBOT has had an excellent working relationship with the City and RCMP, among many others. We value these relationships and I will ensure they remain strong and effective.
Millennials, those born between 1980 and 2000, total 2.5 billion people globally and roughly one-third of the world’s population, have tremendous power and demand attention. They are a diverse group socially, racially, ethnically and religiously and are influencing the cultural and political expectations of the world. Millennials are the most educated cohort of young adults ever; however, many leave college or university with debt and few job opportunities with many opting to stay in their family home and deferring house purchases, marriage and other milestones. As a BOT how do we engage this generation, have them embrace the network and chamber identity? Our challenge will be to understand and engage with them. Millennials possess specific attitudes and behaviors that call for a fresh approach to marketing our services. We must understand their preferences and then deploy strategies to gain engagement. Key to this challenge is understanding Millennials’ use of technology and the sharing economy. They are highly informed, connected, multi-taskers who are constantly aware of their options. The City of Surrey and SBoT must embrace technology and learn to customize and personalize benefits to cater to Millennials’ specific lifestyles and preferences if we are to sustain our growth and remain relevant.
Amazon founder Jeff Bezos recently said at a technology conference, when it comes to technology, “we’re on the edge of the golden era” and noted it is “probably hard to overstate how big of an impact it’s going to have on society over the next 20 years.” By embracing innovation and smart technologies our businesses will be more effective and efficient and through these efforts we will attract talent, new investment and dramatically increase our competitiveness. Socrates insisted on our “right to think for ourselves but warned that humans too often sleepwalk through life, simply going along with the crowd”. Dare to be different, challenge the status quo. I feel that Surrey business has just begun to show its potential and will continue to be a source of ideas and innovation that will foster our City’s overall performance and sustainable economic growth. As John D. Rockefeller said “the secret of success is to do the common thing uncommonly well” – Well, on behalf of your SBOT, we plan to make that happen.
For those of you that are not aware, the SBOT has an active International Trade Centre within our offices, one of few, if any nationally. I will continue the support for this centre and work to make it a major revenue generator for our organization through travel missions, documentation services and by promoting Surrey business opportunities around the world and by helping to identify and develop business opportunities here for local businesses.
The SBOT is working proactively on many issues, as identified by you, our staff and various committees, researching and addressing issues critical to you and the City, developing strong policy and advocating at all levels of government. We will continue this commitment and good work on your behalf.
Of particular focus during my mandate will be an emphasis on working with the City, Province and others to attract businesses and talent to Surrey by reaching out to other regions and emphasizing the benefits of a young educated workforce, good industrial land, deep water port, proximity to Asia and US, progressive regional government and commitment to sustainability planning and environment. I recognize that the quick growth of our City presents opportunities and challenges, not just economic performance but also quality of life, sustainability, fiscal performance and governance. It is my belief that cities attract people and businesses because of economic and also the social advantages they offer and our growth and prosperity will depend on how well we manage these challenges.
Finally, I want to talk to you about health – business health and personal health. Health and life-style choices, in all their forms, have a profound effect on you and your business. Absenteeism, lost productivity, insurance claims, revenue, etc. are all dramatically affected by diet, lack of exercise and chronic physical and mental health issues. By making wise choices, having good policies, support and programs in place we all benefit. I will emphasize a “personal-health is business-health” theme throughout my term and encourage all of us to address this issue.
In Robert Fulghum’s book “All I Really Need to Know I Learned in Kindergarten” he reminds us that most of our values, potential and interpersonal skills were instilled in us in our youth. As a young boy, growing up in a small mining town, I used to set up a lemonade stand at the mine entrance and sell cold drinks to the workers just getting off shift. Even back then I knew the value of a quality product, supply and demand, overhead, just-in-time delivery, advertising, customer service and the importance of a motivated, young work force (having my neighborhood friends staff the table while I coaxed would-be customers to stop in for a cold one!). As I learned then, and reiterate to you now, wherever there is need, there is opportunity!! I encourage all of you to work smart and define and capitalize on the amazing opportunities before you here in Surrey and markets abroad! The future really does live here.
As we embark on a new year together here at the Board of Trade, I will leave you with a quote from Albert Einstein….
Imagination is Everything… it is the preview of life’s coming attractions!
Dr. Greg Thomas
Surrey Board of Trade
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Mayor Linda Hepner
Mayor of the City of Surrey