HQ Vancouver: A Hub for Global Business Services

Nov 30, 2015

Vancouver is currently punching far below its weight in terms of the number of number of globally recognized businesses with head offices in the city. However, rather than viewing this as a negative, this in fact represents a massive opportunity for the city.

This was the prevalent message at a special HQ Vancouver event at the Segal Graduate School on November 26. The event featured presentations and a panel discussion from Yuen Pau Woo, President of HQ Vancouver and Senior Resident Fellow for the Beedie School of Business’ Jack Austin Centre for Asia Pacific Business Studies, Shannon Baskerville, Deputy Minister for International Trade in B.C., and Miklós Dietz, leader of global management consulting firm McKinsey & Company’s new Vancouver office.

The event was the third in a series of dialogues hosted by HQ Vancouver, a new initiative that aims to leverage Canada’s and British Columbia’s strategic location, high-quality infrastructure, sound government, and diverse and well-educated population to attract expanding medium-to-large sized Asian corporations to establish their North American head offices in the province.

Baskerville opened by detailing her recent trip to Asia alongside Teresa Watt, the Minister for International Trade and Minister Responsible for the Asia Pacific Strategy and Multiculturalism. Alongside the Premier to china, they embarked upon a trade mission to commemorate the 20th anniversary of the B.C.-Guangdong Sister Province agreement.

In addition to celebrating the B.C.-Guangdong partnership, the mission sought to build new relationships by helping China with the problems their mid-sized cities are experiencing as part of a growing economy, and also sell the strong value proposition that Vancouver has to offer Asian companies, as what she described as “the most Asian city in North America”.

“The mission was the first time the companies we had met with had seen government and companies come together and deliver a powerful message on why Asian companies should be establishing their head offices in Vancouver,” said Baskerville. “From my perspective, the commitments we have from companies to come and follow up are significant.”

Explaining that the decision to open a McKinsey & Company Vancouver office was some 20 years after they had first explored the possibility – though joking that it was better late than never – Dietz revealed that the reasoning behind the decision was because they believe that Vancouver is the city of the future.

The future, he said, is about talent, and there is no questioning Vancouver’s ability to attract talent. Indeed, the moment the company announced the decision, 15 employees immediately expressed an interest in being relocated to Vancouver to work in the new office – a testament of what the city has to offer in recruiting world-class talent. But while the city has much to offer, it is currently operating far below its potential.

“If you compare the market capitalization of locally headquartered public companies versus GDP, Vancouver is currently operating at only one-third of the average of both its Canadian and U.S. peers,” he said. “Even if we doubled that it is still operating under its potential, but it could then kick start and diversify the economy for the province. The goal is enormous, and we are speaking of tens of billions of dollars of impact. It will be a long journey – you have to build trust, a vision for the city, and have the infrastructure there – but if u do this right I think there is a very realistic vision of the future.”

One of the tactics HQ Vancouver is utilizing to try and address this shortfall in global headquarters is to conduct a strategic comparison of Vancouver to competitive cities such as Seattle, Portland, San Francisco and Los Angeles. When comparing these cities in a comprehensive study incorporating areas such as turnover rates, wage costs, and electricity costs, Vancouver emerges as more competitive than its rivals. Yet the perception remains that it is an expensive city in which to live.

“We have a high level value proposition that we offer to potential investors, what we call TLC: talent, location, and competiveness,” said Woo. “If it’s head offices that we are going after, we are competing with head office cities, which are global cities, which are expensive cities. So we should not worry too much about the fact we are seen as being an expensive city. We have a critical mass of talent and expertise on Asia focused here. It’s only by working together that we will turn this city from its current status to exceeding its potential.”

For more information on HQ Vancouver, visit hqvancouver.ca

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