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Extensive research shows a definite link in Canadian business between exporting and increased company productivity.

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Global Commerce Insider occasionally seeks input from leaders on vital issues that affect our businesses and economy in a global context.

Peter E. Brown (below) is a Toronto-based partner with Deloitte Canada who co-leads the Canada's Best Managed Companies program. This program recognizes the leading private companies in Canada each year, many of which are export oriented.

Peter E. Brown is a Toronto-based partner with Deloitte Canada who co-leads the Canada's Best Managed Companies program. Courtesy of Deloitte Canada Courtesy of Deloitte Canada

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Courtesy of Deloitte Canada

Mr. Brown's three steps to exporting success:

1. Think like an exporter. Adopt a global mindset and do your homework on target markets by travelling to the target market and attending trade shows.

2. Put your toe in the water. Narrow your product or service offering by focusing on your best product or service, and work hard to localize your offering by hiring local people wherever practical. The most successful exporters look local everywhere they go.

3. Win by completing the cycle. Use your export knowledge to your advantage by importing ideas and knowledge from your foreign market to your home market to ensure you are in a continuous improvement cycle.

Extensive research shows a definite link in Canadian business between exporting and increased company productivity.

"Exporting drives competitiveness and productivity. Exporters are more competitive because they tend to focus more and compete in a broader arena, which forces them to be world class instead of Canadian class. There's nothing like a step up to the big leagues to improve performance," Mr. Brown says.

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"Exporting also reduces risk. By spreading market risk beyond their home market, exporters actually reduce their overall risk, which is the exact opposite of what most businesses tend to think."

Mr. Brown is co-author Power of the Best, a book detailing the strategies used by successful Canadian private companies to increase productivity in a global marketplace.

He identifies common traits shared by successful Canadian exporters, breaking them down into themes like Leadership and Productivity, Innovation and Talent Management, Branding and Globalization, Succession and Sustainability.

He and his fellow writer John Hughes used an approach based on their global consulting firm's study of sustained growth companies, a framework that Mr. Brown says stood the test of time.

"Frankly, I believe it is applicable to organizations of all sizes and to individuals, as well."

Determining the strength of a company's strategy is a first step. Ideally, it should make sense, be well understood and communicated throughout the team. The strategy should be one the company has taken time to develop by testing it against what Mr. Brown calls "road signs," or metrics, to help guide whether or not the strategy is hitting the desired target.

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Next is to evaluate the company's ability to execute the the strategy.

"Some of the best managed companies are those with the ability to know where they want to go and the focus to get there," Mr. Brown says.

"Companies that hone their habits increase innovation and productivity."

How a company aligns itself with its goals provides a measure of commitment.

"Without an aligned leadership team and a focus on developing leadership, a company can't be considered best managed, and only those that are best managed understand what it takes to be productive," Mr. Brown says.

"I recall one CEO [of a Best Managed company] who sheepishly told me a few years ago that it took him 10 years as a member of upper management to realize that alignment was perhaps his most important role, and I can tell you from personal experience that I have led teams that were fully aligned and we could move mountains and I have led teams that were not and we struggled to tie our shoes."

A final consideration is strong financial performance. In business, this is the ultimate scorecard without which a company's credibility can be ultimately challenged.

"Although the world is awash in capital, as you go down the size scale, finance becomes increasingly scarce and we still see a lot of examples of early-stage companies struggling to attract capital," Mr. Brown says.

The companies that aren't best managed, he concludes, tend to focus solely on domestic markets.

"They don't challenge themselves to compete."

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About the Author

Deirdre Kelly is a features writer for The Globe and Mail. She is the author of the best-selling Paris Times Eight and Ballerina: Sex, Scandal and Suffering Behind the Symbol of Perfection (Greystone Books). More

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