Interview with Dan Fortin, IBM Canada
Chatting about sustainability with IBM Canada's President.
Q. This year the theme of our Best 50 summer party was the knowledge transfer between sustainability pioneers and up-and-comers. At IBM, does the idea of sustainability come as a top-down or bottom-up idea, or both? How does IBM facilitate knowledge transfer amongst its employees?
A. I would suggest to you that it’s a commitment throughout the corporation - both top-down and bottom-up. Not too many people realize that the IT industry has a larger carbon footprint than the airline industry. So [through Project Big Green] we’re very much dedicated to helping our clients by developing new products that reduce that [footprint], but also helping them understand how they can reduce their own footprints in what they do.
Our employees are also demanding it. It’s in the DNA of the type of employees we have and the people we like to hire. In our software lab here in Toronto, we have close to 2,000 employees. They are so focused on very local initiatives and sustainability in what they do.
If you are going to hire the very best and the very brightest today, you need to be socially responsible and to understand how to progress your own sustainability in others. Because the best and brightest want to work for a company that’s focused in that regard. They just won’t put up with a company that is not focused enough.
Q. When what’s good for sustainability isn’t good for the bottom line, does business have a responsibility to change the rules?
A. I find things always correct themselves. When you say when sustainability’s not good for the bottom line – I think the only question is, “When is it good for the bottom line?” And there will be early adopters and late adopters; people will take initiative early and perhaps it will hurt their bottom line. But you can’t have two things that are true continue in an incongruous fashion. Sustainability is something that is real and true and will continue and will only become more of a responsibility of all of us – as consumers and as corporations.
Q. So would you say that business has already started to change the rules?
A. I think so. Companies are emerging today that are focused on sustainability. You look at where the money’s going in venture capital – [towards] green companies.
Q. We noticed that larger foreign corporations have swallowed up a lot of our Best 50 companies since 2002. How do you see IBM Canada, as a subsidiary of IBM worldwide, having an influence on its larger parent company and what does it mean to be a Canadian corporate citizen?
A. Let me speak as an IBMer and a Canadian. We’ve been in business in Canada for over 90 years. Interestingly enough, the name IBM was adopted first in Canada 91 years ago. We’ve always been an international company. Now we’ve moved to being a global company. We have over 22,000 employees in Canada and I think what we’ve been able to demonstrate over the years is that the Canadian ingenuity and Canadian innovation, when supported properly, comes to the forefront.
I mentioned that our software lab has over 2,000 software developers. We’ve acquired Cognos recently. We’re the largest software R&D facility outside of the United States anywhere in the world in our company. IBM Bromont, our manufacturing site in Bromont, QC is the only manufacturing location that does the assembly of all of our chips, anywhere in the world. So frankly, I think IBM Canada has been fantastic for Canada in the sense of creating opportunity for employment, but also really high quality research and development work. I think we’ve been able to contribute a great deal to the Canadian landscape.
Part of the subtlety regarding who your ownership is, whether it’s foreign ownership or [shareholders], is how you behave. That brings us back to the subject we’re on, corporate responsibility, and I think people would recognize IBM Canada as a very conscientious Canadian enterprise. I think we’re a prime example of where it’s really good to have global reach and global support, and yet to be well heeled and well implemented here in Canada.