Julie Bédard is the President and CEO of Quebec Chamber of Commerce and the first woman to manage the CCIQ in over 200 years of history.
A lawyer by training and an MBA graduate, Julie Bédard has more than 20 years of experience in the business world, in SMEs and in large companies. Dynamic and results-oriented, she is known for her communication skills, her management skills, her ability to build partnerships and her sense of strategic development.
You are the first woman to be in your current role of President and CEO of the Quebec Chamber of Commerce and Industry. How does that make you feel?
For many years, I’ve been involved into supporting women in their ambition and their leadership. My commitments to pursue the fairer representation of women and men in positions of power in public life and economy. I’m proud to show that is possible, if you really want it. I hope to inspire others to follow their dreams and to strive for the highest standards along whichever path they choose to follow.
As the first woman in this honorable position, have you had bigger challenges to face because of your gender?
The challenge was bigger because as the first woman President and CEO of the CCIQ, the business community was watching all of my moves. The majority of people wanted change but on the other not want anything about it. I did a strategic diagnostic: I noticed, I listened the people, I completed my director team, I’ve worked with my Board and I’ve shared my vision with everyone. I’ve always been confident that there can be achievements in respects with the past but built on a new vision. Today, I am proud to tell them that and to show them the results after one year.
How has your past experience prepared you for your current role?
I graduated from the Université Laval Law School and I completed a MBA degree. I’ve been ever involved in the business community since I started my career and I’ve became involved in the Young Quebec Chamber of Commerce and in 2000 of which I became its president in 1997. I’m a strong believer in the peat to pear networking power. Over the years, I’ve joined many associations and occupied important seats on a number of Board and committees. But I could never imagine that I would be the first woman President & CEO of the CCIQ in 200 years. What I know, it is that I worked hard during my career to show to every woman that everything is possible. I am still working hard to perform and give the best I can to make the CCIQ closer to the business community. For me and my organization, the most important part of the CCIQ is the members. The members are in the middle of our preoccupations, of our decisions we make and of our orientations we create.
You’ve been in your current position for a little over a year now. What are some of the initiatives you’ve put in place or are hoping to put in place?
Shortly after starting my role as the CEO, my new director’s team, the Board and I, have embarked on a comprehensive and very strategic planning exercise. This exercise defines the new mission and vision where the members are in the services of the others. We’ve decided to increase the membership’s offer to accompany members in their career development and to support growing numbers of companies at various developmental stages.
The noticeable change is likely to be the updating of CCIQ’s branding. The new branding was an opportunity to send a strong and positive message to the community: working together with every economics and politics actor to move forward on the many issues that face our membership.
Personally, I think that my experience in leadership positions has led me to develop this important quality that is that of bringing people together. In addition, teamwork is fundamental, and I truly believe this is my strength. In addition, the sectors in which I have been involved were in big need of vision and innovation. Once again, this characteristic necessarily tinges my vision for the CCIQ.
In your expert opinion, what are some of the challenges that SME owners face and how can the Quebec Chamber of Commerce and Industry help them overcome those challenges?
The shortage of manpower and the need for a global industry digital transition. The first issue is the main challenge in the Quebec region. Indeed, the shortage of labor monopolizes the energies of small and medium-sized enterprises. It’s hard to think about the growth of a business when finding employees is the biggest challenge. To this end, we have set up a committee that will examine this issue from every angle and then make recommendations to the decision-makers for them to take action. The digital transition is also a major issue as it has an impact on business productivity as well as their competitive position in the market. It must be remembered that 76 percent of our members are businesses with 25 or fewer employees. In this context, supporting them is fundamental.
What is the best resource that the Quebec Chamber of Commerce and Industry provides to SME owners who are looking to expand their business?
Immediately, two initiatives come to my mind. The first is IME Quebec. While Canada has signed a free trade agreement with Europe, we are facilitating links between companies between Quebec and Europe. Thus, we allow a cohort of fifteen companies to move to France and to build links with companies located there. Several companies were subsequently able to continue their business development. This year we are starting the same approach with the Sunshine State (Florida) in the United States. A cohort of about fifteen companies will travel to South Florida to establish various business and networking contacts. I will conclude by mentioning that Quebec City, as the capital of the province, benefits from the presence of honorary consular members representing nearly 30 countries. We have built relationships with them and these people are also recommended to companies when they want to explore other alternatives
Small business owners make a lot of mistakes when they first start their business and often those mistakes make their business suffer considerably. In your opinion, what would you say is the number one mistake that SME owners make?
Making mistakes should not be perceived as failures, but a combination of learning. That said, it is important for business owners to make the decision to be well-supported or to spend time getting informed about best business practices. The CCIQ offers different trainings that have been inspired by entrepreneurs. Whether for human resource issues, whether to learn the best techniques to get support from investors, whether to optimize the work of a board of directors or establish an advisory council. For the CCIQ, the support of small and medium-sized businesses in terms of training, information and support with other entrepreneurs is the winning approach.
What is the best advice that you can give to SME owners who are in their start-up phase?
The best advice is planning. Planning that takes into account all development phases in the short, medium and long term timeframe. Among the most important elements that the entrepreneur must take into account is both ensuring adequate financing and a very good knowledge of the market in which he wishes to offer his product or service. The contractor should not hesitate to ask for advice and mentorship. He has his own vision of the business, but being supported by good experts will allow him to avoid doing things that could cause great damage or slow down the growth he wants to achieve.
More and more women are taking on the entrepreneurship path. What are some of the resources that the Quebec Chamber of Commerce and Industry offers to help encourage women entrepreneurs?
You read in my thoughts. The CCIQ has clearly identified the needs of women who are in business or want to become entrepreneurs. This is also the case for women professionals or self-employed workers. The importance of networking and being part of influential networks is what can make a difference. The CCIQ offers a support program called “Women’s Leadership”. This year, we have up to 70 participants who share their experience and their issues together. The momentum is so important that when the program is completed, they stay in contact and continue their exchanges and meetings in another format that is called “Women’s Leadership Circle”