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Thoughts On Innovation – Janet De Silva

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Jan De Silva is a seasoned international business executive with a proven track record of excelling in on-the-ground leadership roles.

As President & CEO of the Toronto Region Board of Trade, Jan is spearheading efforts to make Toronto one of the most competitive and sought-after business regions in the world.

Prior to joining the Board, Jan spent 14 years in leadership roles in Asia. She served as CEO of Sun Life Financial’s Hong Kong subsidiary and Mainland China joint venture. She co-founded and was CEO of Retail China Limited, which was acquired in 2010. She later served as Dean of Ivey Asia, leading the Hong Kong campus and Asia operations of Ivey Business School of Western University.


What is your definition of “innovation”?

Innovation is the process of turning original thoughts, ideas and inventions into practical, real-world value. The best innovations are the ones that create value not only for its creators but for the society as a whole. It can help answer some of the big social challenges facing us, such as climate change or a sustainable urban environment.


Why is it important for companies to innovate and invest in modern technologies?

The past two decades have seen the business world transformed by the mass adoption of information and communications technology. From a business perspective, refusing to adapt to this scenario means falling behind in productivity and growth. Emerging technologies such as machine learning and cloud computing promise to unleash a new wave of innovation and adopting these as early leaders can offer huge opportunities. To delay could be terminal.


What advice can you give to Canadian businesses looking to make the most out of their investments in innovation?

Innovative technology is not a solution on its own: the wrong tech can be like a square peg in a round hole, so it is crucial to get the question right before you make an investment. If your goal is to save energy costs, then maybe the internet of things could help better manage your business. If it is about increasing customer loyalty, using existing information through data analytics may be a better alternative. Understanding the problem is key to turning innovation into an opportunity.

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