When Andrea Mandel-Campbell speaks to business leaders about thinking globally and challenging the corporate status quo, her message is authentic, down to the soles of her travelling shoes.
Her own willingness to take chances allowed Mandel-Campbell to realize her dream of working as a newspaper foreign correspondent. Her belief in seizing opportunity helped her transition from journalist to author to television anchor, then on to roles in government and corporate communications.
Earlier this year, she was hired by National, one of the largest public relations firms in Canada, as its senior vice-president, financial and crisis communications. “I err on the side of ‘Let’s give it a try,’ ” Mandel-Campbell said in a recent interview. “Which is probably where I get my penchant for pushing Canadians around their over-cautiousness.”
The author of the acclaimed 2007 book Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson is one of the keynote speakers at the Davey Protective Clothing Systems for Safety seminar, which takes place in November in Edmonton.
As always when speaking to Canadian audiences, her goal is to get them thinking about what it takes to become a world-class business by expanding both their markets and their minds.
“Canadians perpetually underestimate themselves,” she says. “I think Canadians should just start on the assumption that they’re really good at what they do and they have something that the rest of the world wants.
“The only ingredient that’s missing is just the boldness to go out and do it.”
Indeed, it was this line of thinking that Mandel-Campbell followed in her own career journey.
Graduating from journalism school during the economic recession of the early ’90s, she sent out hundreds of resumes “to every single newspaper in the country” and got exactly one job offer — to be a reporter for the Flin Flon Daily Reminder in northern Manitoba.
That’s where she went. But she didn’t stay long.
Getting stuck at a small-town newspaper wasn’t part of her career vision “so one day I just packed my bags and got on a plane.” Over the next decade, she worked in Chile, Argentina, Peru, Mexico and Cuba, first as a freelancer and then as a foreign correspondent and bureau chief for the Financial Times of London.
Living abroad changed how Mandel-Campbell saw the world but, more importantly, it changed how she saw Canada on her return.
“You come back and you have a different lens,” she says.
Much of the reporting she had been doing was on free trade and foreign investment, particularly as it affected China and Mexico. Being back in Canada, she says, felt like “a sleepy backwater. All these kinds of things were happening and we seemed to be not aware of the implications in our own economy.
“That’s what led me to the book.”
The iconic business book, Why Mexicans Don’t Drink Molson: Rescuing Canadian Business from the Suds of Global Obscurity, has been described as “a scathing wake-up call castigating the timidity of Canadian companies in international markets.” Nominated for several awards, the book became a Canadian bestseller and caught the attention of political and business leaders.
None of that was on Mandel-Campbell’s mind when she started knocking on the doors of corporate Canada to do her research. “Writing the book was this thing … I just had to do it.”
A self-described proud Canadian, Mandel-Campbell gets a great deal of satisfaction hearing how her book continues to inspire a new boldness among Canadian entrepreneurs.
“To this day, I get young guys, mostly guys, who are Canadian, who have gone to Silicon Valley and who take my book everywhere they go. They say, ‘I read your book, it inspired me, it told me that I could go to Silicon Valley and I can do this.’
“This one Silicon Valley guy, he actually gives the books to every Canadian company he invests in because he wants them to understand his mindset.”
That concept, the mindset of Canadian business leaders, is a theme to which Mandel-Campbell frequently returns, whether it’s to talk about Canadian complacency or the Canadian inferiority complex.
She recounts — with some measure of irritation — a 2016 article published in the The Walrus that made a fuss over Canada’s new cool factor, attributed to the likes of Justin Trudeau in the PMO and Toronto rapper Drake climbing the charts.
“Canadians are always looking for someone to give them permission to be cool, like they need the proof point. But what happens when we don’t have a Drake? And Trudeau is no longer prime minister, and Blackberry is no longer the iconic brand that it was? Does that mean we lose our mojo?” she says.
“What I’m trying to say is, we’ve always been cool.”
Therese Kehler is a freelance writer and editor based in Edmonton.