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Penny Wise headshot Photo
Penny Wise
President and Managing Director - 3M Canada

How Industry Can Help Canada Lead Globally

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  1. Collaborative efforts to reskill and look to higher growth sectors must be undertaken in order to prepare Canadian workers for the future economy.
  2. Businesses can take the initiative to look at ways to localize supply chains, reducing reliance on vulnerable global supply chains during crises.
  3. The Canadian Industrial Strategy must be revived in order to help give direction to industries and ensure the country has its own path forward in the future


Industry can take the lead in helping Canada become a more self-sufficient nation. By collaborating with academia and government, industry leaders can push for more reskilling of talent and for the growth of local supply chains. This will help Canada be more resilient during times of crisis.

How has COVID-19 changed the landscape for Canadian businesses and how can we become more competitive in a post-pandemic future?

COVID-19 has had a tremendous impact on businesses across Canada. For many, it is not about competitiveness initially, but about making sure we have a strong economic recovery. There are a few areas within economic recovery that are quite important to focus on. 

“Women between 35 and 39 have left the workforce in an alarming number and are not returning.”

One of them is women in the workplace. As has been well-documented, women have been disproportionally affected by the pandemic. They have been leaving the workforce in order to stay home to look after children, elders, and homes. Women between 35 and 39 have left the workforce in an alarming number and are not returning. Those are our future leaders so it is very concerning. 

“For Canada to enjoy the economic recovery we need to drive competitiveness, we need to make sure to get women back in the workforce.”

Women were in the sectors that were the most adversely affected by the pandemic, such as hospitality or personal services. There is a need to reskill or look for opportunities in more high-growth sectors that are more shockproof. Women make up 50% of the workforce in Canada. For Canada to enjoy the economic recovery we need to drive competitiveness, we need to make sure to get women back in the workforce. We think about that in terms of providing safe and reliable childcare. It is social infrastructure—much like you need roads, bridges, or public transit to get to work, you need safe and reliable childcare so you can get to work. 

We need to support entrepreneurs and small and medium-sized enterprises in Canada, many of those owned by women, to make sure they can recover and thrive. We need to make sure that we are providing opportunities for reskilling and looking at high-growth sectors so that we focus on new technologies or skilled trades where there is an opportunity to make ourselves more pandemic-proof. Another area that we need to think about in terms of economic recovery is around small and medium-sized enterprises to make sure they are supported and the infrastructure is in place so that they can continue to grow and innovate.

The third area related to competitiveness is around the Canadian Industrial Strategy. It is important for us to control our future and not let our future control us. The pandemic highlighted that we need to revisit the Canadian industrial strategy. We need to have businesses and government come together and identify the areas in which we must absolutely be self-sufficient in order to protect ourselves in future events. 

We need to figure out what makes sense in terms of high-growth sectors and technologies that we want to invest in. We are experts at trading in Canada—Canada has more trade agreements with other countries than any other country, so we need to determine the right balance between self-sufficiency, high-growth opportunities, and trading. What does not need to change is Canada’s resiliency and Canadian ingenuity, which has been very visible throughout the pandemic.

What role must Canadian subsidiaries of global companies play in improving Canadian competitiveness globally? 

Canada is a community of subsidiaries and that comes with both opportunities and challenges. It is an opportunity for us as leaders of subsidiaries to leverage a global network and help drive competitiveness.

“The role of subsidiaries is to make sure global companies understand the value and benefit of investing in Canada.”

I view the relationship between a global head office and a subsidiary as a partnership to help improve competitiveness in the country. From a subsidiary point of view, our view is speaking up. No one knows the Canadian customer and market better than those who are embedded here, working and engaging with customers every day. The role of subsidiaries is to make sure global companies understand the value and benefit of investing in Canada, whether it because of our natural resources, educated workforce, trade agreements, or the reliability, resilience, and stability of the country. These are all great assets that global companies can take advantage of as they think about their global supply chain, network, and footprint.

Those are things that we can do as subsidiaries for our global headquarters, but the value of being part of a global company is immeasurable as well. We can be nimble and quick in terms of turning things around and getting up and running. As an example, when we set up domestic manufacturing here in Canada, our Canadian workers can go to the US or other parts of the world to understand how our manufacturing equipment works. They can then bring that knowledge back and help us get up and running quicker than if we were to do everything ourselves. There really is a partnership and a give and take that adds value and benefit to competitiveness in Canada.

How can we make Canadian supply chains more resilient?

Supply chains are always under pressure. Before and after the pandemic, supply chains will continue to be under pressure whether because of labour shortages, raw material issues, transportation, storms, or more. There is always pressure on supply chains but what the pandemic did will shine a really bright light on some of those disruptions—for example, the hoarding of toilet paper. There was no toilet paper as the supply chain could not keep up. However, over time, they rebalanced and took care of that. The supply chain eventually caught up as it is very resilient.

Protectionist actions by other countries prevented the flow of goods that were needed to fight the pandemic in Canada. This gave countries like Canada pause on what their supply chain story should look like in the future. For Canada, as a trading nation, this was a really big pause for us to consider all the products and services we must have to ensure national security in light of another pandemic or issue that arrives.

“Canada has to ensure that we are investing in and supporting critical sectors so that they can thrive and be successful.”

That is where the idea of an industrial strategy comes in: figuring out what we need to do from an industrial strategy point of view to make sure that we have the self-sufficiency we need for critical products needed for our national security. We cannot make it a kneejerk reaction. We cannot produce everything—we are not a big enough nation, so we really have to decide on the most critical priorities for us and pursue those.  Canada has to ensure that we are investing in and supporting critical sectors so that they can thrive and be successful.

From a business perspective, Canadian businesses are already looking at more localized supply chains to figure out how to make supply chains shorter so that they are not as reliant on all the aspects of a global supply chain. Instead, they want to take advantage of the best parts and work on being more self-sufficient or effective when there are shorter-term disruptions. 

Businesses can also think about trading partnerships. Canada does have more trade agreements with other countries than any other country in the world does, and these trade agreements are there for us to use as businesses. Businesses can leverage trading partnerships in order to find other opportunities to engage in trade and supply chains globally.

Who and what would you pitch to improve Canada’s global competitiveness?

What I would like to see is industry continuing to work collectively on our goals and end states, and making sure that we can articulate those goals to government and academic circles to help drive competitiveness.

“Canada has an opportunity to grow our global competitive brand with many strengths that we can leverage.”

Canada has an opportunity to grow our global competitive brand with many strengths that we can leverage including natural resources, an educated workforce, stable society, resiliency, reliability, trade partnerships, public-private partnerships, and more. We have so much to offer and leverage that businesses of all sizes can take advantage of. Industrial leaders need to raise our voices about industrial strategy and make sure there is an industry voice in what the strategy looks like. We need to encourage our academic partners to help us reskill and be ready for the new economy. They can help us encourage students to reskill and look at high-growth spaces and skilled trades. We have a lack of skilled tradespeople in Canada and that presents an opportunity for us to find new opportunities for people. We need to continue to work with government and academic leaders so that we can leverage and highlight those benefits and opportunities.

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Penny Wise headshot Photo
Penny Wise
President and Managing Director - 3M Canada

Bio: Penny Wise is the President and Managing Director of 3M Canada. Her career with 3M spans over 21 years, having held numerous senior executive roles in branding, marketing, and more. In 2015, she was instrumental in successfully launching 3M’s new global tagline: “3M Science. Applied to Life™”. She is also responsible for several other successful, award-winning marketing transformation projects at 3M Canada. She has an MBA from York University, with a specialization in Marketing.


Organization Profile: 3M Canada is the Canadian subsidiary of 3M, an American multinational conglomerate corporation operating in the fields of industry, worker safety, healthcare, and consumer goods. The company produces over 60,000 products under several brands, including personal protective equipment. They have over 89,000 employees worldwide and $31.8 million in global sales.