All-Canada Executive Team: It’s all About Rebuilding Supply Chains

The U.S. and Canadian governments are putting supply chain resiliency at the top of their agendas.


From left, Keith Creel, John Sicard (Illustration by II/courtesy photos)

It took a global pandemic for most of us to understand the fragility of the world’s supply chains. The images of empty supermarket shelves and people panic buying toilet paper were an early indication that in times of crisis, the logistics that keep the wheels of the economy turning very quickly break down. For many businesses, the challenges continued long after the lockdowns ended as Russia’s invasion of Ukraine, trade bottlenecks in China, and inflation hurt imports of everything from construction materials to semiconductors. What was presumed to be a back-office function — the flow of raw materials necessary for the rest of the business to operate — suddenly became strategic. Now, governments are waking up to the need to strengthen supply chains, with President Biden setting up a taskforce in November to focus solely on maintaining a flow of goods, including essential shipments of pharmaceuticals and food. It’s a moment where several of the top scoring chief executives in the Institutional Investor All-Canada Executive Team are prepared to shine.

“When it comes to transforming the world’s supply chains, it’s a marathon, not a sprint,” says John Sicard, chief executive of Kinaxis, a Canadian company that builds applications using AI to help businesses improve their supply chain management. He said Kinaxis has been advocating for a fundamental shift in the way supply chains are operated for 40 years. In 2023, the company released four new applications to help businesses grapple with the fast-changing nature of logistics. They include planning tools to help businesses manage transportation, orders, and returns on the road, plus AI to organize large amounts of data related to customer demand. Sicard says it’s no longer enough for business leaders to have a cascade approach to supply chains, where one step follows the next. Instead, he advocates a more holistic approach to prevent bottlenecks and mistrust passing down the chain.


In April, the historic Canadian Pacific Railway, which includes 12,500 miles of track across seven Canadian provinces, merged with Kansas City Railway, a route running almost 4,000 miles from Kansas City to Mexico and beyond, creating the first railway line connecting Canada, the U.S. and Mexico. Keith Creel, the chief executive who oversaw the deal, is a top scorer in Institutional Investor’s All-Canada Team. He said the merger and subsequent investments by partners of the new entity, called CPKC, will shorten the route from Lázaro Cárdenas to Houston by 300 rail route miles compared to competing West Coast ports, while the trip from Asia to Houston by rail is now two weeks shorter than going via the Panama Canal. “These capacity investments can act as a relief valve for other West Coast ports in the event of another disruption, which better enables CPKC to serve the growing rail transportation demands,” Creel said.

The merger puts Creel at the head of a company of 20,000 railway workers just as North American companies are starting to move parts of their business closer to home. Between 2021 and 2022, there was an 80 per cent increase in chief executives evaluating their options for reshoring part of their operations, according to the Kearney Nearshoring Index. The leading factor for those decisions was geopolitical risk. Sicard says the call to cut supply chains is coming from boards of directors, who are pressing executive teams on the resilience and agility of their systems. “The next big shock is never far away,” he said.

John Sicard, Kinaxis, third place technology and media

What was the biggest lesson you learned in 2023?

Rather than one lesson from 2023, over the course of my career I’ve come to terms with the fact that when it comes to transforming the world’s supply chains, it’s a marathon, not a sprint. We’ve been in business for nearly 40 years and have been advocating just as long for a fundamental shift in how supply chains are operated. The pandemic caused the world to take notice at just how fragile these systems can be and now the U.S. and Canadian governments and APEC member nations are putting supply chain resiliency at the top of their agendas.

What’s the greatest challenge you are facing in 2024?

One is deploying AI in meaningful ways. We get so caught up with what AI can do, we forget what machines cannot provide — context, collaboration, and conscience – the critical human factors. AI can augment humans, but it can’t replace the ability to make decisions that need to consider these three c’s.

Two is helping organizations use their supply chains to operationalize sustainability. Impending global regulations requiring large companies to report scope 3 emissions by 2026 highlight the growing emphasis on sustainability in supply chains. As the single largest consumer of the earth’s natural resources — whether it’s the materials used to make something, the resources required to store something, or the emissions expelled to ship something, if we can help businesses manage their supply chains more effectively then we can make a positive impact, not just because regulations demand it.

Three is convincing companies that incremental change is not enough. Most supply chains have historically been governed by a series of sequential waterfall steps, with information passing from one function to the next, a cascaded approach that creates silos, poor transparency, latency and mistrust. Rather than addressing individual functions one at a time, we are in a different world now and businesses need to recognize that incremental improvements just don’t cut it. The best approach to supply chain resilience is one that provides end-to-end synchronization.

How is geopolitics affecting your business?

Ongoing conflicts result in unpredictable tariff negotiations and disruptions to trade flows that impact almost all supply chains, including those critical to national security like defense or pharmaceuticals. Boards of directors are quite rightly pressing their executive teams on the resiliency of their supply chains, with the global trade landscape shifting towards onshoring and nearshoring as companies look to get closer to markets and reduce the risks of sole supplier relationships.

Keith Creel, President and CEO, CPKC

What was the biggest lesson you learned in 2023?

We brought two iconic railways together with the combination of Canadian Pacific and Kansas City Southern. Much like my journey when I joined CP, I underestimated the pride that is in the company; the motivation to change. That message has been reinforced through my engagement with railroaders across our North American network. We are building something powerful.

What’s the greatest challenge you are facing in 2024?

We are not immune to volatility. But we know it’s not the challenges that define us, it’s how we respond to them. I’m very proud of how our CPKC family is responding to challenges. Since we combined on April 14, 2023, our railroaders have been focused on safely integrating these two historic railroads and working together to produce an outcome that will benefit our customers, our communities and each other.

How are geopolitics affecting your business?

Global trade tensions are driving significant investment in Mexico, in addition to the U.S., Mexico, Canada agreement requirements for North American sourced parts for new finished vehicles. CPKC is creating capacity both through operational fluidity as the only single-line railroad connecting the U.S., Mexico and Canada and through structural investments, including doubling the rail freight capacity at the Laredo gateway by the end of 2024 with our approximately $100 million investment in a second rail bridge. Our supply chain partners are also investing in their capacity, including the recently announced investments of $220 million by Hutchison Ports and $140 million by APM Terminals at their Lázaro Cárdenas facilities. These projects will create valuable capacity and position this port as a hub for the Americas region. Lázaro Cárdenas, served by CPKC on the West Coast of Mexico, is 300 rail route miles closer to Houston than the competing West Coast ports and is two weeks shorter from Asia to Houston than using the Panama Canal. These capacity investments can act as a relief valve for other West Coast ports in the event of another disruption.

Jonathan Price, President & CEO, Teck

What was the biggest lesson you learned in 2023?

The last year really reinforced the importance of having a clear, long-term strategy and executing against it. In 2023, we ramped up production at our newly expanded Quebrada Blanca Operation in northern Chile, which will double Teck’s consolidated copper production. This was a product of the long-term growth strategy that was initiated years ago, with the recognition that critical minerals like copper are vital for the low-carbon transition, and demand for metals will surge in the years ahead. In addition, and consistent with this same strategy, we announced a transaction to sell our steelmaking coal business, such that Teck will evolve to become a Canadian-based, global critical minerals champion that is well-positioned to capitalize on the energy transition, responsibly meet rising demand for critical minerals, and create significant value for our shareholders.

What’s the greatest challenge you are facing in 2024?

The near-term operating environment continues to be a challenging one, with a combination of slowing demand growth, cost inflation, and labor scarcity impacting all companies in the metals and mining sector. However, as we look beyond to the medium-term, we see incredible opportunity as a supplier of the critical minerals required to support continued urbanization and an acceleration of investment in decarbonization. Against that backdrop my focus for 2024 will be on ensuring strong and reliable performance across all of Teck’s operations and projects with a focus on those aspects that are within our control – including safety, productivity and efficiency – all the while continuing to progress prudent investments to ensure we are ready to deliver future growth.

How is geopolitics affecting your business?

Geopolitical trends certainly affect the mining sector in myriad ways, from questions around resource nationalism to disruptions to long established supply chains. But a positive trend we’ve seen recently across several jurisdictions is growing recognition of the importance of critical minerals, which is translating into tangible support for our industry through initiatives like the Government of Canada’s Critical Minerals Strategy and the US Inflation Reduction Act. This is a positive trend that aligns well with our own strategy of building Teck as a Canadian-based, global critical minerals champion with unmatched copper growth.