The insider view: Toronto

We examine how business is conducted in cities around the world, with local experts acting as guides

Commercial environment

With its deep economic relationship with the US and close cultural ties to the UK, the provincial capital of Ontario has become “quite attractive from a business perspective”, according to Leon Binedell, ACMA, CGMA, mining finance leader at PwC Consulting.

Because Toronto is a large city with access to a significant pool of skilled people, many companies have decided to base themselves here.

It is also the centre of capital in Canada and host to the TSX, the nation’s largest stock exchange – and widely seen as a world-class market. This facility makes raising capital relatively easy and effective for new businesses. It has attracted the largest number of junior mining and exploration companies of all exchanges globally, Binedell reports.

Being close to the US and relatively near to Europe also makes Toronto an accessible hub for multinational firms.

“Being in the eastern standard time zone makes it far easier for firms here to do business with the largest markets,” Binedell says. “In addition, Toronto has become the centre of the mining and financial sectors, which are both big GDP drivers. The city therefore continues to attract other industries.”

Historically, Montreal was the preferred location for corporate HQs in Canada, including those of many financial institutions. But, given concerns about Quebec’s possible secession, a significant number of companies relocated to Toronto.

“That was a boon – this city has never really looked back,” Binedell says.

Doing business

Given that Toronto is the nation’s commercial and financial hub, it’s “definitely the place to do business”, Binedell says. “It is a business-friendly city with relatively low taxes and excellent access to goods and services.”

Toronto is undergoing a real-estate boom, with office construction projects beginning every day. Although commercial rents are comparatively high in the city centre, these are still competitive by international standards.

Martin Saxton ACMA, CGMA, chair of CIMA Canada and CFO of Freeloader Products, a manufacturer of water-reclamation systems, agrees that the city is an attractive location. He cites easy online access to government services, which makes tasks such as filing taxes simpler.

Saxton believes that, “generally speaking, Canadians are not very entrepreneurial”. Although he acknowledges that there are some clusters of vibrant new businesses in Toronto, he observes that the city doesn’t have quite the same commercial energy as that found in London, Berlin or Silicon Valley.

David Duncan FCMA, CGMA, CFO of DHL Canada, says: “I’m not sure I would categorise Toronto as an entrepreneurial hub that’s competing strongly with a highly entrepreneurial neighbouring market. Perhaps it is in terms of intellectual capital, but I suspect that many initiatives starting up here rely on support from the US to materialise.”

Management culture

“The city’s diversity makes it an excellent recruiting ground for talented people across every business segment,” says Ian Hanning FCMA, CGMA, CFO at Capital One Bank Canada.

Duncan agrees, observing that “diversity in employment generates diversity of thought and, ultimately, better decisions”.

But Saxton warns that the employment market here is not always welcoming to people with foreign qualifications. Newcomers to Toronto often complain that employers here seem to prefer applicants with Canadian experience, for instance. 

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