Young directors can bring more than social media skills to a board. YURI FULMER talks to business journalist Jane Gadd about his unusual career path to the boardroom, the lack of new blood around the table, and the need for Canadian businesses to toughen up
Maybe it’s his Aussie background, or maybe it’s the fact that he spent years being the youngest person in the boardroom, but Yuri Fulmer has a bracingly blunt take on how directors should be talking to each other.
“In my own life, when I’ve been given the best feedback, it’s often been yelled at me,” says the 45-year-old veteran of more than 15 different boards. “Very rarely is the best feedback in your life given in the politest manner. Think of your kids, your partner. It’s the stuff they yell at you that sometimes has the most truth.”
POLITE TO A FAULT
Fulmer came to Canada in his teens, ended up a university dropout in British Columbia, and then parlayed a job selling burgers for A&W Restaurants Inc. into a small empire of fast-food franchises and steakhouses while in his 20s and 30s, before selling it all to set up his own investment firm – Vancouver-based Fulmer Capital Partners Inc. – and sit on numerous community boards. He feels that a little more youthful brashness and a little less politeness could work wonders in the governance of Canadian companies.
The only child of an Australian mother and Canadian father, Fulmer washed up in Vancouver at the end of a backpacking trip after high school. He intended to stay a few weeks, but it turned into 27 years – and counting.
He fell for the gentle and equitable ethos he found here, Fulmer says. He fell for the gentle and equitable ethos he found here, Fulmer says. “In Australia, the first question you’re asked at dinner parties is where you went to school – and they don’t mean university, they mean public or private – and the second is what your father did for a living. In Canada, nobody cares about those things. You can be who you want to be. For me it was really liberating, coming from a really enclosed Australian background.”
But he adds that Canadian agreeability can also be a liability and may be one reason boards aren’t having the tough strategic conversations they need to have in a fast-changing world. “Canadians aren’t very direct. I come from a background where you call it as you see it and you say it as you think it, though I’ve learned to soften it because it can sometimes stop a conversation as well as start a conversation.”
Fulmer worries that Canadian boards seem to consider any tone other than polite agreement as negative. “I think each of us would have had experiences in our life where better decisions were made by vocal disagreement, by candidly expressing our views,” he says in an interview in Toronto, where he recently travelled for meetings about a not-for-profit organization he serves that converts waste produce into tasty soups.
See the full article in the Institute of Corporate Directors DIRECTOR JOURNAL here.
JANE GADD is a former editor and reporter for The Globe and Mail. Over three decades, she covered local, national, international, business and legal news, and was the newspaper’s Facts and Arguments editor for four years.