CrossCountry: Canada at a glance — December 2015

A team from Université Laval is joining the “ScanPyramids” project in Egypt. Plus, Canadian family-controlled public companies are outperforming the S&P/TSX composite index.


Probing the pyramids

A team from Université Laval in Quebec City will be part of an international group of universities and private companies that are conducting the ambitious “ScanPyramids” project, initiated by the Egyptian Ministry of Antiquities.

The goal of the project is to examine four of Egypt’s largest pyramids, among them Kheops, in order to better understand how builders working 4,500 years ago were able to haul multi-ton blocks of stone to heights of 146 metres.

The teams will use many leading-edge techniques, including radiographic muons (aka cosmic particles), infrared thermography, photogrammetry, drones, scan imagery and 3D reconstruction, to peer into the mysteries of the pyramids. As the project website notes, this will be done “without drilling the slightest opening.”


CEO pay multiplier


In the 1960s, the average pay of CEOs was about 25 times that of a production employee, reports Montreal business weekly Les Affaires. In 2010, that ratio had moved up to about 150 in Canada and to about 200 in the US.

Starting in January 2017, a Securities and Exchange Commission regulation will require most US public companies to reveal the ratio of the CEO’s pay to that of employees — although Canadian companies listed in the US will not have to do so.

But the 294-page SEC regulation will require interpretation, warns Les Affaires. For example, in an investment bank, the ratio between the CEO’s pay ($10 million, say), and that of the median employee ($200,000) might be only 50, while in a distribution company, it might be 300 ($6 million vs. $20,000).


Families first

Over the past 10 years, Canadian family-controlled public companies have outperformed the S&P/TSX composite index by 120%, finds a study by National Bank of Caanda.

The study, “The family advantage,” includes an index of 30 selected large Canadian family-controlled businesses — all of which have outshone the composite index. “Family businesses are the backbone of the Canadian economy and this country is rich in success stories,” says Vincent Joli-Coeur, vice-chairman, financial markets, at National Bank. Pierre Fournier, lead author of the report, says family businesses currently represent close to a fifth of the companies in the Fortune Global 500. “Contrary to conventional wisdom, the larger public family firms have continued to thrive despite the rise of widely held public corporations run by professional managers,” he says.

The study cites several reasons for these companies’ success. For one, they are relatively insulated from the short-term demands of stock markets, so they can make longer-term decisions and implement long-term strategies.


What goes up...

R&D spending in Canada is rising and falling at the same time, reports Research Infosource.

The largest corporate R&D companies cut back on spending by 1.6% in fiscal 2014, after a hike of 4.1% in fiscal 2013. Meanwhile, the small players collectively boosted their R&D budgets by 8.2% in fiscal 2014.

Since the large players weigh so heavily in the balance, overall R&D spending for 2014 was negative, says Ron Freedman, CEO of Research Infosource.