From its very beginnings, the company that would become Golden West Broadcasting was all about community. Its very first station, CFAM, was launched in 1956 in Altona, Manitoba, by a group of business owners who wanted a local voice for news, weather and farm information that was pertinent to their agricultural community of some 1,800 people (now over 4,100).
By the time Lyndon Friesen joined in 1975 as a 20-year-old sales rep, Golden West had expanded beyond its base in southern Manitoba, with stations in Saskatchewan and, soon, Ontario. But the hyper-local focus has remained for over 60 years. “The idea has always been to serve rural markets with a lot of care,” says Friesen. “The differentiator is not music anymore—because music you can get anywhere—but local information and local content.”
Today, Golden West has 40 radio stations, from Northwestern Ontario to Alberta, and Friesen is now president—splitting an 80 percent stake in the company with CEO Elmer Hildebrand. Friesen was a member of the 2008 QuantumShift™ class, and credits the rigorous five-day program with helping him and Golden West to sharpen its local focus—and pave the way toward a new digital future.
“It’s one thing to take a course and walk away. In this case… you bring back something to your business every six months that can help it accelerate even more.”
“We see ourselves as being in the community business. While we play good music, our only reason to be in business is to provide that community service,” says Friesen. He notes that 10 years ago—the same year he entered QuantumShift™—Golden West launched its portal business to help fill an online void for local information. “In each of the communities we serve, it looks a little like an online newspaper—except more. We have classifieds, buy and sells—all those things that you think shouldn’t work with Kijiji, but do in small communities.” He expects that one day soon, digital revenues will eclipse radio as the big moneymaker: “It’s growing exceptionally fast.”
Looking back, Friesen says QuantumShift™ forced him to think outside the box and really absorb the program’s shared experiences. “What is the most appealing for the group is that you’re in a room with businesses and entrepreneurs of similar interests. We’re all medium-sized players in the Canadian marketplace. The group of people you’re spending time with and learning with is the greatest upside.” Another benefit of QuantumShift™, he adds, is the fact that it never ends, with biannual “refresher” courses. “It’s one thing to take a course and walk away. In this case, it’s that it recurs twice a year. You bring back something to your business every six months that can help it accelerate even more.”
In an age when the media business is controlled by fewer and fewer large corporations, Friesen sees a real benefit in staying privately held and modest in size. “Public companies are looking at the next quarter. We can take a long-term view. While other broadcasters have been dimming the lights in their newsrooms, we’ve gone the other way: in Steinbach (Manitoba), where I live, our newsroom has six people and eight other employees. We have more news people in Steinbach than all of the commercial stations in Winnipeg. If, 10 years ago, we hadn’t gone down this digital road, I don’t know if we’d be as optimistic as we are today.”
A rigorous five-day executive development experience offered through The Ivey Academy, QuantumShift™ annually challenges forty of Canada's most promising entrepreneurs to improve their leadership style, inspire their business partners and maximize their growth opportunities. QuantumShift™ is for CEOs whose businesses are past start-up. They're innovative, insightful business leaders. And they're ready to shift a thriving enterprise to a whole new level of success. Candidates are nominated through KPMG Enterprise and participants are selected by Ivey Business School's Pierre L. Morrissette Institute for Entrepreneurship.
As QuantumShift™ turns 15, we check in with some of the more than 550 Canadian entrepreneurs who have graduated from the program to see what the experience meant to them and their business.