New CEO charts course for industry association, leading Canada towards electrification
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Leader Interviews
Jun 6, 2019
Brian Banks

In this his first interview since taking office, Brad Ryder outlines his vision for EMC’s role, his approach to regional politics and building relationships with automakers

Brad J Ryder

In this his first interview since taking office, Brad Ryder outlines his vision for EMC’s role, his approach to regional politics and building relationships with automakers

After a lengthy search, Electric Mobility Canada, the country’s 13-year-old national membership-based organization for the advancement of electric mobility, has a new president and CEO. In mid-May, after EMC’s annual conference in Quebec City, Brad Ryder was introduced.

Ryder, who is based in Toronto, has spent much of his career in senior governmental affairs and strategic communications roles in both the private sector — in pharmaceuticals, mining and consumer products — and at not-for-profits and NGOs such as the Bill & Melinda Gates Foundation, the United Nations Joint Program on HIV/AIDS and the World Economic Forum.

Ryder officially started on May 21, and at the end of his first week he sat down with Electric Autonomy Canada. We asked him about his goals and objectives, EMC’s place in advancing the electrification of transportation in Canada, and how he’ll try to bring more automakers back into the EMC fold.

Electric Autonomy Canada: Do you drive an EV?

Brad Ryder: I don’t currently but I’m looking at getting one, for sure. I have some friends who drive them.

Electric Autonomy: You’ve spent time with socially conscious non-profit organizations and at big corporations with potentially contrasting missions. What motivates you in your work?

Brad Ryder: I’ve had a pretty lengthy and interesting career working on a lot of public policy issues. In Geneva I had the chance to work on global health issues, access to medicine in developing countries. In Davos, for the World Economic Forum, I worked with not only pharmaceutical companies but also governments and was really exposed to this idea of the power of a multi-stakeholder platform, where different sectors of industry and government get together on public policy issues.

For the last 13 years, I’ve been working in Canada, in Toronto, in a variety of government relations and communications roles in different industry sectors. With Merck, in the pharmaceutical industry, I was involved in a lot of government policy around the ministry of research and innovation. I had a chance to work in what some see as an old economy — mining — with Vale and Glencore. But there’s a lot happening technology-wise in that industry. More and more there’s the use of robotics. Even in my time at Coca-Cola, you learn the importance of brands in catalyzing people around an idea or a certain set of values.

Most Canadians are concerned about climate change. Everyone wants to play a role, but people don’t know really where to start. I think what we’ve seen more and more with the arrival of electric vehicles is that, increasingly, the average person can do things, can make changes in their lives, where they can contribute to the fight against climate change. The brand image of electric vehicles is incredibly positive in Canada. I think an association that is involved in removing some of the barriers and obstacles to having more of them on the road is just a phenomenal opportunity.

The electric vehicle revolution is coming. It’s unstoppable. It’s real. It’s global. And I think it’s coming more quickly than people realize. I want to play a role to ensure Canada isn’t left behind.

“It’s a complex public policy challenge. We’re talking about very significant changes to a lot of aspects of our lives.”

Brad Ryder

Electric Autonomy: What does the job at EMC offer as opposed to working for a particular company in this space?

Brad Ryder: To enable the kind of future that we want to see, with an increasing number of electric vehicles and electric mobility in Canada, it’s a complex public policy challenge. We’re talking about very significant changes to a lot of aspects of our lives. No one single actor — be it an automobile manufacturer, a utility, a government — is going to be able to effect change alone. It’s only really by working together that we’re going to be able to remove the barriers and create the right incentives to pave the way for an electric mobility future in Canada. And I think that’s where EMC’s value proposition is strongest. It’s this big tent idea where everyone comes to share ideas and share perspectives and drive ideas forward. Not everyone’s going to agree all the time on what needs to be done and I think that’s ok.

“EMC’s strongest value proposition is this big tent idea where everyone comes to share ideas and share perspectives and drive ideas forward.”

Brad Ryder

Electric Autonomy: Besides the big tent, is there anything else you can add in terms of how you see EMC’s role in this process?

Brad Ryder: I think the role’s always evolving. The organization has been around for more than 10 years. I think the major value proposition the organization has to its members revolves around its annual conference. This year in Quebec City was the largest conference its ever held, so we’re seeing tremendous momentum in conference attendance. And I think that the organization and the board is looking forward to seeing this conference grow. I see no reason in the coming years why we couldn’t double the size of the annual conference.

Electric Autonomy: Where will that growth come from?

Brad Ryder: There are entire sectors of the economy that have yet to be brought into the EMC fold. Electric mobility is often seen as an urban issue. But when we look at something like mining, for example, and the electrification of mining, mines are obviously not in cities, they’re in small towns and in the North. It challenges our perception that electric mobility is an urban thing, when we see it happening in Sudbury and in northern Quebec with companies like Glencore and Goldcorp leading this revolution.

Also, when we see the trends that are happening with the investment community, for example — financial services, private equity, venture capital, pension funds — more and more investors are looking for new technologies that they can invest in in the low-carbon future. Everyone sees that this is the way the world is going. And I believe that EMC can play a role and grow by including more and more of those people in our events and our activities.

Electric Autonomy: How are you going to move forward in your new role?

Brad Ryder: I’m certainly going to be taking some time to canvas the members and to try to identify what the membership sees as being the most important and the most critical elements of the value proposition of the organization.

Brad Ryder and Al Cormier share a drink at the 2019 EMC Conference in Quebec City
Brad Ryder (left) and EMC founder, Al Cormier, share a drink at the 2019 EMC Conference in Quebec City

I attended the Quebec City conference and was able to soak up the issues and really get to talk to some of the people. I was fascinated by the quality of the speakers and the breadth and depth of the issues discussed.

I feel like I’m joining at a very, very exciting time. We’re going to be seeing exponential growth in the electrification of transportation. Things that EMC has been talking about and advocating for the past 10 years are starting to really take off. It’s just a matter of keeping up with the world around us. EMC has to continue to be at the forefront of this revolution.

“Canada has all the ingredients to be at the forefront.”

Brad Ryder

Electric Autonomy: You mentioned keeping Canada as a leader. Do you mean that in societal terms or more directly in the industry?

Brad Ryder: I think if you ask most Canadians, they pride themselves on being leaders in many things. Canadians really like to see themselves at the forefront of change, of positive change. So, I think generally speaking Canadians want to be leading this kind of revolution. We have the energy, the clean electric grid. We have the automobile sector. We have leading edge researchers, scientists, technologists. We have the mines that are producing the metals that will be used in batteries, we have the raw materials. Canada has all the ingredients to be at the forefront. It’s just a matter of making sure that we continue to pull it all together. And hopefully EMC can play a role by continually putting this issue at the forefront of public policy, educating the public, perhaps challenging some of the myths out there that still exist around electric vehicles and the electrification of transport generally.

Electric Autonomy: At this stage there is an unevenness in the way things are progressing. You’ve got provinces like Quebec and B.C. at the vanguard. You’ve got others that aren’t anywhere close. Any thoughts on that landscape?

Brad Ryder: There’s always going to be places and pockets where there’s early adoption of certain technologies. But I don’t think it’s a case where we need to be pitting jurisdictions against one another. We’re blessed to have a very diverse country and what it offers us is the chance to share best practices. If there’s provinces or municipalities that have experiences with this technology and they’ve tried things, either successfully or unsuccessfully, it offers other jurisdictions the opportunity to learn from it. And I think that’s exactly where EMC can play a role. We can create the forum where provinces can have that dialogue and where jurisdictions can learn from one another.

“The issue we’re talking about is beyond partisan politics.”

Brad Ryder

Electric Autonomy: What about where we have governments that are, shall we say, less supportive of the whole sector?

Brad Ryder: You’re going to have times when certain governments are more progressive on certain things and others are less enthusiastic. Priorities will change sometimes as governments do. But the issue that we’re talking about is beyond partisan politics. There’s lots of different ways to approach this subject area, there’s lots of different ways to lead these changes. It’s only by listening to all the voices that we can achieve sustainable progress.

“I don’t think it does a service to anybody to be exclusive or to be taking positions that are divisive.”

Brad Ryder

Electric Autonomy: You mentioned all the different stakeholders within EMC. In recent years a number of automakers have pulled out and theres been debate over some of the organization’s policy positions on sales and supply mandates. How do you view this important challenge?

Brad Ryder: I’m new to the organization and I’m new to the industry, so I’m not necessarily familiar with things that have happened in the past. And I think that’s maybe one of the strengths that I bring to the organization. I hope that we can look towards the future and not dwell on the past. I think that we need to ensure that all stakeholders feel that there’s value in being members of the association and that their interests are being respected and are being listened to. I don’t think it does a service to anybody to be exclusive or to be taking positions that are divisive. We need to try to continue to build consensus around what are the things that we need to do as a country, what are the things that we need to see happen and can all agree upon that will continue to drive things forward.

From an auto perspective, my father is a retiree of General Motors. He worked there for 35 years, so I can say it’s an industry that’s certainly near and dear to my heart, because it was at the backbone of the economy in the region [St. Catharines, Ont.] where I grew up. And I certainly would hope that all members would feel welcome and that their ideas are respected.

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