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Four takeaways from our 2023 Portfolio Company Leaders Conference

Accelerating change is opening up new business opportunities—and requiring new approaches from companies and their leaders.

aerial of people at conference

Conference by the numbers:

total enterprise value of companies represented

total enterprise value of companies represented

speakers and panelists

speakers and panelists

of leaders surveyed reported taking away actionable insights

of leaders surveyed reported taking away actionable insights

Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan’s biannual Portfolio Company Leaders Conference enables us to convene the leaders of our portfolio companies to discuss some of the big challenges we face—and how we can tackle them together. This year’s conference, held in Toronto in November, was the first such meeting since 2019, a period during which Ontario Teachers’ net assets increased 20% to $250 billion. 

The growth of our portfolio was evident in the room. The 320 leaders who joined us represented 120 companies operating in more than 30 countries and across 25 sectors. These companies collectively employ more than 336,000 people and generate $140 billion in annual revenue. 

Internal and external speakers offered insights on a series of key business topics, from macroeconomic trends and investing in innovation to the evolving nature of leadership. Our leaders also heard from expert panelists and their own peers on issues closely tied to the sectors in which they operate.

While the topics and discussion were wide-ranging, here are four takeaways from the conference.

Conference overhead view
Conference overhead view

The world is changing rapidly—and that presents new business opportunities.

A stark shift in the macroeconomic environment. Disruptive technological change. The end of the stable climate regime that lasted 100,000 years. A generational divide in what’s expected of leaders. If there was one overarching theme emerging from the discussions, it was that we are in a period of accelerating change. It was why we chose Thriving in an Ever-Changing World as the theme of the conference.

Our intent was to help our companies better understand how to prepare for change, build resilience, and continue to grow. Because adapting to change is more than a requirement of continuing to operate. At Ontario Teachers’, we see it as an opportunity to deploy capital where others can’t, and to leverage our long-term focus to make a positive impact as we deliver returns to our members.

“Never get comfortable.”

 Kathy Marinello, CEO

Changing expectations of leaders demand new approaches.

Even as they confront a more complex operating environment, business leaders are being asked to consider the views of more stakeholders on more issues. They are facing more pressure from stakeholders to speak out on social or political issues. And they are being asked to pay more attention to their employees’ wellbeing. Younger workers are at the forefront of those changing expectations.

“If you are not being intentional, you are probably not leading.”

  Jo Taylor, CEO
Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan

In this environment, leading the way you were led is no longer the best option, noted Carla Harris, a top executive at Morgan Stanley who has been named to Fortune Magazine’s list of the 50 Most Powerful Black Executives in Corporate America and who is an expert on intentional leadership. Harris’s approach is rooted in bringing your authentic self to work. Her advice to leaders includes creating clarity, listening to diverse viewpoints, and developing other leaders. These principles—Carla’s Pearls—can help leaders build trust and motivate their teams to succeed.

“The new dominant population in the workforce is demanding transparency, inclusivity and feedback.”

 Carla Harris, Senior Client Advisor and leadership expert
Morgan Stanley
Joe Taylor at the Portfolio Company Conference
Carla Harris Morgan at the Portfolio Company Conference

Generative AI is going from consumer phenomenon to key business consideration.

Early in 2023, ChatGPT became the fastest-growing consumer application in history. The implications of ChatGPT’s meteoric rise have not been lost on business leaders. Increasingly, many view understanding and integrating artificial intelligence as a business imperative. They are considering or embracing AI tools as a way to improve their productivity and gain competitiveness.

9 out of 10 leaders at our conference expressed curiosity, optimism, or excitement about AI.

While AI has raised concerns that knowledge workers will be displaced, speakers at the conference framed the technology as a way to reduce or eliminate mundane tasks and enable people to focus on what they do best. That’s not to say AI won’t require investment in talent and new capabilities. What’s more, companies will have to set appropriate guardrails around AI to mitigate its potential risks.

“We’re not trying to replace the clinician; we’re giving them superpowers to do more.”

Johannes Schildt, CEO and Co-Founder

There’s progress being made on emissions reduction.

The path to net zero will require a fundamental transformation, from a global economy mainly powered by fossil fuels to one in which electricity powers more human activity, and clean energy sources dominate. While that transformation won’t be smooth, investment is flowing into new technologies and to countries which have earmarked billions to benefit economically from the energy transition.

And there is progress being made at the company level. Attendees learned about how some of Ontario Teachers’ portfolio companies are leading by focusing their decarbonization efforts in three key areas—improving building efficiency, greening company vehicle fleets, and adding clean energy. Companies operating in sectors ranging from real estate and data centres to airports are seeing benefits in the form of emissions reductions and industry recognition.

There is exponential growth happening, offering myriad climate solutions. There are reasons to be hopeful—and there are very real opportunities within our reach.

Anna Murray
Senior Managing Director and Global Head of Sustainable Investing, Ontario Teachers’ Pension Plan
Anna Murray at Portfolio Company Conference