Jim Prentice’s First Week in Office–Straight out of the Corporate Playbook

As of this moment, Alberta is under new management.” — Jim Prentice, 16th Premier of Alberta*

Transition. There’s nothing more unsettling; no, strike that, nerve-wracking, for an organization than a change-out of senior leadership, particularly when the old leader is universally regarded as an abject failure (will I be condemned by association?) and the new leader is hailed as the messiah (am I within his orbit of influence?).

Mr Prentice

Mr Prentice knows that the burden of a successful transition, in this case from the tired old PC party to the shiny new PC party, rests solely on his shoulders. He needs expert advice in order to make this transition successfully.

Based on the events of last week it looks like Mr Prentice turned to the guru of corporate transition, Michael Watkins.

Mr Watkins wrote the book, literally, on how to avoid transition failure when taking over a complex organization. It’s called The First 90 Days, Proven Strategies for Getting up to Speed Faster and Smarter.**

Think of the Alberta government as a $40 billion organization in desperate need a turnaround and Mr Prentice as a new CEO parachuted into the top job to make it so.

How is he going to do it?

Mr Walters recommends 7 steps. Shall we lay bets on where Mr Prentice will succeed and where he’ll stumble?

7 steps to a successful transition

Preparation: The tricky thing about a transition is that the skills that served Mr Prentice well as a CIBC executive and MP in Stephen Harper’s government may fail him here. It’s that “unknown unknowns” trap that Donald Rumsfeld blathered on about (which incidentally is respected theory in the corporate world).

Donald Rumsfeld

The problem with “unknown unknowns” is that what Mr Prentice doesn’t know he doesn’t know really will hurt him, if for no other reason than the Opposition knows it all too well.

“Drinking from the firehose”. This is corporate-speak for accelerated learning. Mr Prentice needs to get up to speed very fast and he needs his team does likewise, especially the newbies.

Mr Mandel (health) and Mr Dirks (education) are responsible for the two biggest portfolios in government. Mr Mandel has no experience in healthcare whatsoever. His first order of business should be to understand why the AHS centralized healthcare delivery model is dysfunctional, however Mr Prentice cut Mr Mandel’s legs out from under him by saying he’d reinstate the AHS board. So expect more tweaking but no major changes in healthcare delivery.

Mr Dirks’s track record in public education is less than stellar. He approved the Calgary Board of Education’s decision to build an opulent new administration building. Construction costs tripled (from $34 million to $130 million) and the CBE was saddled with lease payments of $285 million. All the while children and teachers were packed into portables.

Match strategy to the situation: Peter Lougheed swept into power like the CEO of a successful start up. Mr Prentice crawled into power over Alison Redford’s lifeless body—the CEO of a turnaround. Mr Prentice’s task will be to identify killer problems and develop and implement a problem-solving strategy. It’s not going to be easy.


“Low hanging fruit”: This is corporate-speak for identifying something that’s easy to fix, fixing it and gaining credibility and momentum in the process. Mr Prentice’s biggest challenge was figuring out which of Redford’s failed policies to tackle first. In one week Mr Prentice re-opened the Mitchner Centre, grounded the government planes and ditched the new license plates. Mr Prentice will milk this one for as long as possible…and so he should.

Build a solid relationship with the boss: A transitional leader must manage his boss’s expectations. This will be huge challenge for Mr Prentice because his boss (as Mr McIver was fond of saying) is us. And a good many of us have deserted the PC party for good while many more of us were never there in the first place. Good luck with this one.

Build and align the team around a strategic vision: Mr Prentice has yet to unveil his strategic vision for the future of Alberta. Any effort to divine his strategy from his Cabinet choices is pointless. The three key portfolios, energy, health and education are in the hands of newbies—Messrs Prentice, Mandel and Dirks—and what they plan to do with these portfolios is anybody’s guess.

Build outside support/form coalitions. Mr Prentice is Big Oil’s kindred spirit…and that’s about as far as he goes when it comes to building outside support. It is highly unlikely Mr Prentice or his team will give equal air time to the Alberta Federation of Labour, the Alberta Teachers’ Association or the United Nurses of Alberta, let alone the leaders of the Opposition. This increases the risk that Mr Prentice will lose perspective and make bad decisions.

Bottom line

It’s not enough to say “This is a new Progressive Conservative government with new leadership, new voices and a new way of doing things”.*

Mr Prentice should give serious consideration to all of the steps laid out in the corporate playbook if he hopes to deliver a shiny new government. Failing which Albertans will cut their losses and liquidate the company, er, government.

*CBC News Online, Sept 14, 2014


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6 Responses to Jim Prentice’s First Week in Office–Straight out of the Corporate Playbook

  1. Carlos Beca says:

    Jim Prentice is just another corporate representative coming to take over of what is left in Alberta and close the elite powerful circle of control for as long as it will take to get them out of there.
    Democratic Government is supposed to serve the people, not the corporate business needs and any discussion comparing running a government with running a corporation is to me irrelevant and we should stop it because it just makes it acceptable and normal. Government is not a corporation and we do not have profit interests. We should govern within our means but not manage to allow the private sector to take advantage of our resources and our skills. Private interests are important but they are not the end objective of our lives. We have been saturated with this fever for so long that we cannot even think outside of this business mindset that is now our only talk of the town. I want to know what Jim Prentice is going to do to get our services back where they should be and where they were before Ralph Klein screwed them all up, especially Health Care. What is happening in Alberta is a disgrace and any explanation to justify it magnifies the problem. We are spending 2 thousand dollars more per person in our Health Care system and we have the worst outcomes in Canada. Why? Because we stopped caring about the patients and we are focused like retards on how to move this money into private hands.
    Wake up Alberta or a revolution will happen.
    Look at Jim Prentice’s language – he is a corporate vassal

    • Carlos I agree. Overlaying the corporate model on to government won’t improve things one bit.
      With respect to healthcare, I’ve talked to a number of healthcare professionals, both in the work force and retired, in the last few months. They tell me that they used to feel like they were part of a team, the Foothills team, the Holy Cross team, the General team etc. Then Klein blew up the General and closed the Holy and the Grace. It rolled everyone up into the amorphous AHS and no one knows who they report to anymore. The teams were shattered. Everyone has been under constant pressure to cut costs and outsource services ever since. It’s hurting the quality of patient care to say nothing of staff morale. So what’s Prentice’s solution? Appoint Stephen Mandel, a man without any experience in healthcare, as Health minister. Makes absolutely no sense.

      • Carlos Beca says:

        What can I say? I think that as far as Jim Prentice is concerned as long as it is run like a business everything falls in place. If the Health Care system is run like a business it gets to be the mess it is right now. That is the experience we have so far.
        Wow one comment for your article on Jim’s first week – that is a pretty good sign people are paying attention – LOL
        Everyone is just sick and tired of this garbage. Sick Politics.

      • Carlos, sometimes I wonder whether Albertans are just shell shocked. They’ve been through so much since the Klein days and now they find themselves here–in the country’s richest province with fair to middling performance in the things that matter to them (education, healthcare, elder care). I think they’re taking a moment to catch their breath before they re-engage. I’m betting we’re going to see them come out in droves in the upcoming by-election.

  2. Julie Ali says:

    Hi Susan,

    I’m not shell shocked.
    I feel good about democracy.
    I am not as dumb as I was at the beginning of the Tory dynasty which I believe will soon end.
    Even though I am optimistic about democracy— I don’t expect any changes in the safe Tory ridings –where these three players are going to act out their fantasy of public service.

    I live in Edmonton Whitemud where the Mandel guy is taking the place of the Hancock guy who has thankfully gone off to a future patronage job courtesy of Prentice and crew. Maybe he will become a judge and put us all to sleep in court?

    In any case his leaving won’t alter things for me in Riverbend. It might even have made things worse. I am pretty sure the folks in Riverbend will vote for Mandel because they will get benefits from having a health minister in the temporary government we now have. Folks in Riverbend think that the Mandel guy is great.
    I don’t know why.

    He seems to be a very interesting player. He has done a fine job in enriching the Katz Krew type folks. The insincere democracy we have endured in Edmonton– under Mr. Mandel’s watch was never clear to me for most of his tenure—because I stayed in Riverbend.

    It was only a few years ago—when I went to the Edmonton City council meetings and witnessed the lack of respect councillors and the mayor had for the wishes of ordinary Edmontonians that I realized what sort of folks these guys are. They’re in it for themselves to the nth degree. It’s pretty shocking.
    They’re shameless players.
    And they work for other players –possibly even worse than they are.
    All these players don’t give a darn for the public good.
    They think of politics as a game.
    They see the returns in terms of connections, power, status and all that crap.

    The politicians are stage players of the most weird sort who don’t seem to have any dissonance about their promises that they never keep.
    It’s mind boggling to me that they do the dissonance business of the Prentice guy where he yaps that he will hire on merit, be accountable to us and yet hands over patronage jobs to buddies right away:


    “Some people may have been involved in a political party in the past. Could be one of a number of political parties,” said Prentice.
    “That should not preclude them from serving in a position of public trust. But it should also not be the criteria by which they are selected.”
    Last week, along with the Hill appointment, Prentice also named former Conservative MP Rob Merrifield to be Alberta’s senior trade representative for the U.S.
    Merrifield publicly supported Prentice during his leadership campaign.
    Career diplomat Ron Hoffmann was named to a similar post for Asia.
    NDP Leader Brian Mason said it’s clear that Prentice will be four-square against favouritism once his favourites are in place.
    Even though such hypocrisy is old hat now that we have been through the Redford error and seen the Berger forced down our throats as well as the Gary Mar appointment to riches, I am still surprised to hear Mr. Prentice promise us the Redford promises and yet his acts indicate his real stance in the world.
    It’s typical of these folks that they say lies and expect us to accept this junk as the truth.

    In Riverbend, the folks will vote for their own interests. They don’t seem to give a darn about the corruption of the hires. This comment that I read that I put below might explain it–the folks who vote for these people who are all –in my mind —- self serving players–are thinking of themselves first and not of democracy or of the best person for the job.

    Sam Sung • 7 hours ago
    No doubt Edmonton White-Mud and all the money lives in this corner of the City is hand picked by Mandel. They are all Mandel’s friends and business associates who expect favor’s once he’s elected as their M.L.A. Hopefully when a General Election is held the rest of Alberta will kick out the PC for good deflating their corrupt a$ses that have had a hold on this province resources for way to long. Mandel is no different from the rest of the slobs that have fed at the trough for decades he’s just taking a turn feeding. The real crooks don’t hold office they just pull the M.L.A.’s elected strings.

    This comment seems to say that the real crooks are us.

    It’s pretty interesting, politics.
    But it never seems to change in Alberta.

    I am curious about this Prentice guy.
    What can you tell us about him?
    In one comment I found that he had a law firm that got a ton of cash from government:


    SUPERFLY • 8 hours ago
    Government records show PC leadership candidate Jim Prentice’s former law firm was paid millions of dollars in public money over a fourteen year period. A review of the available ‘Blue Books’ reveals that Rooney Prentice Barristers & Solicitors received over $5.7 million of dollars from taxpayers from 1992 to 2006. James P E Prentice, whose name also appears three time during the same period, received more than $40,000 for what is listed as health-related work.

    The annual payments to Rooney Prentice increased over time, reaching a height of $769,118 in the 1997-98 fiscal year, until 2003-04, when Prentice unsuccessfully sought the leadership of the federal PC Party, and the payments fell to $22,094.

    Prentice was elected the following year as a Conservative MP, at which point the payments to Rooney Prentice Barristers & Solicitors disappeared from the public records.

    “Albertans deserve to know the truth,” says Sherman. “These documents prove Mr. Prentice has had a long-standing, and financially beneficial, relationship with the PC government.”

    This is interesting.
    What else can everyone find out about the Prentice hire?
    It is useful to have background on the next premier error so that we are unsurprised by the coup that will follow.
    And after Prentice?
    No doubt it will be Mandel.
    Some things never change in Alberta.

    • Julie your comments about Mandel are very helpful to those of us who live in Calgary. We don’t know much about him. I agree with you about the hypocrisy of taking a stand against patronage after one has appointed ones good friends and supporters to key positions. The only one that was missing was poor Ken Hughes…lord only knows what went wrong there.

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