Lifestyle remains city’s strongest lure for execs

Vancouver’s amenities and culture may be enough to compensate for high cost of living, while executive compensation recovers

Vancouver’s high cost of living and the low dollar relative to the U.S. greenback are two major challenges companies face when looking to secure executive talent and skilled workers.

Yet despite these hurdles, recruiters have successfully used the city’s image – with its promise of an attractive lifestyle and nearby outdoor amenities including Whistler Blackcomb, golfing, beaches and parks – to draw talent.

Vancouver competes not only with major cities in the U.S. such as Seattle, Los Angeles, San Francisco and New York to acquire talent, but also with Toronto – which has generally more job prospects because of its bigger size and higher rates of pay, said Brent Cameron, managing partner at executive search firm Boyden Canada.

“The challenge from Toronto is it’s more expensive to live [in Vancouver] than it is in Toronto,” Cameron said. “And there are more head offices, more companies in Toronto, so your job prospects are greater in a city like Toronto, and so you have to balance that off when trying to attract people here. Vancouver’s gotten more competitive in recent years, but in general, Toronto tends to pay more and their housing is still less than ours here.”

Vancouver was named the third most livable city in the world in an Ipsos global survey earlier this month, ranking just below Zurich in Switzerland and Sydney, Australia. But prospective executives have to weigh Vancouver’s cost of living when considering a move to the city, which ranks as the third most expensive housing market after Hong Kong and Sydney, in a separate survey by Demographia.

“I think Vancouver’s distinctive advantage or where we can compete is obviously the lifestyle,” Cameron said. “Vancouver’s been rated one of the top three cities to live in for a long time now because of our combination of the mountains, the ocean, the outdoor amenities, just the natural beauty – a very safe, clean, welcoming city. It has a lot of natural attributes that other cities can’t compete with because you can’t build mountains or the beautiful oceans, or all these kinds of things. So, on that side, when you’re talking to people, when you say ‘Vancouver,’ it has an exceptional brand.”

According to the B.C. government’s annual report on executive compensation, there was an overall trend of stable recovery between 2016 and 2017 after executives began to receive modest salary adjustments beginning in 2015. The total amount of compensation paid by the provincial public sector between 2016 and 2017 increased by 3.8% compared with last year, and total compensation per executive rose by 2.1%.

“In the resource sector, there’s some recovery happening, so what has happened in recent years were some clawbacks – salary rollbacks, withheld bonuses, those kinds of things – because of the state of the depressed commodity prices,” said Arden Dalik, senior partner in the Calgary branch of Global Governance Advisors. “But in 2017 coming out of 2016, we are starting to see some movement and some increases, bonuses that were paid out which haven’t been paid in, say, the previous couple of years, and the salaries [are] starting to recover or not be frozen anymore because commodity prices have started to turn around. Again, it’s closely tied to pay for performance, and so because the performance is starting to show up, then the pay is starting to be there as well.”

The rise in executive compensation also partly reflects the increasing desire of B.C. companies to get more competitive with Toronto and the U.S. when offering jobs to executive talent.

“I think certainly Vancouver-based businesses … in recent years have had to get more competitive because of our cost of housing and because of their desire to attract the very best,” Cameron said. “And so we’ve definitely seen a more competitive stance from B.C. companies, who, when they go out looking, recognize that the compensation in Toronto or certainly in various U.S. markets will be higher, and are doing what they can to at least get to a more competitive position with some of those opportunities.”