March 15, 2023Print | PDF
Andy Macaulay, a distinguished alumnus of the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University, has started a new consultancy called The Optimalists.
It’s an ambitious firm that aims to help small and medium-sized enterprises (SMEs) align their values with their business goals, and scale into larger enterprises without losing their sense of purpose.
With help from business partner Glen Hunt and Laurier marketing professor Sarah J.S. Wilner, this new firm is further proof of the value of ongoing collaborations between faculty and alumni who are leaders in their fields.
We spoke with Macaulay and Wilner about the new venture.
As one of Canada’s leading marketers and creative entrepreneurs, Andy Macaulay (BBA ’80) has peered deeply into the hearts of countless businesses to discover what makes them remarkable — and why they succeed.
In the process, he became fascinated by the conditions that help great companies thrive. Often, he found, it’s because great companies enable their employees to do their best work and be their best selves, while fulfilling a larger mission.
“The difference in business outcomes between [companies] that are great places to work and those that aren't, is huge,” said Macaulay, a towering figure in advertising who has worked with firms like Roche-Macaulay, CP+B, Zig, Union, and Rethink.
“And creating those conditions takes a lot of work, but we know how to do it.”
This is one of the key motivations of Macaulay’s latest venture, The Optimalists — a consultancy he created in January 2023 with fellow marketing heavyweight Glen Hunt.
The Optimalists is on a mission to help SMEs uncover what’s truly important to them and their employees, and align those values with the company’s business strategy, tactics and goals.
As alignment grows, leaders and employees gain greater autonomy, producing better and faster outcomes for the business and themselves.
Ultimately, these companies become great places to work, increase profits and become efficient, while avoiding burnout and providing a deeper sense of purpose.
“If you create those conditions, productivity will be higher, profit will be higher, customer satisfaction will be higher, tenure will be longer,” said Macaulay.
“The outcomes consistently line up.”’
Along with Macaulay and Hunt’s decades of expertise, The Optimalists benefits from the guidance of Sarah Wilner, associate professor of marketing and chair in brand communications at the Lazaridis School of Business and Economics at Wilfrid Laurier University.
“I have tremendous respect for her ability, not just as an academic but to really cut to the chase of the matter,” said Macaulay.
“We've created a group of people with whom we'll work, called The Collective. Sarah's one of those, and we've tried to populate The Collective with people who have broad experiences that are complementary to ours.”
Wilner has worked extensively with large, customer-facing organizations, as well as with small and medium-sized tech start-ups in Waterloo Region.
Her research focuses on the intersection of marketing management and consumer behaviour, with an immersive approach grounded in understanding a company’s practical concerns.
“My research, while concerned with building theory, isn't divorced from the work that practitioners do,” noted Wilner. “In the case of one study, my colleagues and I looked at approximately 100 tech SMEs in Waterloo Region, and we studied some of the microfoundations of innovation — the ways in which individuals contribute to firm output.
“People within the firm — a company’s human resources — require effective, clear communication from leadership to make sure everyone is onboard with the firm’s purpose and able to work on it productively. That is very much aligned with the things I think about.”
Wilner and Macaulay have developed a collaboration that illustrates the symbiotic value of connections between Laurier researchers and alumni.
Though Macaulay’s Laurier education is many years in the past, he remained close to the university, helping establish the chair in brand communications at the Lazaridis school.
“I met Sarah in that process, and we've stayed in touch over the years,” said Macaulay.
“I’m not, and never could have succeeded, as an academic. So Sarah's exposure as a prof, as an academic, as a researcher, is invaluable to us. When we bring in an assignment, we'll share it with The Collective so that we can get as many diverse perspectives as possible on the challenge we face, and the way we should solve it.”
Macaulay has led three businesses with at least 120 employees, but his focus with The Optimalists is less about its growth than making a positive impact for the SMEs it will help thrive.
“We've always been of the view, in our careers in advertising, that if we do great work — if we really care about our clients, and we deliver results for them, growth and profit will take care of itself,” he said.
“So we really don't have a growth ambition. When we're able to make a significant difference in a number of clients, we will have accomplished what we set out to do with this business.”
Macaulay offers two pieces of advice to new Lazaridis school grads: Aim high, and look wide.
“It really is astounding what you can accomplish if you don't self-limit,” he said. “If you really want to do it, odds are you can do it. It's just a question of do you have the discipline — do you have the drive to accomplish it? So that's what I mean by aim high.”
As for looking wide, Macaulay noted some of the most valuable courses he took at Laurier were not in business, but in philosophy and sociology.
He used those courses to grow, and applied some of their principles in the business world.
“The ability to take things from different disciplines, hobbies and passions, they all allow you to look at the world differently,” he said.
“And that's the most important thing to accomplish, in setting the stage for you to be able to aim high.”