Each year brings with it the promise of great things for Ottawa's business
community. With this in mind, the Ottawa Business Journal selected five
individuals who are likely to play a major role in the city's ongoing transformation.
As is the case with any crystal ball exercise, some of the choices were more
obvious than others.
Don Boudria, for example, was an easy pick. His dual role as MP for
Glengarry-Prescott-Russell and newly appointed minister of Public
Works and Governmental Services Canada, gives him the political power and
access to funding that could mean progress on several infrastructure projects,
including the proposal for a new interprovincial bridge. His portfolio also puts him
in charge of millions of square feet of downtown Ottawa real estate.
On a similar note, Fred Speer, the senior vice-president for O and Y Properties
in Ottawa, could play a key role in a $80-million project to expand Place de Ville,
adding two towers totalling 500,000 square feet.
We have also selected Bob Machlin, the CEO of Catena Networks. Catena is one of
the the best VC-funded startup in Canada and its CEO needs to bring the company
to profitability before its anticipated IPO.
In contrast to Machlin's new face, we have a familiar one on the list. High-tech
industry watchers say this could be a make-or-break year for Michael Cowpland.
Having spent a year at Zim Technologies, the founder of Corel has yet to
demonstrate that old Cowpland magic. On a less positive note, Cowpland will also
face Ontario Securities Commission charges in 2002.
The last person on the list was chosen for her bright prospects and also for the
thousands of people she represents. Kirsten Watson is the laid-off Nortel
Networks employee who saw opportunity in her unfortunate dismissal. She created
Hire Top Talent, a human resources and recruitment firm that's gaining North
American exposure. She is also a symbol of the thousands of Nortel workers who
are rebuilding their lives after the telecom giant's crash.
Boudria will oversee real estate, infrastructure
When five Tory MPPs converged on the Ottawa Congress Centre to announce $127
million in funding last week, Don Boudria was taken by surprise.
That's an unusual sentiment for the newly appointed Minister of Public Works and
Governmental Services Canada.
"What happened was a little odd," says Boudria, whose ward includes the east end
of the City of Ottawa. "I find it unusual that they would have chosen to breach the
spirit of the agreement. We were not consulted."
The provincial funding came from SuperBuild, a $2-billion infrastructure program
that requires equal contributions from the municipality and the federal government.
Boudria says it was likely political posturing on behalf of the Tories, who are
holding a leadership race. Finance Minister Jim Flaherty, who made the
announcement, is in the running.
"Maybe it's acute leadership campaign blues or maybe it's the winter blahs," says
Whatever the reason, he intends to get to the bottom of the matter.
Although Boudria has represented the Glengarry-Prescott-Russell riding since
1984, his word as a federal MP carries even more weight now. On Jan. 14, he was
appointed Minister of Public Works and Governmental Services Canada.
The local business community, as well as municipal politicians, are hoping that
Boudria, along with newly appointed Deputy Prime Minister John Manley, will use
their influence to win Ottawa funding for key infrastructure projects.
"We've always had an excellent relationship with (Boudria)," says Greater Ottawa
Chamber of Commerce chair Claudia Chowaniec. "We're hoping we'll be able to
call upon him to open doors and help us access other ministries as well as the
matching federal dollars important to Ottawa's infrastructure needs."
As minister of PWGSC, Boudria now oversees 13,000 employees. The government
department (which generates $100 million in revenues annually) is responsible for
managing federal real estate, consulting services, awarding contracts and
disposing of Crown assets. In Ottawa alone, the agency occupies 40 buildings.
On a national scale, Boudria says his goal is to polish the agency's reputation,
which was tainted by former minister Alfonso Gagliano. (The former minister was
accused of patronage.) On a more local scale, Boudria will turn his attention to a
handful of issues facing Ottawa, including its infrastructure needs.
"If someone doesn't need a map and they're familiar with the infrastructure, then at
least there's a shorter learning curve," he says.
Ottawa residents will have an advantage because his national responsibilities
don't often take him away from the national capital region.
City councillor Phil McNeely wants Boudria's attention in the east end of the city.
"We've never had any jobs in the east end," he says. "As PWGSC minister, it would
be very nice to see him push for jobs in the east end."
McNeely will also lobby for Boudria's support for tax deductions for federal
employees' bus passes in order to encourage bus ridership. This initiative has
already been rejected by Treasury Board. "I'm going to put that to both Boudria and
Manley," he adds.
Boudria's appointment might also spark some movement on the interprovincial
bridge issue. PWGSC is already responsible for three local bridges and Boudria is
well aware of plans for another.
"Things have not been done correctly. For a future bridge we have to have a
consensus first," he says, adding that he is encouraged by a recent meeting
between Ottawa Mayor Bob Chiarelli, Gatineau Mayor Yves Ducharme and National
Capital Commission Chair Marcel Beaudry.
Despite his national responsibilities, Boudria promises to make a lot of time for
Ottawa. "I intend to devote a lot of time to Ottawa. I'm kind of a hands-on guy
He will also have his hands on another aspect of the city a huge portion of its
real estate inventory. Over the past year, PWGSC's influence has caused a
dramatic shift in the city's landscape. It has jump-started an economy thwarted by
the high-tech slowdown by gobbling up 1.2 million square feet of office space. And
the real estate industry is anxiously awaiting even more action as PWGSC is
expected to call for a new building to be constructed downtown. It's also rumoured
the agency will start to extend it's reach to the east end of the city.
O and Y realtor spearheads downtown development
For a self-professed gossip hound, Fred Speer has the right job.
Speer is the man responsible for leasing O and Y Properties'
downtown Ottawa. That means he must keep his ear to the ground in the local real
estate scene, which is always rife with rumours.
As senior vice-president for Ottawa for the Reichmann family-owned
O and Y
Properties, Speer is banking on the hottest rumour circulating right now. Although
it's not confirmed, it's the worst kept secret in Ottawa: the federal government is
about to issue a tender to have a new office tower built in the downtown core.
It will be a fierce competition and many developers (including Minto, Morguard
Investments, Truscan and OMERS) are already preparing bids. Speer says his
company is farthest along.
O and Y has just submitted an application to the City of Ottawa for
the first tower and it's working on drawings for the second tower. The $80-million
project on Queen Street will be the third phase of Place de Ville. It calls for two
Class A towers totalling 500,000 square feet. Speer says
O and Y
space by the end of 2003.
O and Y might be a perfect fit for the federal government,
300,000 square feet of new space. No one has signed up for his two towers yet,
Speer says, hinting that once the government issues its tender
O and Y
Right now, his days are filled with juggling the four aspects of
O and Y's
business: accounting, construction, operations and leasing for real estate holdings
such as Billings Bridge, the Pinecrest Centre and the Jean Emonds tower.
All that and schmoozing.
"I'm talking to a lot of people," Speer says. "There's a lot of interest, but have we
preleased anything? No. But I sure hope we'll be the first tower to proceed. There
are some other people, but I know we're probably the farthest along."
He knows this because there are no secrets in the real estate industry, especially
"The Ottawa market is a small market and that's very good. I get to work with my
friends everyday; although we're very competitive, there's not the tension and
bitterness that you would find in other real estate centres."
Speer was born in Ottawa and received a degree in architecture in Calgary. He
went into real estate in Toronto, but he has been in Ottawa for the past 20 years.
"I enjoy talking with people and finding out what's going on. I'm an old gossip," he
So much of a gossip that more than a decade ago, Speer started the Turkey
Awards, an annual celebration that recognizes the local real estate agent that
manages to screw up the most. He has never won the dubious award, but that's
because he started it. He says he is exempt.
David Lees, vice-president and managing director for J.J. Barnicke Oncor
International, says Speer is quite possibly the most tapped in realtor in the city.
"Very few people know as much as Fred does," Lees says. "He s very astute; he
has a very good read on the market."
Catena chief on mission to take company public
Bob Machlin is a rarity these days. Not only does the Catena Networks chief
executive speak confidently about his company's prospects in the DSL market, but
he is not afraid to talk about the seemingly impossible going public.
Last month, Catena raised more than a few eyebrows when it secured US$75
million in fourth round venture funding. The deal is the second biggest ever for an
Ottawa company, behind last year's $144-million bonanza for Solinet Systems
(now Ceyba Inc.).
Now Catena faces the final leap to the public markets. However, that final step will
require facing a number of challenges. The first order of business, Machlin says,
is turning a profit.
To do this, Catena will use its newfound momentum to convince service providers
in the United States of the merits of digital subscriber line (DSL) technology.
Companies in the DSL space have been subject of criticism in the past few years,
but Machlin says the concept of DSL itself is not to blame.
"Six months ago, DSL was bad technology that nobody wanted," he says. "What
happened is that the competitive carriers had poor business models."
DSL is the technology that allows for the transmission of high-speed Internet
service over ordinary telephone wires. The technology allows telephone carriers to
offer an Internet service that compares in speed to a cable service.
The concept was initially a tough sell for many customers who balked at its high
price tag, but Catena's financial backers think the company's product will solve the
"The advantage begins at the chip level because they have a tight integration of
voice and data," says BCE Capital's David McCarthy, who participated in Catena's
latest round. "That allows (service providers) to produce a product that is cheaper
to build and easier to manage."
Of course, great technology needs a good pitchman. That is why Machlin is such
an asset, McCarthy says.
"Bob's the man to take this company public," he says. "He was an excellent choice
as CEO. He came in with a wealth of experience."
Gary Little of Menlo Park Calif.-based Morgenthaler Ventures says the venture
capital firm is pleased with Machlin's performance since he took over as the
company's CEO in 1999. Morgenthaler has contributed to each of Catena's funding
round and helped recruit Machlin.
"We were hoping to balance the strong technology team with someone with a
strong background in marketing," Little says. "Bob helped move them from a
semiconductor play to a full-fledged systems play. He was very successful with
Things weren't always so rosy for Catena. The company was forced to cut about 20
per cent of its staff in December because of slow market conditions.
But Machlin says he is happy with the size of the Catena workforce and says there
are no immediate plans to make further cuts.
Still, he says many companies have to be prepared to weather the sometimes wild
reaction to new technology.
"It's always a fad to jump on a bandwagon and then jump off when things aren't
going so well," he says. "What people miss is the simple notion that if you and your
users can get faster Internet for less money, people are going to want it."
This year, Machlin will have to take that pitch to the large American Internet service
providers in order to ensure Catena's goal of profitability.
He is not off to a bad start either. Right now, he says Catena has two more
"significant" customers signed on.
Hire Top Talent CEO looks to solve HR issues
One year ago Kirsten Watson's world came crashing down. Now, she's leading
one of the most influential human resources agencies in high tech.
She had a morning business meeting in La Hoya, Calif. that day. Then she was
having lunch when she got the call.
"I had just told the person I was having lunch with that life couldn't get any better.
Then I got a call from my supervisor with the bad news," recalls the 32-year-old
She was the senior manager of channel marketing for Nortel Networks' extreme
voice division. It was one of the company's most cutting-edge teams before it got
slashed in Nortel's massive restructuring plan.
After pondering her future, Watson did what she knows best started building a
network of contacts.
Most of the 127-person extreme voice division unit banded together to form Hire
Top Talent, with Watson as president and CEO. With contacts across the city
Watson also worked for OCRI and Corel Corp. before Nortel Hire Top Talent
became an instant success.
Like any startup, it wasn't a profitable venture at the beginning. As a result, Watson
took a job with Cloakware Corp. as its director of marketing. Hire Top Talent was
more of a side project than anything.
"Was this the plan? No. I'm a marketing person, not a CEO," says Watson. "The
last year has been an incredible absorption of information."
A flood of e-mails and phone calls about Hire Top Talent changed that.
"I was getting a lot of feedback. We got to the point where we either had to move
forward (with Hire Top Talent) or let it die," says Watson.
She moved forward.
Hire Top Talent quickly became a media darling. It received attention throughout
Canada and even was picked up by U.S. outlets, such as USA Today and the
Dallas Morning News.
Watson was able to flush out the company's board of directors with some help
from her friends. Her former boss at Nortel and Purple Angel frontman Irving Ebert
joined the board as chairman, and also pitched in a small amount of startup
Other board members include McCarthy Tetrault partner Anna Tosto,
ex-LuxurySquare.com CFO Sheldon Stevens and Databeacon Inc. co-founder Fred
Fast forward to today.
Watson has built Hire Top Talent into an 11-person operation, with monthly
revenues in the $20,000 to $50,000 range. There are currently 7,000 laid-off tech
workers in the company's database. It now offers five corporate services, including
recruiting, consulting, job posting, database access and event sponsorship. And,
more importantly, Hire Top Talent has become the place to go for top technology
Looking ahead, she would like to grow her Hire Top talent carefully manage the
burn, increase revenues.
Driving that revenue growth in the near term will be the company's recruiting and
consulting services. Having just launched its consulting services division, Hire Top
Talent hopes to cash in on the reluctance of companies to hire full-timers back on.
"We're getting into consulting kind of heavily. Companies turn to consultants before
they jump back into hirings. It's never been easier to be a consultant."
Seeming intent to grow Hire Top Talent slowly and carefully, the question of funding
raises mixed feelings for Watson. The services company isn't exactly an ideal VC
play, as the potential return on investment doesn't come close to meeting VC
requirements. If and when Watson goes banging on doors for money, it will
probably be from a strategic source, such as a major human resources services
Cowpland searches for old form at Zim
Twelve months after he took over Zim Technologies International Inc., the
technology industry is still waiting for Michael Cowpland's big comeback.
"He kind of vanished off the map in the last year," says Meta Group analyst Steve
Kleynhans. "Corel in the last couple of years of his leadership had an unclear and
While Kleynhans is critical of the way Corel deteriorated before Cowpland
resigned, he still believes Cowpland if fully capable of pulling another rabbit out of
"He thinks big. This is not a guy who looks for small things to do," he says. "He is
very good at recognizing trends."
One of the trends Cowpland thinks he has correctly identified involves the rise of
short messaging services. The technology allows cellphone users to send small
text messages to other users, much like an instant messaging service for desktop
computers. People in Europe and Japan are spending billions of dollars zapping
messages to each other with their cellphones.
Despite Cowpland's optimism, Cahners In-Stat Group wireless analyst Allen
Nogee isn't confident North Americans will follow. "We might leapfrog SMS
messages and leap to RIM devices. Not enough people know about (SMS) and it's
very limited. It's not an easy thing to do."
Nogee says it is likely the North American market might want to have full e-mail
capabilities that portable e-mail devices will eventually be able to offer. Since the
cell phones only offer short text messages, Cowpland's concept might not hold the
Cowpland is betting the critics are wrong. While Zim has tripled in size from 20
employees to 60, Cowpland has lowered some of his goals for the company.
When he took over the firm, he promised a public listing on the Nasdaq in 12-18
months. Now, he wants to take the firm public through a reverse takeover on the
American Stock Exchange by late spring.
Cowpland maintains North American wireless providers are just beginning to roll
out SMS services, positioning Zim to take advantage of the wave at its beginning.
His list of potential clients include companies that have people on the move and
use a dispatch system, such as tow trucks companies.
"It's about to explode. We're looking at 20 billion (messages) per month in Europe
(for SMS) and 1 billion in North America," he says.
Cowpland's immediate plans include establishing a test lab to discover which
wireless providers are doing a good job providing their customers with short
message services. Zim plans to publish its results later this year. An obvious
advantage of this strategy is that it allows the country's wireless providers such as
Bell Mobility, Rogers/AT and T Wireless and
stack up against each other.
If they don't stack up, Zim is ready to offer its server technology, which the company
claims allows information to travel from cellphone to cellphone more efficiently.