BlackBerry’s troubles fail to stall growth at Ottawa-based QNX

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Mark Brownlee
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Increasing revenues. A client list that places its product in some of the world’s top-end automobiles. A plan to hire more people in the near future.

Derek Kuhn, QNX vice-president of sales and marketing

QNX is a rare bright spot in a world of otherwise troubling news for the Ottawa-based firm’s parent company, BlackBerry – so much so that at times it can be difficult for the wholly-owned subsidiary to cut through the noise.

But Derek Kuhn, QNX’s vice president of sales and marketing, said that hasn’t slowed QNX down in its bid to be the industry standard when it comes to user interface in automobiles.

“QNX and the QNX brand are something that is very, very well regarded throughout the world,” said Mr. Kuhn in a recent interview at the company’s Kanata headquarters.

“It’s certainly not something that’s affected us in our growth,” he added.

Mr. Kuhn declined to discuss specific revenue figures for QNX or how many employees the company has. Nevertheless, though, he said the 34-year-old company’s arrow is pointing up.

QNX has seen growth in each of the three years that Mr. Kuhn has been involved with the company.

“We had our best year ever last year,” he said.

In late March, he said, the company had just sent out a number of new requisitions to hire more people.

Mr. Kuhn disputed the notion that bad press continues to drag down BlackBerry.

He believes that a lot of the company’s more recent coverage, most of which centres around new CEO John Chen, has been more positive. That’s in spite of the fact that BlackBerry announced another drop in revenues during its most recent quarterly results.

The parent company’s issues have brought questions about whether or not the future of QNX resides in Ottawa, especially after BlackBerry announced plans last fall to sell off most of its Canadian real estate.

Mr. Chen told reporters following the Waterloo, Ont.-based company’s more recent quarterly earnings announcement that QNX would be staying in Ottawa even as it looks at, as he put it at the time, “consolidating some of its functions in one place.”

Maintaining headquarters in Ottawa provides a lot of advantages for QNX, Mr. Kuhn said.

“Ottawa has a tremendous talent pool...being able to draw upon such a well-educated, well-rounded talent pool is fantastic for us,” he said.

But he added that the company realizes it needs to expand its presence elsewhere if it wants to grow. It wants to be as close as possible to customers, he said, many of which are located in other parts of the world.The company has big plans for the future of the automotive industry. Mr. Kuhn said one of the biggest growth areas at the moment is in acoustics.

Many car companies have, in an effort to make their vehicles more environmentally-friendly, cut down on the amount of noise that a driver hears from their engine, he said.

However that’s meant that drivers have lost an important means for interacting with their environment and ensuring their vehicles are running safely.

That’s one of the reasons why QNX has developed a system that artificially replicates the sound the engine makes on the inside of the car.

He points out that engine sound enhancement will soon be mandatory in the European Union, a development he believes QNX is in a unique position to take advantage of.

The company is also in the process of testing a system that allows cars to automatically drive themselves. He said QNX is working with the provincial Ministry of Transportation to get approvals for testing the system on Ontario roads.

Challenges remain, however. Mr. Kuhn said that one of his big concerns are the security issues that come with having a car that relies so heavily on electronics.

“As a driver, with my family in the car, I want to make sure somebody can’t do something that might compromise my car,” he said.

“That’s a big part of where the thinking is going in this building right now to make sure that as it becomes more prevalent, we have the right solutions for the industry.”

Another worry for Mr. Kuhn is a trend that’s leading to more young people are choosing not to purchase cars in the first place.

For the time being, though, it appears the company will be meeting those challenges from its home base in Ottawa.

Organizations: European Union, Ministry of Transportation

Geographic location: Ottawa, Kanata, Waterloo Ontario

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