‘Really good names’ vying for Invest Ottawa post, co-chair says

As the city’s main economic development agency, Invest Ottawa is responsible for selling the world on the merits of doing business in the nation’s capital.

So it makes sense that the agency’s search for a new chief executive shouldn’t be limited to within Canada’s borders, says the man leading the committee charged with hiring a replacement for former CEO Bruce Lazenby.

"Some really good names are coming in," says David Ritonja, a vice-president of Nokia’s North American operations who also co-chairs Invest Ottawa’s board of directors. “(Global executive search firm Boyden, which is vetting the candidates) is trying to be as diverse as they can on who fits that role.”

More than 100 applicants have already thrown their hats into the ring, Mr. Ritonja says, and he expects a few more to submit their CVs before Boyden starts to whittle that number down to a more manageable long list by the end of the month.

Key Ottawa industry players have been working the phones and using their business contacts in an effort to entice some "heavy hitters" from outside the country to apply for the post, he adds.

"Whether we can make that real or not ultimately depends on if the fit is there," Mr. Ritonja says, explaining that it does not mean deserving local candidates will be given short shrift.

"We are prepared to really see if we can entice some key names that would potentially be out of Ottawa," he says.

"If somebody’s at a point in their career where they have a rock-star name and are looking to give back to the community, that would be the ultimate type of person we would be looking for."

Whoever Invest Ottawa’s next leader is, he or she will be replacing a very familiar face.

Mr. Lazenby became one of the local business community’s best-known advocates in his five years on the job, often referring to himself as the city’s "VP of sales."

The former chief executive of enterprise software firm FreeBalance never missed an opportunity to boast about the capital’s wealth of highly educated talent or its renowned research facilities, and Invest Ottawa’s new boss will be expected to continue to promote the region’s merits to potential business partners across the globe.

But the next CEO will also be ushering in a new era for the agency, which will be moving to brand new headquarters in the Innovation Centre at Bayview Yards when the $30-million facility opens its doors in mid-November.

In addition to Invest Ottawa, the building will include a global cybersecurity hub, a digital media lab and a makerspace with such technology as 3D printers to help budding entrepreneurs put together prototypes of their products. It will also feature thousands of square feet of meeting space.

As the face of the anchor tenant, Invest Ottawa’s new chief executive will need to be adept at bringing all those different partners together, Mr. Ritonja says. He also says that person will need to build closer relationships with other economic catalysts, such as Kanata’s L-Spark accelerator and the Centre of Excellence for Next Generation Networks, a consortium of industry, academic and government research leaders aiming to bring new communications technologies to market more quickly.

"Because there are so many players involved in economic development in the city, if I had to define what Invest Ottawa 2.0 needs to become and evolve to, it’s collaborating with these things that we have been building on in the last five years that Bruce was CEO," Mr. Ritonja says.

"It’s one thing to have each of these successes on their own. If we can tie them together and leverage benefit across them, then you have a huge opportunity to really potentially take the city to the next level."

The successful candidate doesn’t have to be a superstar entrepreneur who built a startup into a $100-million company from scratch, he says. But he or she does need to possess plenty of business acumen.

"To me, that’s critical," he says. "The end constituent that gets the benefit is industry because we’re the ones that hire and employ people."

The nine-person hiring committee – which also includes Denise Amyot, the CEO of Colleges and Institutes Canada, Ottawa Chamber of Commerce chair Marie Boivin, You.i TV founder Jason Flick, Algonquin College president Cheryl Jensen, AOC Technology CEO Cyril McKelvie, Givopoly co-founder Susan Richards, Stratford Managers CEO Jim Roche and Innovation Centre co-chair Steve West – will pare the initial list of candidates down to a short list of about five next month.

Mr. Ritonja says the Invest Ottawa board would like to have a new CEO in place by early October, several weeks before the agency is scheduled to vacate its current home on Aberdeen Street in Little Italy.

It’s a responsibility the committee is not taking lightly.

"It’s a very complex role," Mr. Ritonja says of the CEO’s job. "It’s not just innovation. We also have the invest and trade side of this. There’s a lot of things that we do at Invest Ottawa."