Stratford Managers “leans in” to support CEO of the Year Kevin Ford

Since his appointment as President and CEO of Calian Group, Ford has been using Stratford’s executive advisory and support services
From left: Jim Roche, Kevin Ford and Colleen Kelley

When Kevin Ford was appointed the CEO of Calian Group, it was his first foray into the C-suite.

While the Ottawa business executive had previously held senior roles with various firms, he knew this career move would be different and quickly realized he’d benefit from some additional support.

“Sometimes, you need to know what you don’t know as a leader,” Mr. Ford says.

Enter Colleen Kelley and Jim Roche of Stratford Managers, a leading management consulting and services firm based in Ottawa. Since Mr. Ford moved into his role slightly more than two years ago, Ms. Kelley and Mr. Roche have served as his trusted advisors.

They’ve been with Mr. Ford as Calian completed a series of acquisitions, booked record revenues and won the largest contract in the company’s history – milestones that led to Mr. Ford being named the 2017 CEO of the Year by the Ottawa Business Journal and Ottawa Chamber of Commerce.

Stratford Managers assisted Calian in multiple capacities, drawing upon their team’s extensive experience leading and operating high-growth companies.

“I thought it was important that I have that sounding board,” Mr. Ford says. “You can never have enough good advice.”

Talent

Stratford Managers provides Calian with several services, including executive coaching – a field that has evolved significantly in recent years.

“Coaching used to be seen as something that you would give to people that had something that needed fixing. That’s not the case anymore,” says Mr. Roche, Stratford Managers’ President and CEO.

One of Stratford’s greatest assets is its diverse team of experienced professionals. With team members across a variety of industries and specializations, the firm can solve any business-related issue a client might throw their way.

“If there’s a really specific marketing discussion, we will call in the right people to answer those questions. We don’t try to pretend that we know everything,” says Ms. Kelley, Stratford Managers’ Vice President and Practice Lead of Business Operations.

Mr. Ford and Calian have leveraged Stratford’s pool of resources across a range of departments, including HR, branding and finance, among others. They’ve also drawn upon Stratford’s advisory and project management resources.

“Everything I’ve asked, they’ve been able to bring to the table with a very capable skillset,” says Mr. Ford.

Since Calian and Stratford began working together, Mr. Ford says there’s been a “pivot” in how his company is perceived, both internally and outside the organization.

Previously, Calian was viewed as a conservative, dividend-paying company by investors. It’s now seen by many as a growth company.

Time

As the CEO of one of Ottawa’s largest publicly traded corporations, a father of four and a minor league hockey coach, Mr. Ford says his biggest challenge is time. While he only meets with Stratford for a couple hours every month, they accomplish a lot in that short period.

Part of the strength that the team brings to the table in its meetings with Calian is the wealth of experience gained through working with other CEOs.

“I have this really privileged and unique opportunity to talk to the leading executives in Ottawa,” says Mr. Roche.

He gives the examples of Ross Video CEO, David Ross, who was 2016’s CEO of the Year and Kinaxis CEO, John Sicard, who was EY’s 2017 pick for Ontario Entrepreneur of the Year. Both are clients Stratford Managers has worked with closely and whose experiences they can draw upon.

“The ability to leverage best practices across that network – I just wouldn’t have time to do that,” says Mr. Ford.

Calian Group is a diverse company that offers professional services in the areas of health, IT, training, engineering and manufacturing. Now in its 36th year of operation, it employs more than 3,000 people, based in both Ottawa and Saskatoon.

“Because we are so diverse, we’re a hard company to understand,” says Mr. Ford. “It’s very tough to get your head around Calian.”

Having Stratford assisting across so many departments avoids the need to re-educate new contractors engaged in different projects. Instead, Ms. Kelley and Mr. Roche have developed a high level of trust not only with Mr. Ford, but across the many departments of the business.

Trust

While the relationship Stratford maintains with Calian falls largely under its CEO advisory and support services, the organization brings more than that to the table.

“To me it’s not just coaching. There’s an element of challenge with regard to your thinking,” says Mr. Ford. In sessions with Stratford, he explains that while the three don’t always agree on things, they do engage in invaluable discussions.

The relationship between the two organizations has evolved over two years to include the running of Calian’s executive retreats.

“That was not an insignificant demonstration of the trust I have in Stratford, to get ‘inside the tent’ with my executive team,” Mr. Ford says.

As Ms. Kelley explains, Stratford’s services go well beyond consultations and advice. They like to “lean in” with hands-on service delivery, engaging in work that helps ensure the success of their clients.

“Even in our internal meetings, Jim and Colleen always refer to Calian as ‘we.’ And it’s not lost on me that that is an important element of the Stratford way. It’s not a bunch of consultants that are there to give you advice and then go packing,” says Mr. Ford.

To learn more about how Stratford Managers can take your business to the next level, visit stratfordmanagers.com.