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Canada is enjoying its time in the spotlight these days. In January, a survey released at the World Economic Forum in Davos, Switzerland, ranked Canada the second- best country in the world. Our new prime minister is in the honeymoon phase, garnering favourable headlines within Canada and around the globe. And the country’s biggest software company, based in the Canadian tech mecca of Waterloo, Ont., is moving full steam ahead at home and abroad.
“We are, without stereotyping too much, a polite culture,” says Adam Howatson, chief marketing officer of OpenText, which was selected by Waterstone Human Capital as one of Canada’s 10 Most Admired Corporate Cultures (Enterprise category) in 2015. “But I think that, in some cases, it would serve us well to be very proud and bold with what we have to offer the world, and take it out there. OpenText has a Canadian soul, in our people, in our culture and in what we bring to the world — it’s the OpenText way.”
What OpenText is “taking out there” is its unabashedly entrepreneurial and innovative culture, supported by its blue- chip infrastructure. A recognized global leader in the enterprise information management industry, OpenText sells software that helps companies make use of their data. Its 100,000- plus customers include six of the world’s largest governments, 32 of the top 50 energy companies, nine of the top 10 transportation companies and 14 of the top 20 financial institutions. The company, with about $2 billion in revenue, grows organically and by acquisition. OpenText has committed to using approximately $3 billion of capital in the next few years to continue its upward trajectory.
Innovation is definitely in OpenText’s DNA. The company was started in 1991, when the World Wide Web was anything but wide. It was spun out of the highly successful incubator-like setting at the University of Waterloo, which has since been mimicked by Ryerson University’s DMZ (formerly known as the Digital Media Zone) and the MaRS Discovery District.
With just four employees at the time, OpenText’s first project was putting the Oxford English Dictionary online and creating a search engine for it. The company gained momentum and hit the world stage around the turn of the millennium. Since then, it has grown to 8,200 employees ( about 1,000 of whom work in Waterloo) at 120 offices in North America, Europe and Asia.
“In startups, you’ve got to really watch your cash flow and you may not be able to take on a multi-year horizon as your strategic perspective,” Howatson says. “But we’ve been able to retain that startup feel and add to it the stability that comes with being a large, mature company servicing the Fortune 10,000 globally.”
The key to retaining that startup spirit, according to Howatson, is innovation.
“Innovation is something that we take very seriously, and we’ve built it into our culture,” Howatson says. “We’ve been able to integrate organizations from different countries, different geographies, different segments by taking the best features of those cultures and integrating them with our own.”
Howatson points to the company’s 2015 acquisition of California’s Actuate Corp., which focused on big- data analysis.
“The company has a very high- tech culture, a very Silicon Valley culture, and that adds to and strengthens the entrepreneurial, open spirit and culture we have here. They’re part of the family and we all benefit from it,” Howatson says.
However, as a global player, OpenText also has to be mindful of respecting the workplace culture in the countries where it makes acquisitions.
“You’ve always got to find the right balance of being a global company but also recognizing the local jurisdiction and culture and what’s important there,” says John Doolittle, the company’s Torontobased CFO who has been with OpenText for 18 months. “So we set the tone for our global operations but we do recognize local differences.”
While most of OpenText’s growth comes from acquisitions, the company is also hiring for a broad spectrum of individual roles, including software engineers, developers and product managers, sales and service personnel, finance and human resources employees. Millennials are quickly becoming the largest employee cohort at OpenText, and while male workers still outnumber their female colleagues, the company’s gender mix is “among the most balanced in the industry,” Howatson says. According to Doolittle, a trained chartered accountant who has also worked at telecom giant Nortel, KPMG and Mattamy Homes, OpenText looks for five key characteristics when hiring new employees right out of postsecondary or further along in their careers: passion and curiosity, confidence, the ability to work well in a team, determination and fearlessness.
“All of our top performers exhibit those characteristics and are really passionate about the company,” says Doolittle. “One of my main observations is how deeply loyal and passionate the team is about the company’s successes so far and what we want to do in the future.”
Candidates also have to have a demonstrated alignment with OpenText’s values, including trust, excellence and innovation.
Once hired, OpenText employees have many reasons to stay with the company, such as reimbursement for jobrelated training, development, designations and membership fees. The company also has a Champions program that allows employees to be recognized by their achievements, big or small, and earn points that are redeemable for prizes each time they’re called out.
The company officially recognizes top performers with a monetary award through its Excellence Awards and offers stock options, bonuses and annual getaways for other high achievers.
OpenText also works hard to create a work-life balance and to make the workplace somewhere that people enjoy spending their time. Head office, in Waterloo’s David Johnston Research and Technology Park, boasts modern facilities, open work spaces, a games room, a cafeteria serving hot food and a fireside lounge. Social activities include summer barbecues, Oktoberfest celebrations, Christmas parties, ski trips and a summer family picnic.
These incentives just add to the overall feeling of excitement around OpenText’s future.
“Folks like to be part of a growing company that’s global and that’s got interesting challenges and opportunities for career growth,” Doolittle says.
But the best thing about the company, according to Howatson, who has worked at OpenText for more than 14 years, is that it simply offers “incredible technologies for people to work on.”
“We’re developing technologies that allow us to comb through massive amounts of information and to make business predictions, visualize and perform predictive analysis and electronically integrate massive supply chains for huge manufacturers,” Howatson says. “It’s an incredible market to be in and it’s an incredible place to be.”
I NNOVATION I S SOMETHING WE TAKE VERY SERIOUSLY, AND WE’VE BUILT IT I NTO OUR CULTURE WE ARE, WITHOUT STEREOTYPING TOO MUCH, A POLITE CULTURE. BUT I THINK THAT, IN SOME CASES, IT WOULD SERVE US WELL TO BE VERY PROUD AND BOLD WITH WHAT WE HAVE TO OFFER THE WORLD, AND TAKE IT OUT THERE. OPENTEXT HAS A CANADIAN SOUL, IN OUR PEOPLE, IN OUR CULTURE AND IN WHAT WE BRING TO THE WORLD — IT’S THE OPENTEXT WAY — ADAM HOWATSON, OPENTEXT CHIEF MARKETING OFFICER
OpenText employees, at the global HQ in Waterloo, Ont., enjoy a culture filled with the spirit of a startup.