In­vested in the job

Out­go­ing In­vest Ot­tawa CEO Bruce Lazenby looks back on his five years at the helm

Ottawa Business Journal - - Front Page -

Af­ter five years as head of In­vest Ot­tawa, Bruce Lazenby va­cated the CEO’s chair on June 30. The for­mer high-tech ex­ec­u­tive be­came pres­i­dent and CEO of the agency then known as the Ot­tawa Cen­tre for Re­gional In­no­va­tion in 2011, over­see­ing its re­brand­ing to In­vest Ot­tawa and pre­sid­ing over a time of sig­nif­i­cant growth at the or­ga­ni­za­tion, which will move to its new head­quar­ters in the In­no­va­tion Cen­tre at Bayview Yards this fall.

A few days be­fore his depar­ture, Mr. Lazenby sat down with OBJ to talk about his achieve­ments, where he thinks the or­ga­ni­za­tion is headed and his plans for the fu­ture. What fol­lows is an edited tran­script of that in­ter­view.

OBJ: Why did you de­cide to step down now?

BL: The easy an­swer is I orig­i­nally signed a four-year con­tract be­cause there’s a rea­son that pres­i­dents serve terms of four years. The re­al­ity is that these aren’t the kind of jobs you should be in for a ca­reer. You should come in, put your head down, work hard for some years and then hand it off like a re­lay run­ner to the next per­son. So that’s it. I stayed on one year later than I had orig­i­nally planned, but now I think is the right time to go. I’m par­tic­u­larly de­lighted to do it now so the new per­son can come in to put their fin­ger­prints on the In­no­va­tion Cen­tre at Bayview Yards and get it tweaked up the way they want be­fore they move in. And I get to work on my golf game a lit­tle bit over the sum­mer, which is pretty good too.

OBJ: What are your emo­tions in your fi­nal week on the job?

BL: There are parts of this job that I’m re­ally go­ing to miss, and there’s parts of this job that I’m not go­ing to miss. There’s a lot of small-p pol­i­tics in the na­ture of this, and that hasn’t been my back­ground. I’ve been a pri­vate-sec­tor guy, so that was a lit­tle in­ter­est­ing. But the op­por­tu­nity to make a dif­fer­ence that this job pro­vides was re­ally in­ter­est­ing. I got on more com­mit­tees and got in­volved with more de­ci­sion-mak­ers than I could ever have any other way. I moved here af­ter hav­ing had 33 dif­fer­ent ad­dress changes in every prov­ince and ter­ri­tory in the coun­try, (plus) time at sea and time in the Mid­dle East and time in Europe. I chose Ot­tawa in 1989 af­ter hav­ing seen lit­er­ally dozens of other cities. It was

“It was re­ally easy for me to sort of fill that role of VP sales for the city. To, in some small way, help make the city bet­ter was some­thing that I re­ally en­joyed.”

— BRUCE LAZENBY, ON HIS FIVE-YEAR TEN­URE AS HEAD OF IN­VEST OT­TAWA

re­ally easy for me to sort of fill that role of VP sales for the city. To, in some small way, help make the city bet­ter was some­thing that I re­ally en­joyed. That was a great part of the job.

OBJ: What ac­com­plish­ments over the past five years stand out?

BL: Early on, one of the things that I said was we need more ven­ture cap­i­tal in the city, so we re­cruited Code Cu­bitt to move here from the United States to launch a new fund (Mis­tral Ven­ture Part­ners), which he’s done. That fund is now closed, and he’s look­ing at start­ing fund two. He’s made a dozen in­vest­ments, most of which are in Ot­tawa, which I’m ex­cited about. The In­no­va­tion Cen­tre get­ting $15 mil­lion from the prov­ince and $15 mil­lion match­ing from the city was good. We wanted to make

that hap­pen. CENGN (Kanata’s Cen­tre of Ex­cel­lence for Next Gen­er­a­tion Net­works, which opened in 2014) was an In­vest Ot­tawa ini­tia­tive, which we launched, and for the first time ever, Ot­tawa won a cen­tre of ex­cel­lence op­por­tu­nity. The CAPE award that we won in col­lab­o­ra­tion with Terry Matthews which led to L-Spark is an­other thing we’re very proud of. The ZDG (Chi­nese in­vest­ment fund Zhong­guan­cun De­vel­op­ment Group) re­la­tion­ship – the first time we re­ally got in a deep re­la­tion­ship with China and the mas­sive op­por­tu­nity that we’re see­ing for Ot­tawa com­pa­nies as they work that pipe­line; I think that was a great step for us. The fact that we’ve got the four ma­jor post­sec­on­daries work­ing to­gether on a joint co-op pro­gram I think is good.

Tal­ent has been a real big pre­oc­cu­pa­tion with us – how do we make sure that we at­tract and re­tain the best tal­ent pos­si­ble. A lot of that led to the Why Ot­tawa pre­sen­ta­tion. The rea­son I think that hap­pened was be­cause there’s a new sense of col­lab­o­ra­tion in the city. I re­mem­ber five years ago, there was not a healthy re­la­tion­ship be­tween the city and OCRI (and) the cham­ber of com­merce. A lot of the startup com­mu­nity saw the pro­grams that OCRI was run­ning back in the day as be­ing not rel­e­vant to what they were do­ing, so there was re­ally not a spirit of work­ing to­gether. I think now in this city, if there’s one change that I’ve seen in the last five years, it’s been that real de­sire to work col­lab­o­ra­tively. In­vest Ot­tawa is not go­ing to take a lot of credit for that – I think the mayor and coun­cil de­serve a lot of credit. Now we’ve got a coun­cil that can make Lans­downe hap­pen, can make LRT hap­pen, can work with the NCC to get Le­Bre­ton in place.

OBJ: There’s a lot of com­pe­ti­tion for tal­ent in to­day’s global econ­omy. How can Ot­tawa do a bet­ter job of stand­ing out in the crowd?

BL: I think the data is there. Now we just need to let peo­ple know about it. That’s some­thing that we have launched; it will come out in the fall. It will be a pro­gram specif­i­cally tar­geted at bring­ing more tech­nol­ogy tal­ent to Ot­tawa. We’re go­ing to be tar­get­ing spe­cific cities in Canada and over­seas where we think that we’re a bet­ter fit for some of that tal­ent. How do we at­tract more peo­ple from other places? (Canada is) the most sought-af­ter des­ti­na­tion in the world, and I think work­ing with Im­mi­gra­tion Canada, we can find ways to make (Ot­tawa) more ac­ces­si­ble. The rea­son I chose to live here af­ter look­ing at 32 other places was be­cause I know how great it is. We’ve just got to make sure that other peo­ple un­der­stand what is here, and that (re­quires) a sig­nif­i­cant mar­ket­ing cam­paign. The rea­son that tourists should flock to Ot­tawa is the same rea­son that peo­ple should want to live here – for all the as­sets and beauty and the weather and ev­ery­thing else. It’s fan­tas­tic. We’re ac­tively dis­cussing op­por­tu­ni­ties to work to­gether with Ot­tawa Tourism. What that’s go­ing to shake out like, I’m not sure. But there’s a lot of good­will on both sides.

OBJ: We talk a lot about tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion in this city, but some peo­ple feel In­vest Ot­tawa is too tech-cen­tric. How do you re­spond to that crit­i­cism?

BL: Peo­ple should not con­fuse tech­nol­ogy and in­no­va­tion. They’re dif­fer­ent things. In­no­va­tion in restau­ra­teur­ing, in­no­va­tion in re­tail, in­no­va­tion in all other ser­vice in­dus­tries, is im­por­tant. It’s all part of the tal­ent at­trac­tion mes­sage. In­no­va­tion means things like Lans­downe Park and the fan­tas­tic or­ga­ni­za­tions in there. In­no­va­tion means bring­ing a CFL team here and get­ting them to the Grey Cup in year two. One of the things, when I took over, was the fo­cus be­came job-re­lated. We looked at this

and said, what do we need to do every day to help fa­cil­i­tate more job cre­ation in the city? In­no­va­tion in any form is part of that.

OBJ: What would your mes­sage be to the lead­ers of the In­no­va­tion Cen­tre to en­sure that hap­pens?

BL: My def­i­ni­tion of in­no­va­tion is cre­ativ­ity plus value. Be­ing cre­ative in and of it­self isn’t enough. You’ve got to think about how you’re go­ing to bring value to that. I be­lieve most in­no­va­tion is go­ing to come from the in­ter­sec­tion of pre­vi­ously dis­parate or­ga­ni­za­tions. When health care meets so­cial in­no­va­tion meets tech­nol­ogy, then I think we’re go­ing to find some re­ally in­no­va­tive things hap­pen­ing. The In­no­va­tion Cen­tre’s got the op­por­tu­nity to bring var­i­ous groups to­gether. One of the things we don’t have at 80 Aberdeen (In­vest Ot­tawa’s cur­rent head­quar­ters) is a mak­erspace or a dig­i­tal me­dia lab. Peo­ple are go­ing to be meet­ing each other and talk­ing about in­no­va­tive op­por­tu­ni­ties in dis­cus­sions that have never hap­pened be­fore.

OBJ: More than 1,000 star­tups have been in­cu­bated at In­vest Ot­tawa. Are you happy with the sus­tain­abil­ity they’ve shown so far, over­all?

BL: It’s get­ting bet­ter and bet­ter. I think we in­vested in the con­cept of en­trepreneur­ship some time ago, and now Ot­tawa is one of the most en­tre­pre­neur­ial cities in the coun­try. We have 1,700 tech­nol­ogy com­pa­nies, 1,400 of which are less than 50 peo­ple. Now, I think we’re shift­ing gears into scal­ing these com­pa­nies up. Hav­ing a thou­sand com­pa­nies with less than 10 peo­ple is in­ter­est­ing, but how do we get more com­pa­nies like Shopify, like Ross Video, like You. i, like Ki­naxis, like Halo­gen Soft­ware, who grow up to be 500 peo­ple or a thou­sand peo­ple? I think that’s go­ing to be the next chal­lenge.

OBJ: What are your thoughts so far on the fed­eral Lib­er­als and their ap­proach to in­no­va­tion?

BL: I’ve been re­ally en­cour­aged by the at­ti­tude of the fed­eral gov­ern­ment. When they were elected, I was asked about the dif­fer­ence be­tween the pre­vi­ous gov­ern­ment and this gov­ern­ment, and I said two mono­logues do not make a di­a­logue. I felt pre­vi­ously there was a lot of mono­logues, a lot of one-sided con­ver­sa­tions. Now, there seems to be a real di­a­logue. In my meet­ings with min­is­ters, there’s a real open­ness to un­der­stand­ing how we can work to­gether. OBJ: Some an­a­lysts have noted that in­stead of look­ing at com­pe­ti­tion among the prov­ince’s high-tech hubs as Water­loo vs. Ot­tawa vs. Toronto, for ex­am­ple, we should be find­ing more ways to work to­gether and pool our strengths to com­pete as one clus­ter against other parts of the world. What are your thoughts on that ap­proach?

BL: The com­pe­ti­tion is not Toronto or Water­loo. The com­pe­ti­tion is Bos­ton, Barcelona, San Fran­cisco, Tel Aviv. I’m very ex­cited to hear the premier and other se­nior cab­i­net min­is­ters talk­ing about the On­tario tech­nol­ogy su­per-cor­ri­dor, which ex­tends from Ot­tawa through Toronto and con­nect­ing with Water­loo. That makes sense. We’ve got about five times as many large ICT com­pa­nies head­quar­tered in Ot­tawa as they do in Water­loo, so re­ally when you bring Ot­tawa to that mix, all of a sud­den now we’re big­ger than Sil­i­con Val­ley.

OBJ: Do you look back and wish you’d done any­thing dif­fer­ently in the last five years?

BL: Not many re­grets, but I do feel like we ran out of time on a few files, one of which is the op­por­tu­nity to more deeply con­nect the uni­ver­si­ties and the city with the busi­ness sec­tor. We’ve got 120,000 stu­dents here at four great public-sec­tor in­sti­tu­tions and Wil­lis Col­lege, which is a pri­vate col­lege that has a lot to add to the city. I think there’s an­other gear avail­able to fine-tune those con­nec­tions. If you look at the Why Ot­tawa pre­sen­ta­tion, there’s still more wins we can have, still more we can do. I’m re­ally ex­cited to see what my suc­ces­sor’s go­ing to do and where they’re go­ing to take this place.

OBJ: In that vein, do have any words of wis­dom or ad­vice for the next per­son who sits in that chair?

BL: En­joy the job. It’s a won­der­ful job, and I think that sub­ti­tle of VP sales is some­thing that I think the next CEO should wear with pride. It’s about telling the world what a won­der­ful as­set we’ve got and then mak­ing sure that we con­tinue to grow that as­set and make it as shiny as pos­si­ble.

OBJ: I know you’ve got a lot of golf on your agenda this sum­mer, but what are your plans af­ter that?

BL: I’ve got some re­ally ex­cit­ing irons in the fire, and prob­a­bly in Au­gust I’ll be an­nounc­ing what I’m go­ing to be do­ing next. But you can rest as­sured it’s go­ing to have some sig­nif­i­cant city-build­ing el­e­ments to it.

PHOTO BY MARK HOLLERON

Bruce Lazenby has rel­ished his role as a sales­man for the cap­i­tal re­gion.

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