Last­ing le­gacy

Ot­tawa tech pi­o­neer and for­mer Cog­nos CEO Michael Pot­ter is Ot­tawa’s 2016 Life­time Achieve­ment re­cip­i­ent.

Ottawa Business Journal - - FRONT PAGE - BY PETER KOVESSY pkovessy@obj.ca

“The de­vel­op­ment of Cog­nos into a bil­lion-dol­lar en­ter­prise was a 30-year story. Dur­ing that time, the tech­nol­ogy en­vi­ron­ment for the soft­ware sec­tor tran­si­tioned through mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions ...Very few com­pa­nies of that era were able to man­age such tran­si­tions.”

Michael Pot­ter has held many ti­tles in his ca­reer: Chief ex­ec­u­tive, Phi­lan­thropist of the Year and even Hon­orary Colonel in the Royal Cana­dian Air Force. Next month, he’ll be adding one more. Mr. Pot­ter, who led Cog­nos for two decades and turned it into one of the largest soft­ware com­pa­nies in this city’s his­tory, is the OBJ-Ot­tawa Cham­ber of Com­merce 2016 Life­time Achieve­ment Award re­cip­i­ent.

The award will be of­fi­cially pre­sented dur­ing the Best Ot­tawa Busi­ness Awards (BOBs) gala at the Westin Ot­tawa on Thurs­day, Nov. 10.

Mr. Pot­ter told OBJ that he was “com­pletely sur­prised” at re­ceiv­ing the news and quickly high­lighted how there was a large team be­hind Cog­nos’ ac­com­plish­ments.

“The most strik­ing and en­dur­ing mem­ory of my Cog­nos years is how broadly the credit for the great suc­cess of the com­pany is shared,” Mr. Pot­ter said. “So many of the in­no­va­tive prod­uct ideas and the ef­fec­tive mar­ket­ing strate­gies that made Cog­nos into Canada’s premier soft­ware firm bub­bled up from rank-and-file em­ploy­ees and not down from the ex­ec­u­tive suite.”

Born in Lon­don in 1944, Mr. Pot­ter moved to Canada at the age of seven with his fam­ily. He at­tended the Royal Mil­i­tary Col­lege of Canada and later earned a mas­ter’s de­gree from the Univer­sity of Bri­tish Columbia.

– MICHAEL POT­TER, OT­TAWA’S 2016 LIFE­TIME ACHIEVE­MENT AWARD RE­CIP­I­ENT

He joined the fore­run­ner to Cog­nos, Quasar Sys­tems Ltd., in the early 1970s and even­tu­ally bought out its co-founders.

Un­der Mr. Pot­ter’s lead­er­ship, the com­pany un­der­went sev­eral key trans­for­ma­tions in­clud­ing a shift from govern­ment con­sult­ing to soft­ware sales.

“The de­vel­op­ment of Cog­nos into a bil­lion-dol­lar en­ter­prise was a 30-year story. Dur­ing that time, the tech­nol­ogy en­vi­ron­ment for the soft­ware sec­tor tran­si­tioned through mul­ti­ple gen­er­a­tions ... Very few com­pa­nies of that era were able to man­age such tran­si­tions,” Mr. Pot­ter said.

For years, Cog­nos was Ot­tawa’s most valu­able pub­licly traded com­pany and em­ployed thou­sands of peo­ple. The de­vel­oper of busi­ness in­tel­li­gence soft­ware was sold to IBM for $4.9 bil­lion in 2007, slightly more than a decade af­ter Mr. Pot­ter de­parted.

While he humbly down­played his con­tri­bu­tions to Ot­tawa’s cur­rent crop of star­tups in a 2012 in­ter­view with OBJ, oth­ers ar­gue that his im­pact con­tin­ues to be felt in Ot­tawa’s busi­ness com­mu­nity.

EY man­ag­ing part­ner Gary Zed, who de­scribes Mr. Pot­ter as a “close friend,” said Mr. Pot­ter helped in­flu­ence the next gen­er­a­tion of lo­cal tech lead­ers.

“A few years back, I in­tro­duced Mike to a very se­nior Shopify friend who ex­tended a sim­ple thank-you to Mike for men­tor­ing and paving the way for the next gen­er­a­tion and in­spir­ing young en­trepreneurs in the city,” Mr. Zed re­called. EY is the lead spon­sor of the Life­time Achieve­ment Award.

Ian Faris, the pres­i­dent and CEO of the Ot­tawa Cham­ber of Com­merce, said Mr. Pot­ter laid the ground­work for many of the city’s com­pa­nies.

“Ot­tawa’s tech sec­tor would not be where it is today if not for pi­o­neers like Mr. Pot­ter,” Mr. Faris said. “His tire­less ef­forts and out­stand­ing busi­ness lead­er­ship has cer­tainly paved the way for our tech sec­tor to reach new al­ti­tudes.”

Mr. Pot­ter also sup­ports sev­eral char­i­ta­ble causes, fo­cus­ing on the arts, health and ed­u­ca­tion, and was named the In­di­vid­ual Phi­lan­thropist of the Year at the 2009 An­nual Ot­tawa Phi­lan­thropy awards.

One of his most well-known char­i­ta­ble en­deav­ors is Vin­tage Wings of Canada. Af­ter his pas­sion for aviation led him to start col­lect­ing vin­tage air­craft, Mr. Pot­ter launched a not-for-profit foun­da­tion to ac­quire, main­tain and op­er­ate planes of his­tor­i­cal im­por­tance to Canada and the world.

This helped re­sult in Mr. Pot­ter be­com­ing the Hon­orary Colonel of the RCAF Snow­birds Air Demon­stra­tion Squadron as well as bring­ing an an­nual air­show fea­tur­ing the Snow­birds back to the Na­tional Cap­i­tal Re­gion in re­cent years.

Tick­ets for the gala hon­our­ing Mr. Pot­ter can be pur­chased on­line here.

The BOBs will also cel­e­brate the city’s top busi­ness per­form­ers in more than a half-dozen cat­e­gories and rec­og­nize the city’s 2016 CEO of the Year, David Ross.

Mr. Pot­ter will also take his place in the Plaza of Hon­our out­side the World Ex­change Plaza in the new year.

FILE PHOTO

For­mer Cog­nos CEO Michael Pot­ter trans­formed the firm into a soft­ware pow­er­house.

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