It has been with relief that many of us in the Ottawa high-tech community greeted the recent appointment of Bruce Lazenby as a President of OCRI (currently re-named Invest Ottawa). Bruce is an experienced entrepreneur, a doer, an action man, and not yet another bland bureaucrat who never took any risks, never had to worry how to meet a payroll, or build a business from scratch. Bruce becomes, by my count, the 6th President of OCRI (of which history goes back to 1983).
I recall with particular fondness and nostalgia the first OCRI President, Mike Caughey (1983-1984, but present and active way beyond that). Before Mike moved into management, he used to be a researcher at the Department of Electronics at Carleton University – we are talking about the 70s here. At that time I had been working overseas on my Ph.D. in semiconductor technology and as part of this endevour I had been using a well-known Caughey-Thomas mobility model which was employed widely in device modelling and simulation.
After moving and settling down in Ottawa I bumped into Mike, and not knowing who he was, I asked half-jokingly if he heard about the famous Caughey-Thomas equation. To my embarrassment and delight it turned out that this was his achievement. Since then, it became a constant tease each time we met but I think Mike was pleasantly tickled by my referrals to his work from his younger days. It has been a fairly specialized piece of work in a rather obscure field, so not very many people were aware of Mike’s role in its discovery. As a side note, “Thomas” refers to Raye Thomas, a professor at Carleton University, who became one of the early pioneers of the solar cell engineering and was a founder of such companies as TPK Solar Systems, Megasol and others.
Mike Caughey, currently retired, has always been a very pleasant, if not jovial, gentleman and a pleasure to deal with. His background includes stints with Mitel, BNR and the founding of Cadence Computer Corp, which after several re-incarnations became WebPlan and currently is known as Kinaxis. Mike’s background with its combination of researcher-manager-entrepreneur experience set the right foundation for OCRI and his colorful personality was instrumental in attracting attention to OCRI in its early days.
It was apparently Mike’s initiative to start what became a very popular event – the so-called Technology Executive Breakfast (TEB) meetings. I remember some of the early TEB meetings held at Rick’s Pizza and Pasta Restaurant on March Road. The TEBs became so popular that, rumour has it, once the coat racks crumbled to the floor under the weight of excessive number of coats, it had to move to a larger venue – The Palladium, later on known under much more prosaic names such as Scotiabank Place or a truly awful Canadian Tire Centre.
Later on, during the exhilarating high-tech boom years around 2000, Mike ran monthly Technology Venture Dinner (so called TVD) meetings which were a highly exclusive affair, hosted in the famous and prestigious Rideau Club in downtown Ottawa. These dinner meetings provided an ideal platform for intermingling between early-stage companies’ CEOs and venture capitalists. There was a fun and glamorous characteristic to that era, but regrettably it all fell victim to the bust that followed. I have to admit I miss those events.
Gerry Turcotte (1984-1998), was the second and the longest serving President. His pedigree goes back to Algonquin College and its Electronics Department. Gerry was a very approachable man, full of unbridled enthusiasm, and a bit of a hustler in a positive way. He presided over the longest period of OCRI stewardship from which he was parachuted to the presidency of the Communications Research Centre (CRC) down the road at Shirley’s Bay.
Bill Collins (1998-2001) used to be Turcotte’s sidekick – I remember both of them having fun working closely together out of the office in the Gateway building – so it was natural for him to take over from Gerry after his departure in 1998. Bill was a true operator, an enthusiastic marketer, networker and salesman. He had the good fortune of presiding over the glory days of Ottawa high-tech and was ideally suited for those heady times.
Jeff Dale (2002-2009) got the un-envious job of running OCRI following the tech bust. Times were tough and he tried to do the best under the horrendous circumstances, which involved among other elements, a precipitous drop, by a factor of 10, of available venture capital. His personal style was different –more reminiscent of city hall managers than a flamboyant entrepreneur.
When Claude Haw (2009-2011) took over, there was a scent of expectation in the air. His background is appealing: a long and financially successful stint in Terry Matthews stables (Mitel, Newbridge) followed by starting his own venture capital fund Venture Coaches and the subsequent plethora of activities with ‘investee startups’. In addition, he is one of the founders of Mindtrust, a Kanata-based kind of CEO Club. What could be a better profile for a champion of Ottawa high-tech? And yet, it still remains to be seen if all of this did translate into a spectacular success or a memorable term? I have known Claude for over 12 years and he still is a bit of a puzzle to me.
So now, what about Bruce Lazenby? He holds an ample promise but, as he wrote back in response to my congratulatory note, he “will need all the help he can get” to fulfill the renewed high expectations. And there are many coming from all sorts of stakeholders with different agendas. Here is my short wish (dream) list:
- Revive the Ottawa high-tech to its glory days from a decade ago
- Re-kindle the culture of entrepreneurship with its sense of anything is possible, opportunities abound and tomorrow we shall win the world
- Lobby hard with local politicians to bring high-tech into focus as the future of the region
- Build a financial foundation (risk capital, investment incentives, grants, etc) to leverage and support entrepreneurial efforts
Tall order? Unrealistic? Maybe, but inspirational! 🙂
I wish you good luck, Bruce. We are all behind you: some with the energy of young blood and some with the wisdom of grey hair. If you reach out, we shall be there for you. All the best and enjoy the ride!