Before offering my perspective on the state of London’s economy and potential strategies to enhance it, I thought it best for me to acquaint you with my background in business and economic development and demonstrate my level of expertise in this area.
As a precursor, I should tell you up front that I have always been somewhat uncomfortable referring to my business track record in the first person. My parents instilled in me a personal approach that emphasized always referring to my accomplishments as shared and setbacks as mine alone. Therefore, I trust you will appreciate that the business biography below is only intended to: (i) give you, the reader, a sufficient appreciation for my background and (ii) judge if my recommended Game Plan for our local economy is worth further consideration.
I guess the best place to begin would be at the beginning. I was born in Chatham and raised in Windsor by two of the most wonderful people ever. My Dad, after passing on a career coaching hockey in the US college ranks, came home to operate the family construction business while my Mom worked in various administrative positions at the University and later at Windsor’s Social Housing Authority. They were happily married for 55 years before my Mother’s passing a few years ago. Both of my parents came from rather impoverished homes and repeatedly instilled in my two siblings and me the value of a dollar. Our family was unremarkably middle class, although there were several lean years due to the cyclical nature of the construction industry. Nevertheless, there was little room for whining around our house. My parents believed that if you did not like your personal, professional or economic circumstance, then take ownership and change it.
Throughout my upbringing, I worked – paper routes, restaurants, sheet metal, stamping plants and foundries. My parents did not have much money to help me pay for school, so I had to raise the money myself.
I attended the University of Toronto and earned a Bachelor’s Degree in Economics. After securing my first full time job interestingly enough as a computer programmer at Union Gas in Chatham, I continued my education part-time, driving to Windsor several nights a week for two years to attend what is now known as the Odette Business School where I earned a Masters in Business Administration.
During my 14-year tenure at Union Gas, I rose through the organization and assumed a wide range of increasing responsibilities including: computer training, finance and predictive modeling analysis, sales and marketing, business planning, corporate development and operations. Over the final three years of my career at Union Gas, I was one of five employees responsible for the formation of a new 800,000 customer enterprise that was then known as Union Energy (UE) and now known as Reliance Home Comfort. Once the new entity was established I was responsible for acquiring and integrating companies outside of Union’s franchise area until our parent company realized that UE’s core business was struggling and asked me to come home to fix it. It was my promotion to the role of Vice President Operations of UE’s troubled southwestern Ontario franchise area that brought me to London and began my career in corporate restructuring.
After two years running Union’s SW Ontario operation and leading it back to respectability, I decided it might be time to pursue a new career. The tech sector was running wild and the thought of exploring new opportunities, ideally in an entrepreneurial setting held tremendous appeal to me. To this end, I prepared a business plan and in the course of raising investment, I was introduced to a prominent London-based technology investment consortium that had no interest in my business concept but invited me to join them to run one of their companies. The company had developed an amazing software suite to conduct detailed spatial analysis, but was struggling to find a home as a mainstream mapping platforms. For the next eight years, our team relentlessly pursued market opportunity after market opportunity, often taking one step forward and one step back. There were many tough, sleepless nights, and several months where we were not sure how we would even meet payroll. Our executive often operated with the view that our team was our most valuable asset so we always paid the team first, which meant we often went without. After eight years and numerous peaks and valleys, we elected to sell the intellectual property at a loss and close the doors. It was a tough decision as it meant that I and others had effectively lost our investments. Fortunately, all of our exceptional employees found work almost immediately in the London area, and many of them are still working with their new employer. Nevertheless, it was an expensive lesson for me in business and certainly helped hone my market, product and people assessment skills.
Concurrent with my time with the mapping software company, I was also invited by a Toronto-based Venture Capital firm to operate another small tech company that specialized in the development of software for the police and criminal justice sector. The company was struggling to build market share and the primary investor was growing impatient. Thankfully, we had much better success with this company and after some minor restructuring and the introduction of a new subscription based pricing approach, we secured new clients and sold the company for a nice return.
Throughout my tenure at both tech companies, I also invested a considerable amount in London’s numerous economic development organizations. They included assuming positions on the Boards of the London Small Business Centre, the London Economic Development Corporation, TechAlliance, and the Stiller Centre. In 2005, in the midst of those appointments, I was invited by the City of London to draft a new economic development strategy for the City and each of the above organizations. The plan, entitled ‘London’s Next Economy’ (which I believe is still available through the City of London website – September 14, 2005) was developed with the intent of resetting London’s economic development approach to better meet evolving market needs, and align the contributions of each organization so as to avoid duplication and improve service levels. While the plan received the overwhelming support of City Council, I was never given the opportunity to implement the plan and sadly many of the issues that impeded our success back then still exist today.
Over the past eight years, I have been enjoying my tenure at Western University where I serve as the institution’s Executive Director of its Research Parks program, and CEO for three of its subsidiaries:
- ADEISS, – a partnership with UK-based Renishaw to develop a North American leader in the design, development and deployment of medical devices using additive manufacturing (3D printing) platforms.
- WORLDiscoveries Asia – the first University-led business development operation ever established in Asia to support technology transfer, partnerships and commercialization.
- Agri-Therm – an advanced bio-fuels technology company that recently licensed its platform to a Chinese-based multinational.
In each instance, I either inherited a bit of an operational mess and fixed it, or initiated a new opportunity that will likely realize a healthy return in the coming years.
In addition to the above, I also serve as the CEO for the London Medical Network. I also provide a range of business development and restructuring services for a number of University’s faculties and research centres as needed.
My work is incredibly interesting and stimulating. It connects me with some of London’s most promising new opportunities, newest inventions and brightest minds. My work also connects me with enterprises and opportunities all over the world, and most importantly, gives me a keen sense of what’s new, what’s next and what to do to be successful.
As such, I believe that my experience leading corporate, entrepreneurial, institutional and international enterprises, coupled with my deep understanding of each of London primary economic development organizations, favourably positions both my perspectives and recommendations. I also believe in London’s ability to define and realize a much better economic destiny.
Therefore, it is the intent of my posts over the next few weeks to draw attention to this increasingly critical community need and develop a plan to help rebuild our city’s economic influence and restore our civic pride.
Next week – Issues and Our Market Opportunities