Totally. I was with my clients and potential customers but was also part of the team with the other core guys who were building a Canadian presence. When I started, there was only $86-million in revenue globally. When we finished five years later, there was more than $1-billion, so we did a massive ramp. By the time I left Silicon Graphics, I had about 12 people in Ottawa.
Then I worked on a turnaround of Alias Research in Toronto, a computer animation company. My job was to be parachuted into Germany and run sales for all of Europe and East Africa. So I moved to Munich in 1993, leaving my family in Ottawa and commuting. It was a challenge. We had four offices – in Munich, Milan, Paris and London – with about 20 people. I needed to go there, clean it up and make it profitable because it was losing money at that time. After a year, I moved my whole family to Munich. Then another daughter popped up while we were in Germany. Every time I moved, we had a new kid.
Two years later, we sold the company to my former employer Silicon Graphics for a lot of money. They bought another company and put the two together. I stayed on, moving to Brussels to create a European operation for the combined company. By then, I was running a pretty big team. If you’re managing a global company, Europe is the best place because on the same day, you can reach every time zone, from morning to night. Which means you’re working 24/7.
Wasn’t that hard on your young family?
It was very difficult. And of course I had a son born in Brussels.
What’s key to do in a turnaround?
Culture and culture fit are No. 1. If a person isn’t going to fit into the culture you’re trying to build, it’s not going to work, so you’ve got to find that out pretty quickly. Don’t waste time. Get rid of people who don’t fit because it’s only going to create problems for you and for the people who do fit. So build the right team, get the right culture, then move on.
What about for mergers or acquisitions?
Same thing. Make your cuts deep and fast. Don’t do it in two or three steps. Go a little further than you planned because it’s better for everybody who’s left. Keep the ones you think are the best.
What’s the culture at Haivision?
My strategy is that you cannot have an ego and that you must treat everybody equally. Our culture is a family. It doesn’t matter if you’re the CEO or the receptionist – every person is treated the same. What you need to do is pick people for your key positions who exhibit the exact same mentality.
I’m the chief culture officer. I was very lucky to have worked with some of the best teams in the high-tech era, with people such as Jim Clark, who co-founded Silicon Graphics and Netscape. I’ve learned what it is to have a good culture in the workplace. When you know great people, you can really spot bad people. Don’t waste time on bad people.
How do you hire?
Usually, it’s from references. I’ve been totally hands on with the hiring, but recently I’ve stopped interviewing every employee. I just can’t. But I trust. My executive team know and live the same culture. I’ll see the new hires for five minutes just to get the flavour. Bad hires costs the company a lot of money.
How do you keep the culture alive?
That’s my biggest challenge. We’ve had very low turnover, which is great. My job is to make sure I spend time with our people. I have my team and lunch meetings, going through every group. Plus we have five R&D offices: in Montreal, Chicago, Beaverton (just outside Portland), Hamburg, and Austin, Tex.
Why is your R&D so spread out?