Open Text is probably the best-kept billion-dollar secret in Canada because most of its operation is global," says Tom Jenkins, executive chairman and chief strategy officer of Open Text, Canada's largest independent software company located in Waterloo, Ont.
"Only four per cent of Open Text is actually in Canada, so I've spent most of my professional life outside my country. You have to like travelling and other cultures."
Founded in 1991, the company creates and distributes software solutions for corporate content management, described by Mr. Jenkins as "Facebook for inside a corporation with full security access." Clients are far flung and diverse including Health Canada, Unilever, Mumbai International Airport, New York City Transit and the Flemish government.
Mr. Jenkins has been with Open Text from the start, watching the company grow from a few dozen to 5,000 people. As an electrical engineer with an MBA in entrepreneurship and technology management, Mr. Jenkins calls himself a hybrid, able to move easily from meetings with developers and scientists to lawyers and accountants. He also feels well balanced by his partner, Open Text president and CEO, John Shackleton.
"I'm an impatient entrepreneur - which is sometimes good and bad other times - a little bit of the mad scientist and the visionary," Mr. Jenkins says. "John's the one who makes order out of the chaos."
Mr. Jenkins says the biggest challenge for a strategy officer is keeping your pulse on "the next big thing," because tech companies thrive and get the greatest shareholder return on being able to observe trends before others do to take advantage of them. One example he uses is how Open Text observed right at the beginning that the Internet was changing from Web 1.0 to 2.0, so they were able to pioneer early prototypes of Web 2.0 social networking sites before their competitors.
So what's coming up in Web 3.0?
"It will be highly personalized, but I believe that at the same time as the personalization, we're going to go to a video-based infrastructure where you can do real- time video conferencing from your BlackBerry or iPhone, because they will become interactive," he says. "People will be talking - not by keyboard - but to each other as we would in person. We're not quite there yet because of battery lifetimes and bandwidth usage, but we're getting there."
As a 20-year Internet user, Mr. Jenkins switches effortlessly between different mediums on whatever tools are available to him - blogs, social networks, e-mail, instant messaging, conference calling. Growing up in a large Irish Catholic household in Hamilton also helped make him a natural communicator.
"When you grow up in a big family, you learn to speak up because you have to fight for attention amongst all the siblings," Mr. Jenkins says. "You also learn to reach for food with a fork and not your hand."