There are big birthdays, and then there are the kinds of milestones that Siemens Canada is celebrating this year: 110 years since it officially opened its headquarters on August 29, 1912, in the heart of Old Montreal.
“Siemens has played a substantial role in shaping the technological evolution of Canada,” says President and CEO, Faisal Kazi of the now Oakville, ON-headquartered company.
He points out that, thanks to the fact that the original Siemens firm was involved in telegraph manufacturing, technically Siemens has been active in Canada since 1874, when they laid the first telegraph line between Canada and Europe.
“At that time, it was a very significant milestone. It was the first physical digital connection between the ‘old’ and the ‘new’ worlds,” says Kazi, noting that this innovation really set the tone for everything Siemens Canada has done since. “The mission of Siemens is always to create solutions for a better future, and driven by that kind of vision. We’re always the leader, always pioneering some of the most significant and ground-breaking developments in Canada.”
Those developments could fill a bingo card of Canadian history: In the 1950s, Siemens Canada provided the switching equipment for our country’s first long-distance telephone network, and the infrastructure for the pivotal 1967 Expo in Montreal.
Siemens provided the first modern light rail systems in North America, first in Edmonton in 1975, then Calgary. (And look out for 32 new Siemens Mobility Venture trainsets that will operate on the Québec City-Windsor corridor.) In 1989, they were the brains behind a SkyDome (now Rogers Centre) roof that could open and close electronically.
In 2006, they worked with the city of Toronto to create a pioneering city Wi-Fi zone. More recently, they provided components for over 10,000 ventilators that were delivered in record times in the early days of the pandemic.
“We have been part of the Canadian fabric,” says Kazi, the company’s President and CEO since 2017, who himself recently became a Canadian citizen.
Here, we chat with him about the past, present and future of this iconic Canadian firm.
How does the Siemens Canada of 2022 compare to the company in 1912?
It’s a huge shift, not only in our size but in the portfolio we’re offering and what we bring to the market. But when I look at the values, innovation is still the lifeblood of the company. We’re so innovative that, time and again, we disrupt ourselves. The foundation of the company was telecom, and today we’re no longer in that industry. We were strongly based in energy, but we’ve separated ourselves from that. However, that value of focusing on the future remains unchanged.
What also hasn’t changed is that Siemens wants to create benefit for society. We call it ‘making real what matters.’ It’s about creating a positive impact on society.
Siemens “combines the real and digital worlds” for its customers. Practically, what does that look like across the different industries you cater for?
Historically, Siemens has been very strong on the product side. That’s what we call the ‘real world’ – the hardware and equipment. Now, with digitalization, you have technologies like artificial intelligence, edge computing and machine learning. When you connect the digital and the physical together, there is a lot of potential, worth trillions of dollars, to be unlocked.
Take the example of a building, which has lighting systems, heating and air conditioning. Typically, the way that hardware works is that somebody inputs a set point, like 23 degrees, and it’s that temperature all the time. But now, imagine using sensors and anonymous data. You’re in a position to see, ‘Okay, how many people are in the building? What’s the temperature outside?’ When you get all that data and combine it with AI, you can optimize the functioning of all that hardware. I’ve seen in my own office my electricity costs coming down, becoming more efficient, and reducing the energy spent. That’s how it is when we bring the digital and the physical together.
Another example is one that unlocks the ingenuity of people, especially small and medium enterprises. All of us have great ideas, but we cannot bring them to market because that requires a prototype, which is an expensive proposition if you create it and it doesn’t work. Siemens software lets you create it first in the virtual world, what we call a ‘digital twin’ of the product. You can test it in the virtual world, and once you’re satisfied with the product, then you create a physical prototype. This gives the ability to smaller companies to fast track time to market, and have a better product.
You’ve been with Siemens for over 30 years. What’s your journey been like?
Siemens was my very first and only employer, providing me with continuous growth opportunities since I joined this great company. My early career was in Germany and I immediately felt that I was joining a very large family, that is very driven to create an impact on society, and is extremely innovative.
It’s been an extremely enriching experience, because I’ve gotten opportunities in different countries, in different roles, in different portfolios. In my experience, Siemens takes care of its employees, is very social-oriented, technology based and, very focused on employee development. When you switch from one function to another, you’re never fully ready for this next step, and this is where Siemens comes in and gives you the chance to develop on the job.
I feel like this is my own company. The way I make decisions, the way I act, if this was my own company it would have been no different. This is the ownership culture Siemens has and the reason why so many people are celebrating 30 years, 40 years of service here.
What could the next 110 years hold for Siemens Canada?
Talking about the immediate future, the biggest challenge the world is facing is climate change. Siemens is set with our technology to make a difference – in buildings, the transportation sector, in the energy transition and on the industry side. We’re going to protect Canada’s critical infrastructure through our critical infrastructure cyber defense centre in New Brunswick and help transform Canada’s healthcare sector through our innovative technologies.
You will see Siemens using technology to make a benefit in society for many, many years to come – and also transforming itself. I feel we’re in a very strong position to fight climate change and I’m very excited that we’re going to play a big role in this.
Advertising feature produced by Globe Content Studio with Siemens. The Globe’s editorial department was not involved.