After a globetrotting career, Solace CEO Les Rechan makes Ottawa home

Les Rechan
Les Rechan’s career has taken him to the U.S., Europe and Asia. (Photo by Caroline Phillips)

It takes a big man to admit failure, even if the failure is nothing more than failed retirement.

Veteran tech executive Les Rechan tried packing it in, first in 2014, after leaving IBM Software Group, and again in 2017, two years after taking the helm of Halogen Software.

Barely did he improve his golf swing before he was back as president and chief executive of Solace, an Ottawa-based messaging and data-transfer company.

“You don’t know us, but you actually do,” Rechan, 56, says in a riddle-me-this sort of way at Solace headquarters in the Kanata North Technology Park. 

The company’s technology is everywhere, even though most of us would never know it. For example, every time a consumer swipes an American Express card – which happens four billion times a day – Solace is making sure that data moves from the card to the authorization and payment systems quickly and securely.

Solace works with clients around the world in a wide range of industries, from financial services and telecommunications to gaming and transportation.

“Basically, our mission, our purpose is, we help innovators move the world forward,” says Rechan. “I call us a gold-plated spark plug which fits into an engine. The engine is the new application and the car is digital transformation for the company. We’re like a gold-plated spark plug that enables the engine that runs the car.”

Solace was founded 17 years ago by Craig Betts, who remains the executive chairman. 

The company quickly caught the interest of high-tech tycoon Terry Matthews, who was one of its original investors in 2001. By 2016, Bridge Growth Partners, a New York private equity firm, had acquired a majority interest. Its senior principal is Tom Manley, a former senior executive at Cognos and Nortel.

“In this business of data movement, we have the best people on the planet, bar none,” says Rechan. “It’s a group that has really big dreams and visions, but people get stuff done. 

“I love MBAs and PhDs, but I like GSDs – Get Stuff Done – even more.”

“I love MBAs and PhDs, but I like GSDs – Get Stuff Done – even more.”

Rechan and his family came to Ottawa 12 years ago when he was hired as chief operating officer for one of Canada’s most successful technology companies, Cognos. The CEO at the time was Rob Ashe, whom Mr. Rechan continues to admire to this day for his sharp intellect, leadership style and professionalism.

“I’ve really had an opportunity throughout my career to work with some of the best people in high tech – people who have literally made the high-tech world happen,” says Rechan. “In that sense, I’ve been blessed.”

The Rechans specifically chose Ottawa because they figured it would be a great place to raise their children. 

American accent

“We wanted to establish roots,” explains the father of five, who was born in Niagara Falls. 

They’d been living in California’s Silicon Valley, where Rechan found his days filled with too much “windshield time.”

“Ottawa has been good to us,” says Rechan, whose family gives back through its support of the Boys and Girls Club of Ottawa (his wife is on its board of directors).

When Rechan speaks, it’s with a distinct American accent that reveals his years of growing up, studying and working south of the border. 

He completed his undergrad at Brown University, an Ivy League school in Providence, R.I., before earning a master’s degree in finance and management at Northwestern’s Kellogg School of Management. While in Chicago, he met his future wife, Australian native Meredithe Rechan, who studied at the same top business school and was his peer at IBM.

She was the one who encouraged Rechan to accept a position in Europe. They crossed the pond together to work for IBM in London. 

“I think that was a game-changer in terms of my career,” said Rechan. “At the time, I really hadn’t spent a lot of time overseas.”

They next moved with IBM to Singapore. While there, the couple went from zero to five children in three years. As a result, Meredithe stepped away from her career to become a full-time parent. 

“Meredithe has been an unbelievable partner in life,” says Rechan.

With Solace now experiencing tremendous growth and change, Rechan isn’t looking to slow down anytime soon. The company hired 100 employees over the past year and is now up to a headcount of 275, with 158 of those jobs in Ottawa and the remainder in offices located in 16 other cities around the world. 

Ottawa’s high-tech community is full of bright and motivated people, says Rechan. 

“I have worked in three different companies during my time in Ottawa, and the talent base is just incredible,” he says. “I have worked in Chicago, London, New York, Singapore, Seattle and San Francisco – all high-tech powerhouse cities – and, on a relative basis, our talent in Ottawa is even better.”

Solace has invested significantly in its marketing and is in the process of rebranding and changing its logo design. Last year, it hired Mychelle Mollot, formerly from Cognos and Klipfolio, as its chief marketing officer. 

“I love the company and the people,” Rechan says. “We have a great team of people, and I’m really proud of the significant impact we’re making on the world.”

Five things to know about Les Rechan

  1. He was one of only 20 corporate leaders chosen to accompany Prime Minister Justin Trudeau during his state visit to India in February. 
  2. He and his wife have two sets of twins. The older pair is 21 years old (a boy and a girl), followed by a 19-year-old boy and 18-year-old twins, both girls. “We’ll be empty nesters in September,” he points out.
  3. Rechan loves the Grateful Dead, yoga and cool clothes (one of his favourite local shops is Stomping Ground in the Glebe).
  4. Rechan, as well as his two younger brothers, used to play for the Buffalo Jr. Sabres. They also all played college hockey at Brown.
  5. Who knew a hot tub could provide such an opportunity for networking? That’s how Rechan and Craig Betts literally came to first rub elbows at Mont Tremblant.