Taking on the world from Ottawa: BOBs awards celebrate city’s business champions

David Ross BOBs
Ross Video CEO David Ross

Amid the celebrations Thursday night at the Westin Hotel, where more than two dozen local residents and companies were feted at the Best Ottawa Business Awards, David Ross – the 2016 CEO of the Year – shared a concern: How rare his company, Ross Video, is in Canada.

At some 650 employees, the live video production equipment firm is considered “a huge Canadian-owned tech company” but is also the size of a Silicon Valley startup, Mr. Ross said in his acceptance speech.

He went on to question why Canadian firms are so eager to raise money by selling equity stakes. This, he argued, frequently leads to companies being sold to larger U.S. businesses and cities such as Ottawa becoming “R&D outposts.”

But far from casting a pall over the evening, Mr. Ross delivered an inspirational challenge to the more than 600 attendees in a speech that kicked off an upbeat gala in which pride in being an Ottawa-based business was on full display.

“We need to scale up more of our tech companies and keep them in Canada,” Mr. Ross said. “We want foreign companies begging to be bought by our companies, instead of Canadian companies wanting to be bought by foreign companies.”

In addition to the CEO of the Year award, the BOBs honours the top performing companies in several categories, including exporter of the year, best businesses and deals of the year.

Several of the recipients built on Mr. Ross’s theme of celebrating businesses that are finding success internationally from headquarters in the nation’s capital.

“We create products here in Ottawa and sell them all over the world,” said Spivo co-founders Andre Bellerive and Marc Bjerring.

Their firm, which was one of the #NextBigThingOTT recipients, sells a rotating camera mount that enables users to capture multiple perspectives.

In a special surprise appearance, retired astronaut Chris Hadfield – who became the first Canadian to command the International Space Station – paid tribute to this year’s Lifetime Achievement Award recipient, former Cognos CEO Michael Potter.

Mr. Hadfield and Mr. Potter share a passion for aviation and have both volunteered with the Gatineau-based Vintage Wings of Canada, a non-profit founded by Mr. Potter with the aim of preserving and celebrating historically significant aircraft.

Mr. Hadfield praised Mr. Potter’s creativity, perseverance and leadership.

“He (used) his own ideas and his own ability to imagine something that didn’t exist, and then (applied) a tremendous amount of ability to organize and relentlessly work and inspire other people to build something here in the city that has tremendous value,” Mr. Hadfield said.

For his part, Mr. Potter said that he didn’t want to use his acceptance speech to offer business advice to the gala’s attendees, despite his previous role in leading one of the most successful software firms in Ottawa’s history.

However, he encouraged attendees to ensure they listen to everyone within their organization and take a holistic view on what it means to be a leader.

“The best creative and innovative ideas bubble up from low levels in the organization. They don’t come from the executive suite or the boardroom,” he said.

“You might be the creative force behind a great new product that’s taking the market by storm. You might be the inventor of that product, you might be the creator of it, you might be the spokesperson or the face of your company. But none of those roles are as important as bringing a team together to motivate them, reward them appropriately, support them and stay out of their way. And that’s when great things happen.” 

2016 BOBs recipients:

CEO of the Year: David Ross, Ross Video

Best New Business: Bellefleur Physiotherapy; HostedBizz; Keynote Group; and Pure Kitchen

#NextBigThingOTT: FarmLead; FileFacets; and Spivo

Deals of the Year: RendezVous LeBreton (real estate); Assent Compliance (finance), Simons (retail); TechInsights and Chipworks (technology); and Ottawa 2017 and CIBC (tourism)

Best Performance: Giatec (exporting); Rebel.com (human resources); Welch LLP (marketing); Nokia (co-op); KRP (sustainability); Canada Wheels (sales); and Equator Coffee Rosters (philanthropy)

#SeriousTechLivesHere: March Networks (company of the year); and You.i TV (team of the year)

Best Business: Calian Group; OakWood Renovation Experts; ProntoForms; and RBR Global

Newsmaker of the Year: RendezVous LeBreton

Lifetime Achievement Award: Michael Potter