BDO Canada acquires Ottawa's Lixar

Bill Syrros
'This isn’t an exit for us,' Lixar CEO Bill Syrros says.

An Ottawa-based software and data analytics company with a roster of big-name clients that includes NASCAR says it’s revving up for a major expansion after being acquired by one of the country’s largest professional services firms.

Lixar, which employs more than 80 people at its headquarters on Coventry Road and an additional 120 in four other cities, said Friday it’s been acquired by BDO Canada in a deal that will officially close on Monday. Financial terms of the transaction were not released.

Lixar CEO Bill Syrros said joining forces with a firm that has annual revenues in excess of $600 million and more than 125 offices from coast to coast – as well as a network of 1,500 additional offices around the world – gives Lixar the financial backing and market reach to grow its business much faster than it could on its own.

“This isn’t an exit for us,” said Syrros, who launched Lixar with company president and chief financial officer Emmanuel Florakas two decades ago.  

“This was a swift kick in the ass to really take advantage of our maturity and our 20 years of being in business and then just taking it to the next level. It’s been a great ride, and we just wanted to throw some nitrous in the tank.”

Under the deal, Syrros and Florakas will retain their titles while becoming partners in BDO Canada. The rest of the senior leadership team will also remain in place, but there will be a slight change in branding: the company will now be referred to as Lixar Fuelled by BDO.

AI advantage

BDO Canada has a big-data analytics department of its own that currently has about 50 employees. Those workers will be transferred to Lixar and report to its management team.

David Keddy, the leader of BDO Canada’s national advisory services group, said the accounting firm was looking to beef up its artificial intelligence and data-crunching expertise in response to growing demand from clients who want to make sense of the ever-increasing flood of information that goes into making day-to-day business decisions.

“We realized that we weren’t going to be able to grow this as fast as the market needed it to grow,” he said. 

After the company did some homework and found out Lixar was a leader in the rapidly emerging AI space, it started discussions last June that led to the acquisition.

Keddy said the transaction gives BDO Canada instant credibility in the data analytics field.

“Data in its mass doesn’t really give you anything,” he said. “But understanding how particular pieces of data relate to each other and how that improves your ability to predict something, that’s meaningful. It just gives us a bigger, stronger set of capabilities to do that.”

Syrros said Lixar had been courted by a few other potential suitors over the years. The company also looked at pursuing venture capital to fuel its growth, but Syrros said the lure of BDO’s national office network tipped the scales in its favour, particularly because it makes the company a more attractive landing spot for skilled data scientists who now have the option of working almost anywhere in Canada.

“This deal enables us to put people in every major city if we want overnight,” he said. “We’ve instantly got a much stronger recruitment engine.”

It also represents another step in the evolution of Lixar, which began life two decades ago as a web development company. The enterprise later added mobile apps to its product offerings before pivoting several years ago to the AI and cloud-computing space.

The company now has offices in Ottawa, Halifax, Toronto, Calgary and Montreal. It caters to customers that include U.S. giants such as NASCAR and low-cost airline Allegiant Air as well as major Canadian enterprises such as Bell Canada and BlackBerry QNX. 

Syrros said the company is also making “strong inroads” in the public sector through contracts with federal government departments such as the Treasury Board and Transport Canada. Its eight-figure annual revenues have been growing 20 to 30 per cent a year, he added, an upward trajectory he believes will continue under BDO’s ownership.

“I know it just sounds too good to be true, but BDO really stepped up to the plate,” he said. “They value our brand, they value the AI and data space and they want to be a player.

“Our executives here are locked in and ready to go, and we see ourselves having a promising future under the BDO banner.”