People on the move: Patrick Houston brings DragonWave lessons to Calian Group role

Patrick Houston
Patrick Houston, who spent more than a decade at DragonWave, recently joined Calian Group as its new chief financial officer. Photo by Mark Holleron

Patrick Houston knows all too well how quickly fate can deliver a knockout punch to a promising public company. 

The finance executive spent more than a decade at DragonWave, working his way up to chief financial officer in 2015. But during his tenure, the Kanata telecom firm saw its revenues plummet after it got hit with a pair of back-to-back blows: Nokia, one of its key sales channel partners, acquired DragonWave competitor Alcatel-Lucent, and then a product glitch destroyed the traction it had gained in the burgeoning foreign market of India.

The two events wiped out 60 per cent of DragonWave’s revenues in just two years. By the time Houston left the firm in late 2017, both the Toronto Stock Exchange and the Nasdaq had delisted its shares and the company was under foreign ownership. 

Still, his experience there, if humbling, also served as a valuable lesson in the importance of staying on top of market trends.

“We were competing with some of the biggest companies in the world, and things change very quickly in that space,” Houston says. “Whatever strategy you have, you have to keep looking at it, challenging yourself and trying to stay ahead of the curve. What worked one year maybe doesn’t work anymore because of things changing in the market, so you have to keep looking outwards and adjusting as quickly as you can.” 

The Orléans native is betting that lesson will serve him well in his new job. 

After leaving DragonWave, Houston split time between up-and-coming local ventures Corsa Technologies and CanvasPop before joining professional services powerhouse Calian Group in January.

In early March, the 38-year-old graduate of the University of Ottawa officially took the reins as Calian’s CFO, replacing well-respected industry veteran Jacqueline Gauthier.

After some tumultuous years in the C-suite at DragonWave, Houston says he’s thrilled to join a firm that’s the epitome of stability: Calian now tops $300 million in annual revenues, has churned out profits for more than 60 quarters in a row and has gained a reputation for making smart acquisitions that have expanded its services and customer base without breaking the bank.

“Jacqueline and the rest of the team have done a tremendous job building up this company over many years,” he says. “When you look in Ottawa, from a stable, profitable public company (perspective), there aren’t many, and Calian is one of them. It’s certainly a tremendous base to build on.”

CEO Kevin Ford hasn’t been shy about his desire to see Calian aggressively expand its customer base beyond Canada’s borders. Houston says his time at DragonWave, which generated almost all its sales from foreign buyers, has given him plenty of insight into the dos and don’ts of penetrating global markets.

“There’s usually more you don’t know than you do know,” he says with a chuckle. “You learn stuff and you adjust. Fortunately, I’ve been through a lot of those growing pains of trying to get into a new market and figuring out how it works, who the competitors are, how to price it, how to complete the transaction, the logistics around it, all those things. A lot of people talk about growing internationally ... but it’s harder to do it than to say it.”

Though it’s one of Ottawa’s most successful public companies, Calian still flies under the radar, partly because its eclectic array of products and services – which range from operating health-care clinics to providing IT and cybersecurity expertise – make it hard to categorize.

Houston is eager to get Calian’s message out to the wider marketplace.

“I’ll be going out there and telling the story to investors about the tremendous opportunity for growth at this company,” he says. 

“Growth is what really gets me excited in terms of taking a company to the next level. Hopefully, in four or five years, this company is a whole lot different than today, and hopefully I can help them get there.” 

People on the move

Jeffrey Dale has been named CEO of the Eastern Ontario Regional Laboratory Association. Dale has been a member of the EORLA board since 2013 and has extensive board and management experience in the technology, manufacturing, education, health-care and airport sectors and served as president of Invest Ottawa forerunner OCRI. A not-for-profit organization, EORLA provides laboratory services for 16 acute-care hospitals in eastern Ontario.

Mark Taylor has joined United Way Ottawa as its vice-president of resource development. Before joining the United Way, Taylor served two terms as a city councillor for Bay Ward and was deputy mayor from 2014-18.

Pierre Cyr has been hired as the new vice-president of public affairs at FleishmanHillard HighRoad. Cyr recently served as director of board and stakeholder relations at Canadian Blood Services. Prior to that, he was former Ontario premier Kathleen Wynne’s executive director of operations.

Sebastien Dignard has been named executive vice-president of member relations and services at the Canadian Chamber of Commerce. A recipient of OBJ’s Forty Under 40 award in 2017, Dignard comes to the chamber after nearly six years at Munich-based imaging technology firm FRAMOS, where he served as president of its North American operations, FRAMOS Technologies.

K. Scott McLean has joined Mann Lawyers LLP as general counsel and director of practice management. McLean previously practised predominantly in corporate and commercial litigation in the Ottawa office of an international law firm.

Mike Kuehn has joined TITUS as its chief revenue officer. Prior to joining TITUS, he served as vice-president for Actifio, one of the world’s leading enterprise data-as-a-service software providers.

Hats off

The Ottawa International Airport was awarded first place in the category of Best Airport by Size and Region – North America for airports that serve between two million and five million passengers in the 2018 Airport Service Quality Awards. The awards program surveys departing passengers at airports, measuring 34 key performance indicators. In 2018, there were 376 participating airports in more than 90 countries.

Altis.excelHR, Burnbrae Farms, Canarm, CowaterSogemaDaltco Electric, Deslaurier Custom Cabinets, Donna Cona, JED Express, J.L. Richards and Associates, Kriska Transportation Group, Manderley Turf Products, MDS Aero Support, Modern Niagara, M. Sullivan and Son, Nanometrics, Newterra, Groupe Raymond, Payment Source, Regional Group, Rush Truck Centres of Canada and Wills Transfer have been named to Canada’s Best Managed Companies list for 2019. Now in its 26th year, Canada’s Best Managed Companies is one of the country’s leading business awards programs recognizing Canadian-owned and managed companies for innovative, world-class business practices.