The man who helped spearhead the drive to merge Ottawa’s three chambers of commerce into one organization is leaving after more than six years as head of the city’s largest business group.
The Ottawa Board of Trade said Friday afternoon that Ian Faris is departing as president and CEO of the organization. In a statement, the board said that Faris, who joined the group in the spring of 2013, is leaving to “pursue future employment opportunities.”
Board chair Ian Sherman highlighted Faris's efforts to grow the organization’s visibility and membership.
“On behalf of the Ottawa Board of Trade’s board of directors, its members and staff, I want to thank Ian for his strong leadership and dedication to our organization, our business community and our city,” Sherman said in a statement. “We are grateful for his time with us.”
Faris did not respond to OBJ’s requests for comment on Friday afternoon.
After earning a bachelor of arts degree in political science from Queen’s University, Faris spent two decades in various roles on Parliament Hill before joining public relations firm Hill+Knowlton Canada’s Ottawa office as a senior vice-president in 2005. He followed that with a five-and-a-half-year stint as president and CEO of the Brewers Association of Canada before joining the organization then known as the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce in early 2013.
Under Faris’s leadership, Ottawa’s three main business lobby groups – the Ottawa chamber, the West Ottawa Board of Trade and the Orléans Chamber of Commerce – amalgamated into the Ottawa Board of Trade in the summer of 2018. The organization now has more than 1,100 members that represent in excess of 30,000 workers in the National Capital Region.
The move followed more than a year of negotiations and sometimes contentious debates, but Faris told OBJ last year he felt a single, united organization would have more clout when lobbying various levels of government.
“It’s important that the business community speak as a strong voice,” he said. “We’re able to better service our membership, we’re better able to represent those members at City Hall, at Queen’s Park and on the Hill in an advocacy fashion. Frankly, we want to have better, more cohesive policy created in those governments, and we want to be able to help fashion that. I think we can do that with a more consolidated group of businesses.”
Faris and the board also weren’t shy about voicing their frustration with the slow pace of development on key city-building projects.
Last March, for example, the organization called on the National Capital Commission to return to the bargaining table with previous bidders on the LeBreton Flats project after plans for a group led by Ottawa Senators owner Eugene Melnyk and Trinity Development Group founder John Ruddy to redevelop the 55-acre property with an NHL arena at its core fell through.
Under Faris’s watch, the Board of Trade also helped launch the Capital 2020 Task Force aimed at kickstarting momentum for various infrastructure projects, including the LeBreton Flats redevelopment, a light-rail line linking Ottawa and Gatineau, a new Civic Hospital campus and efforts to revitalize the ByWard Market.
Various local business leaders weighed in on Faris’s departure, calling the former CEO a tireless booster of Ottawa companies and entrepreneurs in sectors from tech to tourism.
“Ian has been a great ambassador for our business community and he understands the important role tourism plays and the positive economic impact it has on Ottawa,” Ottawa Gatineau Hotel Association president Steve Ball said in an email. “We wish him the absolute best in his next endeavour.”
Mark Goudie, chief executive of the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group, echoed those thoughts.
"I’ll miss running into Ian at almost every Ottawa event that I go to."
“I’ll miss running into Ian at almost every Ottawa event that I go to,” Goudie said in an email to OBJ. “He has been a wonderful supporter of what we are doing at TD Place and Lansdowne and has a positive energy and incredible stamina in his support of all Ottawa businesses.”
Other local entrepreneurs, however, said that while the outgoing Board of Trade boss excelled at networking and organizing events, the organization needs someone with a different skillset to help navigate it through the growing pains of the amalgamation process.
“Ian had reached a point where it was time for a change," said Doug McLarty, a partner in the Ottawa office of accounting firm MNP and the chair of the Capital 2020 Task Force. "You’ve got to have someone who can kind of meld (the three former chambers) and support the different cultures, but at the same time bring it all together. I’m not sure he was the right guy for that.”
McLarty said that although the former Ottawa chamber played a major part in founding the city-building task force, the Board of Trade didn't effectively follow through on helping to push its agenda forward.
“Advocacy-wise, I don’t think (Faris) was doing as good a job as he should have been," he said. "You’ve got to be a team-builder, you’ve got to be the guy that is out there doing the strategic component. I’m just not sure he was good at that part.”
Sherman said the Board of Trade’s board of directors will begin searching for Faris’s replacement soon, adding the board will likely name an interim president and CEO shortly.
“I want to assure our members and our various stakeholders that our strategic initiatives, programs and events will not be impacted by this change within the organization,” he said.