Former Cognos CEO Rob Ashe named 2020 Lifetime Achievement Award recipient

Rob Ashe
Former Cognos CEO Rob Ashe is the recipient of this year's Lifetime Achievement Award from OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade. Photo provided

Rob Ashe ​– who helped transform Cognos into Canada’s first billion-dollar software company and subsequently devoted much of his time to mentoring local CEOs and assisting community groups ​– is the 2020 recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award, presented by OBJ and the Ottawa Board of Trade.

Ashe is the 10th recipient of the award, which considers the nominee’s long-term business success as well as community involvement. He joins a distinguished list of previous honourees that includes former Ottawa Hospital CEO Dr. Jack Kitts, Minto Group executive chair Roger Greenberg, former mayor Jim Durrell and the late Wes Nicol, founder of Tartan Homes.

“It is our honour to recognize Rob’s personal and professional contributions,” Ottawa Board of Trade president and CEO Sueling Ching said in a statement. “On behalf of our business community, we wish to express deep appreciation for his ongoing dedication to Ottawa’s community prosperity and economic growth.” 

In a career that spanned three decades, Ashe became one of the National Capital Region’s leading tech executives at a time when the sector emerged as a driving force in the local economy. 

After graduating from the University of Ottawa with a degree in accounting and earning his CPA designation, Ashe joined Cognos in 1984. 

Influential figure

The Halifax native was instrumental in building the Ottawa firm into a world-leading producer of business intelligence software, working his way up the executive ranks to the role of CEO in 2004. The following year, Treasury & Risk Management Magazine named Ashe one of the “100 most influential people in finance.”

After IBM acquired Cognos for $4.9 billion in 2008, Ashe stayed on as part of the global tech giant’s executive team. He served as IBM’s general manager of business analytics until he retired in January 2012. 

Since stepping away from his executive role with IBM, Ashe has stayed connected with the local technology sector. He’s been Shopify’s “lead independent director” since May 2015. 

“I have great interest in growing Ottawa’s technology sector to make sure we stay on the map,” said Ashe, who also mentors local CEOs. 

In addition, Ashe – whose brother Bernie was named Ottawa’s CEO of the Year in 2015 for his work in getting the Ottawa Sports and Entertainment Group off the ground – has also volunteered with organizations such as the OSEG Foundation, the Ottawa Community Foundation and the University of Ottawa.

“The citizenship and leadership that Rob has demonstrated throughout his career and his life is at the heart of great communities,” said Ian Sherman, chair of the Ottawa Board of Trade and a partner at EY, which sponsors the Lifetime Achievement Award. “As importantly, it inspires others to follow. The impact of Rob’s legacy is, has and will be known for many years to come.”

Ashe says he is humbled to join the distinguished group of past recipients.

“In receiving this honour, I think back to the hundreds of people, mostly working right here in Ottawa, who I worked with at Cognos and the success we achieved together,” he said. “Also, I think of my late friend (and former Cognos CEO) Ron Zambonini, who mentored me throughout my career.”

Ashe will be celebrated as part of the upcoming Best Ottawa Business Awards, which will be presented on Nov. 25 in an online and TV broadcast that includes other notable awards such as CEO of the Year, CFO of the Year and numerous company awards.

“Rob Ashe has changed the face of Ottawa‘s business community over the past several decades,” said former Ottawa mayor Jim Durrell, the first recipient of the Lifetime Achievement Award in 2011. “His success in business has also demonstrated itself in his generosity and philanthropy. Ottawa is a better place because of people such as Rob." 

Past recipients

2011: Jim Durrell

2012: John Kelly

2013: Wes Nicol

2014: Roger Greenberg

2015: Shirley Westeinde

2016: Michael Potter

2017: John Ruddy

2018: Gordon Reid

2019: Dr. Jack Kitts