The 42-year-old president of Calian’s IT and cyber solutions division announced this week he’s leaving his job at one of Ottawa’s most prominent publicly traded companies to become CEO of Jatom Systems Inc. (JSI).
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Sacha Gera is the first one to tell you he has a “really good thing going” at Kanata’s Calian Group, where his department has more than doubled its revenues in the past two years and is now the company’s biggest money generator. But he won’t be part of that remarkable growth story for much longer. The 42-year-old president of Calian’s IT and cyber solutions division announced this week he’s leaving his job at one of Ottawa’s most prominent publicly traded companies to become CEO of Jatom Systems Inc. (JSI) – a firm that’s been around longer than Gera, yet is virtually unknown outside of its market niche. So why the switch? “The most amazing thing about Ottawa is that there are so many incredible tech companies that are under the radar,” says Gera, one of a myriad of local tech leaders who began their careers at Nortel in the 1990s. “My goal was always to work myself out of a job. When this opportunity came up, it was just one I couldn’t refuse.” The Carleton University alumnus will stay in his current role until the end of this month, then embark on his new career adventure at JSI on June 12. Until recently, Gera says, he had no intention of leaving Calian, a mainstay of the Kanata tech scene that generated more than $580 million in revenues in 2022. He admits he knew little about JSI when he was approached about the CEO’s job, but quickly became intrigued. Founded in 1979, JSI specializes in artificial intelligence software that uses big-data analytics to help law enforcement and intelligence agencies track threats and catch criminals. Although it’s headquartered in Kanata, the 430-employee company is a truly global enterprise, with offices in Washington, D.C., Frankfurt and Sydney and customers in more than 30 countries. Security software is big business, but Gera sees far greater potential in JSI’s analytics technology. He’s coy about exactly what verticals and geographies he plans to target, saying only there are bigger things ahead for the firm. “I think the future is going to be incredible in terms of growth opportunities and market opportunities for the platform,” he says. “I think it’s going to be an exciting Ottawa story, and I’m very excited to be a part of it. I can’t wait to see where we take this thing.” Gera, who started his tech career as a part-time software developer at Nortel during the networking giant’s heyday in the late 1990s and later co-founded cloud communications startup Kandy.io, made a lasting impact in his 20-month stint at Calian. The highlight came in early 2022, when Gera’s division acquired Houston-based IT and cybersecurity firm Computex, Calian’s first-ever deal for a U.S. company. Thanks in large part to the boost from the U.S. customer base, Calian’s IT and cyber business grew from $32 million the second quarter of 2022 to $49 million in the same period this year. “Although my tenure was short here, I feel like we accomplished a lot,” Gera says, describing his time at Calian as “an opportunity to work for a proudly Canadian company and build an ecosystem.” Gera’s boss and mentor, chief executive Kevin Ford, makes no secret of his ambition to take Calian to a billion dollars in annual revenues. Gera believes that day is coming soon, and when it does, it will be due in no small part to Ford’s inspiring leadership. “What I love about Kevin, he is so supportive,” Gera says. “He allowed us as business unit (heads) to really have autonomy and be entrepreneurial and think big. The U.S. expansion for Calian was a big deal, and I was at the forefront of that. He was my biggest fan all the way along that ride. He is such a proud Canadian CEO who cares deeply about the ecosystem here. I learned a lot from him. Kevin and I will continue to remain close, and who knows, maybe one day even partner together. “I wish nothing but the best for Calian, and I’ll be watching closely to see … them get to the billion-dollar goal that they’re pursuing.” Taking a broader view of Ottawa’s tech landscape, Gera says the city is “starting to get a little bit more swagger” as publicly traded companies like Calian, Shopify and Kinaxis take their place among the leaders in their fields. Meanwhile, upstart ventures such as Assent, Field Effect Software and Rewind are also making their mark. Gera thinks Ottawa’s tech sector could be entering a new golden era to rival the days of his youth, when homegrown firms like Nortel, Corel, Cognos and Newbridge Networks played starring roles on the global stage. Those organizations, he laments, are now relics of the past – either long gone like Nortel, or acquired by foreign owners. Gera hopes things will be different this time around. “Canada’s really great at startups and scaling companies to $100 million (in revenues), but where we fall down is getting to unicorn status,” he says, referring to tech ventures that reach a valuation of $1 billion without being listed on a stock market. “We’re often just a grocery store for our neighbours down south. I’d love to see more Canadian success stories like Calian, like Kinaxis, like Shopify. “There are so many amazing companies that are on the cusp, I think, of exploding here in Ottawa. I think you’ll see a little bit of an echo of the early 2000s … here in the next five years.”