Simon Gwatkin’s legacy

No superstar can win alone. Ottawa technology legend Terry Matthews understood what he had in Simon Gwatkin.

by Michael Hammond

Just like Wayne Gretzky had Mark Messier in the heyday of the Edmonton Oilers or Sidney Crosby has Evgeni Malkin, Mr. Matthews had technology industry veteran Simon Gwatkin.

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Looking through photos of Matthews online, it’s not uncommon to see Mr. Gwatkin beside Mr. Matthews at a startup fair, as the two met with young entrepreneurs and shared their vision for where Ottawa’s technology industry is headed.

And make no mistake, the team at investment management firm Wesley Clover thinks that Ottawa’s technology industry is in great shape.

“Right now, we see a very healthy tech sector,” says Steve Langford, Wesley Clover’s vice-president of marketing. “In fact, this is the healthiest we’ve ever seen it.”

It’s what makes Mr. Gwatkin’s untimely death in April so bittersweet. While his influence in the city’s emerging technology community is still clearly felt, his marketing and communications expertise would clearly be in high demand as startups look to make the jump from promising idea to sustainable revenues and beyond.

Mr. Langford, who has assumed Mr. Gwatkin’s role at Wesley Clover, said the firm was happy to see so many companies hiring at a recent Kanata North Business Improvement Area job fair earlier this month. Wesley Clover took part at that event.

In addition to its investment stake in more than 20 private and publicly traded technology companies, Wesley Clover’s subsidiaries include the Kanata Research Park, the Celtic Manor hotel and golf resort as well as the Brookstreet Hotel, among other properties.

Given the renewed momentum in the burgeoning class of young technology companies in the city, Wesley Clover’s optimism is understandable. Interestingly, Mr. Gwatkin was hinting at this resurgence last year.

In his last several tweets before taking time off due to illness, Mr. Gwatkin tweeted about local Wesley Clover investment nTerop Corp. hiring as well as Mitel Networks’ announcement that it intended to buy Aastra Technologies. He also made sure to retweet news that Mr. Matthews had been added as a speaker at this January’s Cantech Investment Conference in Toronto. His ease in promoting the firm’s investments was something that his colleagues say was the key to his popularity.

Mr. Gwatkin first earned his reputation in technology circles as vice-president of strategic marketing at Mitel Networks. Through his efforts, the company benefited from a sterling international profile that continued to grow through his efforts in the company’s marketing and communications department.

Greg Vanclief, vice-president of business development for Wesley Clover, first met Mr. Gwatkin shortly after Mr. Matthews reacquired Mitel’s PBX division in 2001. He recalls not only Mr. Gwatkin’s business acumen, but his presence among those with whom he worked.

“We had a particularly memorable dinner on a barge in the marina of Singapore on a stifling hot evening where he entertained a couple dozen Mitel staff with his stories,” Mr. Vanclief remembered. “He was always a very engaging and communicative man who had an easy way of making people comfortable. His breadth of experience spanned so much of the technology industry, culture and geography of the world that it was a real challenge to find any topic that he wasn’t able to discuss with a remarkable depth of insight.”

His seemingly effortless way of communicating propelled him to be the public face of Mitel and, more recently, Wesley Clover, said Mr. Vanclief.

In recent years, Mr. Gwatkin accompanied Mr. Matthews at a number of startup events, since young entrepreneurs and technology industry officials were always keen to speak with the two, particularly Mr. Matthews.

Mr. Gwatkin’s engaging personality and ability to listen helped him earn his reputation as the public face of Wesley Clover. As a trusted adviser to Mr. Matthews, Mr. Gwatkin was able to ensure that Mr. Matthews wasn’t spread too thin, especially at a time when his advice is at a premium for young entrepreneurs looking to make a breakthrough.

Mr. Gwatkin passed away April 13 in Ottawa, at the age of 58. He is survived by his three children.

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