Giatec names Ottawa tech veteran, former Halogen chief Paul Loucks as new CEO

Giatec's new CEO, Paul Loucks, between co-founders Aali Alizadeh (left) and Pouria Ghods (right). Photo provided.

One of Ottawa’s hottest tech firms announced Monday that it’s bringing one of the city’s most vaunted tech executives back into the game to lead the company’s scaling efforts.

Former Halogen CEO Paul Loucks will take the reins at Giatec Scientific, a developer of concrete quality sensors and one of OBJ’s fastest-growing companies in 2018.

Loucks led Halogen, an Ottawa-based talent management software firm, for 15 years. Under his stewardship, Halogen grew into one of the city’s largest tech companies with $US57 million in annual revenue and roughly 500 employees globally. The firm went public in 2013; that same year Loucks was named Ottawa’s CEO of the Year.

Loucks stepped down from the company in 2015 to “spend more time with my family and consider other interests,” according to a statement at the time. Halogen was acquired two years later by California-based Saba in a deal worth $293 million.

Loucks says he kept busy post-Halogen by providing executive coaching services to growing companies, one of which happened to be Giatec. Loucks says he gradually recognized the company’s potential as he hit it off with co-founders Aali Alizadeh and Pouria Ghods, who will remain with the company and focus on product development.

“Over a period of time, we just kind of found that there was a great match between them and myself, and how we kind of operate it. And they felt that I'd be able to help propel their business to better success in the future,” Loucks says.

A foundation to build on

Indeed, the veteran CEO joins a company with a solid foundation and strong momentum. Founded in 2010, Giatec develops embedded sensors for the concrete industry, which relay real-time structural data to builders via the Internet of Things. The 39-person company’s products have been used in more than 3,000 projects across 80 countries; early partnerships with PCL and Tomlinson have helped the firm find its early success.

While he built his reputation as the head of a software firm, Loucks says he’s “super excited” to dig into the IoT sector. The fundamentals of business leadership are fairly consistent across industries, he says, and Giatec’s proven product-market fit gives him the confidence to lead the company going forward.

Having guided Ghods and Aalizadeh through the company’s recent growth, Loucks gives the two co-founders credit for the solid foundation they’ve set up. One of the areas where he believes he can augment the firm’s success is the speed of decision-making, which he says is a skill that comes with having been there before.

“Speed of decisions is easy to make when you've got experience in doing it. And it's hard to make when you don't have experience,” he says.

While the company has recently received more than $3 million in federal government grants, Giatec has been largely bootstrapped to this point. Though he wouldn’t reveal specific plans to accelerate the firm’s growth, when asked if venture capital could be in Giatec’s future, Loucks’s response was a brief, “never say never.”

High demand

During his years away from the day-to-day of running a business, Loucks says he received “many offers” from companies hoping to scoop up some executive talent. While he and his family were open to relocating elsewhere in Canada or the United States, Loucks says none of the offers were right until the Giatec opportunity came around.

Sticking around his own backyard to scale up another company wasn’t a must-have for his next gig, but it’s certainly a bonus.

“I’m thrilled that I was able to help build Halogen into what I built it into for the Ottawa community. And I hope to be able to do the same with Giatec for the Ottawa community,” he says.

Who is this Paul Loucks guy?

Ottawa-born Paul Loucks rose to notoriety in the local tech sector as an ambitious leader with a knack for growing companies.

He launched NeoDyne Consulting in the 1990s and grew the three-person operation to 50 employees before selling it to Compaq Canada in 1997.

His career-defining work would take place at Halogen Software, which was the product division of Ottawa-based software consultancy Manta Corp. when he joined in 2001. At the time the Halogen product was struggling and in dire need of reinvention, a turnaround Loucks delivered by pivoting towards the talent management market.

“Paul did a fantastic job of turning the ship (around) and identifying a market opportunity that he felt we could succeed at. He gets 110 per cent of the acclaim for that one … it felt like a second (founding) and it was really all Paul,” said Halogen co-founder Michael Slaunwhite back in 2013 when Loucks was named OBJ’s CEO of the Year.

“Don’t bet on an overnight success, bet on long-term success – that’s how we’re going to build great companies. Do your hard work; do your pushups.”

Loucks took up the chief executive role six months after joining the company, and under his leadership, Halogen reached extraordinary heights. The 25-person firm hit 500 employees and $60 million in annual revenues; its 2013 initial public offering established the company as a sizeable player in the talent management space, butting heads with the likes of SAP and Oracle.

In the wake of his departure from Halogen in 2015, Loucks’ LinkedIn profile proudly displays a year of sabbatical travelling with his wife, Dawn. For the past two years he has returned to his consulting roots as president and CEO of Brilliant Outcomes, coaching chief executives to scale and solve their business problems.

In OBJ’s CEO of the Year profile of the venerated business leader, Loucks dished out a bit of scaling advice for free: “Don’t bet on an overnight success, bet on long-term success – that’s how we’re going to build great companies. Do your hard work; do your pushups.”