Techopia Live: Inside Calian’s M&A playbook

Calian Group CEO Kevin Ford has set a bold goal. Through organic growth and acquisitions, the company wants to achieve $1 billion in annual revenues. Achieving that goal will depend on a series of successful acquisitions. Remarkably, Calian acquired 11 companies during the pandemic. In this episode of Techopia Live, OBJ’s Michael Curran and EY’s Warren Tomlin co-host to ask Calian’s CEO about his M&A playbook.

This is an edited transcript of the beginning of that conversation. For the full episode, check out the full video or podcast.

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OBJ: Hello, I’m Michael Curran from the Ottawa Business Journal. Welcome to Techopia Live. Today’s show is a special format. That’s because I have a co-host with me, so someone’s shouldering a little bit of this load. It’s not the first time he’s been on Techopia Live and certainly not the last. Here is the managing partner of EY right from downtown Ottawa, my co-host, Warren Tomlin. So, Warren, let’s get on to introducing our guest. This is a longstanding Ottawa company. Some might even say an anchor company in the local tech scene. These days, it’s pursuing an aggressive mergers and acquisition strategy to scale up. Also, growing organically too, so we don’t want to forget that. In fact, this company has made 11 acquisitions since 2020. That includes its first ever US acquisition. Along with organic growth and M&A activity, it’s expected to boost revenues by up over 20 per cent. Please welcome the CEO of Calian Group. Here is Kevin Ford. Welcome Kevin.

KF: Good afternoon. Nice to be with you, gentlemen.

OBJ: Kevin, it’s exciting days for Calian. You’ve been in the news a lot, success of quarters, of revenue growth. Give us the up-to-date sense of what Calian Group encompasses these days.

KF: Well, I think it’s best to refer to Calian Group as a portfolio companies. We are diverse organization and we have four very distinct segments. I call it a four-piston engine. With the last name of Ford, I like the car analogy. We have an advanced technologies group, which has really started in ground system for communications, building everything on the ground that’s required to communicate with things in space. We have an IT cyber group which I think in Ottawa is how a lot of people still look at us as primarily an IT firm. And that continues to grow, as you mentioned, with our presence now in the US. We have a learning business primarily working with militaries and first responder organizations both domestically and now globally. And as well, our healthcare business which runs everything from supporting military healthcare to 150 health funds with Loblaws. So, healthcare, learning, IT and advanced technologies, portfolio companies, four-piston engine, and we continue to grow market both domestically and globally leveraging those pistons every day.

OBJ: So I’m gonna turn things over to Warren here in a second. One of the things we wanted to do is kinda dig into this acquisition strategy because I know at OBJ, it’s like headline after headline of acquisitions. So Warren, take it away. You’ve got the first question for Kevin on acquisitions.

WT: Kevin, firstly, congrats on 11 through the pandemic, right? Maybe speak a little bit Kevin on what Calian has done. You know, they can be tricky, right? On paper, acquisitions are great. It really comes down to the culture and the strategy and then sort of nesting those acquisitions in. Maybe tell us about how Calian approaches the acquisitions and the tuck-ins to make them as successful as possible.

KF: We have something we call an M&A playbook that’s really evolved over the last couple years. We’ve done 11 in that timeframe of 2020. I’ve now done 18 since I’ve come to Calian. And early on with the board, we recognized that this had to be a repeatable process that we learned from every time. So number one, it’s evolving, Warre and Michael, in the context that it’s not a static thing; we continue to evolve our playbook. But the one thing I think we’ve been doing well is finding companies that have a track record of growing and of profitability that culturally align to Calian, and we spend a lot of time working with the acquisitions prior to the actual close date to get to know the management team, get to know the team, and ensure that there won’t be a massive miss on cultural alignment, which is I still think one of the reasons a lot of these don’t work. So I think the playbook with regard to a repeatable process evolving it based on lessons learned, looking at culture, strategic fit, the financial realities of a company has been great. Then you tie in an integration plan where you actually work and it’s something we’ve actually been more focused on recently. We’re evolving our integration planning based on lessons learned as we now integrate companies that aren’t in Canada. We have companies in Europe now, companies in the United States. So when you start bringing in those dynamics, you have to ensure you have a very strong integration plan and it’s something again we’re evolving as we speak to make it even stronger and better for every acquisition that we do.

This is an edited transcript of the beginning of that conversation. For the full episode, check out the full video or podcast.

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