B.C.’s most profitable tech firms look beyond Vancouver for top talent

Companies recruit employees to work remotely
Workers at Absolute Software Corporation hold a meeting over a conference call with executives based in other cities in North America. CEO Geoff Haydon says 2015 was a “transformational” year for the company, as profits jumped more than 40%.

Geoff Haydon recalls the Vancouver tech sector being “a bit of a desert” the first time he moved to the city in 1993. Back then, companies like Creo and MacDonald, Dettwiler and Associates Ltd. (TSX:MDA) were the only notable firms hiring top tech talent.

But on his return to the West Coast in 2014 to take the CEO job at Absolute Software Corp. (TSX:ABT), Haydon was struck by how much richer the city’s tech scene had become when attracting talent – even if it’s by less conventional means.

“Information security is a very specialized industry, and Vancouver doesn’t have a long, rich heritage of information security companies or technology,” he said. “We do have access to talent but in many cases we’ve had to extend ourselves into other geographies and hire people to work remotely and spend part of their time in Vancouver.”

Despite the company having some C-suite members based in different cities, 2015 was a “transformational” year for Absolute, according to Haydon.

Profits for the firm, which specializes in security for end-point devices (any smartphone, tablet, notebook or desktop computer with Internet capability), jumped 41% year-over-year from $3.82 million to $5.42 million.

“Two years ago ... we were a very different business, largely selling fast-recovery solutions to the education sector, and we were really focused on renewing existing customer contracts versus new customer acquisition activity,” he said, adding that Absolute has since pivoted from focusing on the recovery of lost devices to protecting the data on those devices.

“Half our business now is done outside of education, in corporate, in health care, financial services, retail, oil and gas – verticals that were unknown two years ago and still largely undeveloped but now providing the impetus for growth.”

Absolute isn’t the only B.C. tech company to benefit from a change in strategy.

Carmanah Technologies Corp.’s (TSX:CMH) profit has jumped more than 1,200% from $983,000 in 2014 to $12.85 million in 2015.

“2015 was the second full year of a turnaround that began about three years ago for Carmanah,” CEO John Simmons told Business in Vancouver. “Our company, which has existed since 1996, had gone through quite an extended period of time, from 2008 to 2013, of declining revenues and operating losses, and we and our current management and board came together to effect a turnaround in 2013.”

The Victoria-based company specializes in LED signals and solar-powered lighting.

And like Absolute, Carmanah doesn’t have to rely on employees based only in Vancouver for it to be successful, Simmons said.

“We’re able to attract some really interesting talent, especially technical and salespeople, who are often anxious to escape the high real estate values of Vancouver,” he said. “So our very talented people have managed to attract other highly talented people and they’re all working together in a very engaged way and we’re achieving some success.”

torton@biv.com

@reporton
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