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U.S. CEOs resistant to Vancouver’s charms

Chicago CEO of city tech firm is the latest executive to reject relocation to West Coast
About 98% of B.C. companies employ fewer than 50 workers, contributing to some of the difficulty recruiting top-level executives to the West Coast, according to Business Council of B.C. CEO Greg D'Avignon | Photo: Rob Kruyt

While Vancouver can often tout its natural beauty and quality of life when enticing top talent to the city, that recruitment pitch doesn’t seem to be working on some U.S. executives as of late.

In a span of four weeks at the tail end of 2019, at least three B.C.-headquartered companies announced the appointment of CEOs who themselves decided not to relocate to the West Coast.

In the case of Vision Critical Communications Inc. – a homegrown tech firm employing 260 workers locally that specializes in collecting and analyzing customer experience data – its headquarters shifted to Toronto, where newly hired CEO Ross Wainwright and president of products Riaz Raihan are now based.

Was it just a coincidence or should the business community be concerned by the city’s inability to attract execs who want to make a go of it in Vancouver?

“We’re not being aggressive enough as a country or as a province around thinking about the global competition for talent and what we need to be doing as an economy to attract that talent and, more importantly, retain Canadian talent in the marketplace,” said Greg D’Avignon, CEO of the Business Council of BC.

“Top Canadian talent who would potentially have a career here are starting to move abroad, particularly in the U.S. but also into Europe, Latin America and elsewhere.”

He said factors such as the foreign-buyer’s tax, higher income taxes compared with the U.S. and the high cost of housing are working against efforts to attract top C-suite talent to B.C.

D’Avignon said the province could be at risk of losing more headquarters and executives if a CEO does not wish to be based on the West Coast.

Metro Vancouver was home to 239 head offices employing 15,783 workers in 2017, according to results from Statistics Canada’s latest head-office survey.

While the number of jobs grew by 939 from the previous survey conducted in 2013, the number of head offices based in the region did not grow during that period.

Instead, Metro Vancouver lost three head offices overall from 2013 to 2017, and B.C. saw the number of head offices fall from 319 in 2013 to 308 in 2017.

While the city has lost yet another head office with Vision Critical’s move to Toronto, newly appointed CEO Wainwright said Vancouver will “continue to be a critical part” of the company’s strategy.

“The Vancouver office, by the way, is two and a half times the size of the Toronto office, so we’ve got a very large and very important community of employees out here,” said Wainwright, a Toronto native who was based in Chicago as CEO of Dimension Data/NTT’s Americas division prior to landing the Vision Critical job. “We’ve got some good executive representation here in Vancouver.”

He added that two senior executives – the head of human resources and the chief financial officer – remain based in Vancouver, while the CEO said he plans to travel to the city frequently during his first six months on the job.

Like Wainwright, newly hired Ritchie Bros. Auctioneers (TSX:RBA) CEO Ann Fandozzi and newly hired RentMoola Payment Solutions Inc. CEO Karthik Manimozhi were recruited out of the U.S.

Ritchie Bros. spokesman Ian Malinski told Business in Vancouver in an email that it has not been determined where Fandozzi will be based, but as the head of an international company she will spend significant time travelling.

“Vancouver is our corporate headquarters so she will for sure be spending a lot of time here,” he said.

RentMoola did not clarify, after an inquiry from BIV, whether Manimozhi would be relocating to Vancouver.

Fandozzi’s and Manimozhi’s LinkedIn profiles list their current locations as the Greater Philadelphia area and San Diego, respectively, more than a month after their appointments were announced.

“There are a lot of factors that go into influencing business leadership relocation and whether or not they take a role,” D’Avignon said.

They must consider not only quality of life, but also sector opportunities and whether their partners would be able to find a job as well, he added.

Citing figures from the B.C. government’s Small Business Profile 2017, D’Avignon said that because 98% of the province’s 404,000 companies employ 50 people or fewer, the West Coast lacks sizable business clusters that would allow CEOs to easily switch companies without uprooting their lives.

“For example, there are all kinds of really interesting clothing design and manufacturing companies but the big players are effectively Arc’teryx, Lululemon and Artizia,” he said.

“So if I’m a senior executive coming into this market that has experience in the retail and clothing business and it doesn’t work out with the company, I can’t just look around and say, ‘OK, I’ll move down to company X just down the street.’ And those kinds of opportunities are more pervasive in bigger centres like Toronto.”

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