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Shannon Rogers: Message machine

The medium is the message, and it's become big business for Gastown's Global Relay Communications, which has carved out a lucrative niche in a post-recession business world littered with new and complex legal landmines
Global Relay Communications president Shannon Rogers: “our goal was to be No. 1 in the financial sector; I would say we've achieved that this year”

Shannon Rogers calls 2012 "a huge, pivotal year" for Global Relay Communications.

The Gastown electronic message archiving and compliance juggernaut is the title sponsor of the resurrected Gastown Grand Prix bike race on July 11. It is developing new products, building a $20 million state-of-the-art North Vancouver data centre and forecasting $30 million revenue by fiscal year-end on Aug. 31.

"All coming to fruition after three years work and millions of dollars," said Rogers, the president and general counsel. "It's an interesting journey I never would've had at a law firm."

The Calgary-born graduate of West Vancouver's Hillside secondary school has political science and political economics degrees, from, respectively, the University of Victoria and University of Toronto.

Before studying law at McGill University in Montreal, Rogers spent a year volunteering in India, including with Mother Teresa's mission in Calcutta. The corporate securities law specialist parlayed her McGill degree into four years at McCarthy Tetrault in Toronto and two years with Borden Ladner Gervais in Vancouver but felt the itch to try something else.

It was her penchant for exploring and her entrepreneurial spirit, she said, that attracted her to the company co-founded by Warren Roy and Duff Reid. She became employee number four.

Roy said it's not uncommon for Rogers to work 100 hours a week, over seven days, and spend a third of the year on business trips.

"She's got a great personality, is very calm and always finds a way forward in the real difficult times," Roy said.

"You do face a lot of challenges in business, and Shannon has always been able to figure out how to get through them, even if they look like impenetrable obstacles."

"I love the mix. When I was at my law firm, I felt like I was on the wrong side of the table," she said. "I never knew it was going to end up like this, but it is spectacular what is happening. Our goal was to be No. 1 in the financial sector; I would say we've achieved that this year."

Global Relay exploded from 30 employees to 200 in three years as a result of the Great Recession and now boasts offices in New York, Chicago, London, Singapore and Shanghai. It services 15,000 customers in 90 countries, including 22 of the world's top 25 banks.

Rogers said there's hardly a corporate lawsuit these days not involving corporate email, communications via social media and instant messaging. Someone's got to archive it, and Global Relay is the leader.

"It's all about investor protection," Rogers said. "We've built-up full-on surveillance systems for companies to make sure their employees are representing the deals, if they're selling securities they're representing them properly.

"If [Bernie] Madoff had he been using an archive like ours, some of his scandals would've been found a long time ago."

Global Relay's headquarters are in the seven-storey, 1991-renovated Leckie Building at Water and Cambie streets.

The red brick warehouse/factory, built in 1908 and expanded in 1913, was where its namesake J. Leckie and Company supplied boots to Canadian armed forces in both world wars. The original Global Relay office occupied a fraction of the second floor. Now the company has three, plus the roof deck, and right of refusal on any space that opens up. The second floor is Global Relay's "front-facing" workers, with customer service, e-discovery and audit. The third is the denizen of developers.

"All the data requests will come here – a lot of lawsuits coming out of 2008 – and the data comes in here," Rogers said. "We'll turn it around for an audit or an e-discovery."

The second-floor workers start before 6 a.m. to match the Eastern time zone financial hours. Upstairs on the third floor, it's the "geniuses building the services" software developers.

"It's interesting to match those two cultures. I came out of a law firm environment and the developers have taught me a lot."

The person that taught her the most, however, is father Bill Rogers, a commercial real estate developer.

"I have a spectacular family. I came from a very entrepreneurial family, one that was always inquisitive or worldly," she said. "It was definitely about being self-sufficient and figuring out your way. My dad, he's a lifelong entrepreneur. Now that he's retired, he comes in here and works with some of our employees on their career paths."

Rogers said neither she nor Roy are looking to change that anytime soon.

"We don't have any outside investment or venture capital. The little bit of funding we do have is friends and family. We control our own destiny," Rogers said. "I think it's a big problem in Vancouver – Canada in general – you get to be a certain size, you're a successful company, are you going to sell?"

Rogers said the company receives an average of three offers or solicitations from suitors a week.

"I almost think Canada's culture is wrong that way. We're almost educated to build a company and go sell it to America," she said.

"We could turn it around and sell it tomorrow for quite a bit of money, but we want to build it. This is just a spectacular place of innovative, young energetic people, and we're all in this together to build an amazing company; we're looking for smart people to join us."

That is the central reason for sponsoring the Gastown Grand Prix for the next five years.

"Beyond just loving having the bike race here, as a company we're really well known in the financial sector because we're the No. 1 archiving and compliance vendor in the world even though we're from here," Rogers said. "We're better known in New York and Chicago than we are in Vancouver. Employees want to work for a known company. We're growing so fast we'd love to hire another 100 people; we want to keep the best and brightest." •