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New Avigilon boss sees happy ending in Motorola’s US$1b marriage

Head of Vancouver-based tech firm says Avigilon’s new parent plans to grow local presence
James Henderson, Avigilon’s Texas-based president and chief operating officer: “We have now married up with the perfect partner” | submitted

The last thing James Henderson wants is for Canadians to recoil at the sale of Avigilon Corp. to American technology giant Motorola Solutions Inc. (NYSE:MSI).

“You’ve got a lot of people that were – I’m not going to say disappointed – but sort of had that, ‘Aw shucks, another great company snatched up’ [attitude],” says the chief operating officer and president of the Vancouver-based tech firm known for developing advanced hardware and software for video surveillance and analytics.

Motorola closed the US$1 billion purchase of Avigilon late last month, proving the city was capable of producing a unicorn – a Silicon Valley-coined term for a tech startup valued at US$1 billion or more.

But it also showed Vancouver’s ongoing struggle to retain a successful startup within the local tech ecosystem before a larger firm acquires it.

Henderson, however, sees the Avigilon acquisition as a story of growth for the local tech sector.

“We have now married up with the perfect partner,” he said.

Between Motorola’s expertise in communications technology and Avigilon’s expertise in video surveillance and analytics, Henderson said the respective companies complement each other well.

“We are now able to provide both the sight and the communication. There’s more and more desire for these two technologies to integrate further.”

The Torontonian will be overseeing that corporate melding from Avigilon’s office in Plano, Texas, where the company’s head sales office is based.

The new president inherited the leadership mantle from Avigilon founder and former CEO Alexander Fernandes.

The pair had already announced a succession plan in November 2017, whereby Henderson would assume the CEO role while Fernandes would move into the chairman’s seat sometime in 2018.

The $1 billion acquisition changed those plans, and Fernandes left the company following the close of the US$1 billion sale.

“It’s actually Alex Fernandes’ story,” said Kevin Shaw, vice-president at Renaissance Mergers & Acquisitions Inc.

Shaw said he understands some in the tech sector balking at the Avigilon-Motorola deal, but the path the founder took the company is poised to benefit the local business community.

Fernandes founded Avigilon in 2004 using the profits from the $20 million sale of his previous venture, QImaging.

He took Avigilon public in 2011, raising $25 million in an initial public offering that offered shares at $4.50. Motorola acquired Avigilon’s for $27 a share.

Meanwhile, the founder owned 4,300,844 shares or 9.89% of the company, according to 4 Traders data.

The deal with Motorola means Fernandes walked away with $116 million.

“That is the exact model that I would say is what Vancouver stands to benefit from,” Shaw said, “where you are now creating wealth in Vancouver, and those wealthy individuals or companies are now able to reinvest in Vancouver.”

He said there aren’t many companies like Avigilon on the market, but a deal of this magnitude has the potential to create more within the local tech ecosystem.

“It builds somewhat of a petri dish where more economic prosperity can be had,” Shaw said.

“For us to become a tech hub, we need more wealthy individuals, success stories, if you will, to come out of Vancouver.”

Although Henderson is based in Texas and the new parent company is based in Chicago, the president said he plans to maintain continuity within the company.

He joined Avigilon in 2011 as director of sales for Ontario and Atlantic Canada, eventually working his way to chief sales and marketing officer in 2016 and chief operating officer in 2017.

“The culture of Avigilon is going to remain,” Henderson said.

“This isn’t the end for Avigilon; this is the beginning of something exciting. And what you’re going to see is not us reduce our presence but, frankly, [we’re] going to increase our presence in Vancouver and throughout the globe.”

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