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Sierra Wireless taps new CEO from California

Phil Brace takes over the top job July 26
An engineer at Sierra Wireless' research and development facility in Richmond puts some of the company’s M2M technology to the test | submitted

Sierra Wireless Inc. (TSX:SW) has zeroed in on a new leader to take the helm by month’s end.

U.S.-based tech executive Phil Brace will replace outgoing president and CEO Kent Thexton as of July 26, the company announced Monday.

Thexton, who served as CEO for three years, will stay on through to August 13 to assist with the transition at Sierra Wireless.

The Richmond-based company is best known for its wireless communications design and manufacturing expertise.

It is one of B.C.’s largest homegrown tech employers, with more than 400 workers based in the province.

Brace, a Canadian who earned a bachelor’s degree in applied science from the University of Waterloo, most recently served as executive vice-president of field operation at Veritas Technology LLC in California. Prior to that, he was president of cloud systems at Seagate Technology Holdings PLC (Nasdaq:STX) and executive vice-president of storage solutions group at LSI Corp.

He was based in Silicon Valley for all of those positions and will remain living in California after taking over Sierra Wireless at the end of July.

“Once travel restrictions are lifted between the U.S. and Canada, we expect to see Phil spending a considerable amount of his time at the Richmond office when he’s not visiting Sierra’s other global offices, our customers, partners and investors,” a Sierra Wireless spokeswoman told BIV in an email.

Travel restrictions loosened considerably last week for fully vaccinated Canadian citizens and international travellers eligible to enter the country.

Rather than quarantine, fully vaccinated Canadians must show proof of a negative COVID-19 PCR test prior to departure as well as take another test upon arrival.

“After an extensive search process, we are pleased to have secured a high-calibre candidate with a strong track record and more than 25 years’ experience in the semiconductor, server and storage industries including hardware, software, services, engineering, marketing and sales. I am confident Phil will add significant value in leading Sierra Wireless’ continued growth as a global IoT solutions provider,” chairman Robin Abrams said in a statement.

Sierra Wireless is the latest in a string of high-profile organizations to tap talent from south of the border for the CEO role.

Most recently, TransLink hired Maryland transit boss Kevin Quinn as its new CEO and the Downtown Vancouver Business Improvement Association hired Nolan Marshall III as its new CEO.

Both executives either relocated or are in the process of relocating to B.C. to lead their organizations.

Similar to Brace, new Hootsuite Inc. CEO Tom Keiser chose to remain based in northern California when he took on the position almost exactly a year ago.

And while Herschel Supply Co.’s newly hired CEO, Jon Hoerauf, hails from Michigan, he’s spent much of the last decade based in B.C. where he also served at one point as president of Arc’Teryx (Amer Sports Canada Inc.).

When Vision Critical Communications Inc. went south of the border to hire Canadian Ross Wainwright to take over the B.C.-based data analytics firm, the company immediately moved its headquarters to Toronto (Wainwright’s hometown) and soon thereafter rebranded as Alida.

Meanwhile, Kelowna-based Two Hat Security Ltd. tapped former Disney Online executive Steve Parkis last fall to lead the company best known for specializing in tools that weed out inappropriate language or abusive content from gaming companies’ social networks. Parkis remains based in Florida.

“There are a lot of factors that go into influencing business leadership relocation and whether or not they take a role,” Business Council of B.C. CEO Greg D’Avignon told BIV last year.

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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