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What’s driving B.C.’s big new year’s C-suite shuffle?

Local tech companies valued at billions have spent much of 2022 hiring new executives
Anna Sainsbury recently replaced David Briggs as GeoComply’s CEO. The Vancouver-based unicorn is among a number of high-profile tech companies shuffling their executive ranks to kick off 2022 | Chung Chow

While some British Columbians kicked off 2022 resolving to eat healthier or squeeze in more time for fitness, some of the province’s high-profile tech companies have also spent much of January changing their looks.

Since the start of the year, at least two B.C.-based unicorns have replaced their CEOs, and one more has replaced its chief financial officer. Another unicorn – tech industry lingo for a startup valued at US$1 billion or more – has a new top executive in charge of products and a publicly traded fintech has tapped a new member of the C-suite as its chief people officer.

Rather than a sign of uncertainty, experts say it points to major growth within the province’s tech sector after a year in which investor capital poured in in record amounts.

Stephanie Hollingshead, CEO of Vancouver-based Tech and People (TAP) Network, noted that the recent burst of C-suite shuffles is unusual for the province’s tech scene.

A 2021 TAP survey found respondents' average planned headcount growth for last year was 37%, “which is really high,” said Hollingshead. “You think about all the additional hiring needed in a sector that’s growing, and that plays out in additional executive roles as well.”

B.C. companies raised $4 billion in investor capital last year after closing 140 deals, according to data from Briefed.In, a Canadian firm that tracks venture capital in the country. That’s up from the $960.5 million raised during the first year of the pandemic and the $1.6 billion raised in 2019.

With unprecedented amounts of incoming investor capital, B.C. tech companies have been on a tear hiring workers as part of their expansion efforts.

Ilya Brotzky, CEO of local recruitment firm VanHack Technologies Inc., pointed out that January is also typically the busiest time of year for changing jobs.

“But given the large activity it’s a great sign of the growth of our ecosystem,” he said.

The rapid adoption of remote working has also been influencing C-suite changes, according to Hollingshead. Instead of having to convince top executives from other cities and countries to leave their homes to settle in Vancouver, companies are now more comfortable with remote leadership.

“It really is, I think, a positive, but the pain point that comes with that is the pressure on compensation,” Hollingshead said.

Among the notable companies making changes in the executive ranks during the past few weeks is biotech unicorn Zymeworks (NYSE:ZYME), which announced co-founder Ali Tehrini would be stepping down as CEO; and cybersecurity unicorn GeoComply Solutions Inc., which announced co-founder and chair Anna Sainsbury would be returning to the CEO role after first holding that position from 2011-18.

“I’ve been in the space for over 16 years, and so I wanted to really take some time to learn more about other sectors, and what’s needed and really kind of expand the skill sets that I had as the company was growing,” Sainsbury said about her decision to return as CEO.

“We’ve been so fortunate to double in 2021, and we’re looking at doubling our team size again this year.”

BuildDirect Technologies Inc. (TSXV:BILD), often dubbed the Inc. (Nasdaq:AMZN) of building supplies, started the year hiring L.A.-based David Lazar to take over as interim CEO after fellow American Dan Park announced in October 2021 that he was leaving the top job due to personal reasons.

E-commerce leader Cymax Group Technologies Ltd. announced in late January the hiring of Shouvik Roy the same day electric vehicle manufacturer Electra Meccanica Vehicles Corp. (Nasdaq:SOLO) revealed it had hired American Kim Brinks, a former NASCAR LLC executive, as chief revenue officer.

This came one week after B.C. unicorn Clio (Themis Solutions Inc.) tapped San Francisco-based Curt Sigfstead as its CFO. Sigfstead previously held the same position at Toronto unicorn Clearco (CFT Clear Finance Technology Corp.).

“I have always had a very strong affinity and desire to help and encourage Canadian tech companies to take the stage in exactly the same way U.S. tech companies have,” Sigstead, who went to high school in B.C., told BIV.

All these hires come during the same month that unicorn Trulioo Information Services Inc. hired San Diego-based Michael Ramsbacker as the global identification company’s first chief product officer, and fintech Mogo Inc. (TSX:MOGO) hired Salt Lake City-based Allan Smith as its first chief people officer.

While the high-profile American hires are coming as companies are flush with cash and more are willing to hire top executives to work remotely, Hollingshead said remote leadership can also affect corporate culture.

“Sometimes there’s a very good match between those particular individuals and that company culture,” she said. “But if it isn’t a strong match, then you see that company culture shifting because that tone is being set by the top.”

Notable changes to B.C.-based C-suites since the start of 2022 include:

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