While public companies get most of the press, Canada’s private employers are doing their share of heavy lifting when it comes to building businesses, creating jobs and tapping new markets worldwide for their products and services.
To recognize these often underappreciated achievements, Grant Thornton LLP, in partnership with The Canadian Chamber of Commerce, created the Private Business Growth Award. Now in its third year, the annual accolade honors some of the country’s fastest growing and most innovative private enterprises.
The winner of the 2015 award, Global Relay Communications Inc. of Vancouver, and nine other finalists were honored Wednesday, Nov. 25 at a gala dinner at the Design Exchange in downtown Toronto. “We’re proud to celebrate the achievements of all of these successful companies,” says Phil Noble, Grant Thornton’s executive partner and CEO, who presented the award. “They have all shown what can be done with far-reaching vision, creative leadership and product innovation.”
Global Relay uses proprietary software to store and manage vast amounts of data in a private cloud for 20,000 customers in 90 countries, including 22 of the world’s top banks. The software allows for fast retrieval of archived communication – such as e-mail, text messaging and social media – as well as helping clients meet regulatory and surveillance needs.
The company posted revenue this year of $53.1-million and has been growing at the rate of 30 to 35 per cent a year. Global Relay was co-founded in 1999 by CEO Warren Roy, who believes Canadian companies should strive to grow by tapping into international opportunities. “Look at external markets,” he advises. “Leverage your know-how.”
Many of the 2015 award finalists have done just that, growing their businesses by strategically building on strong foundations to venture into global markets.
Toronto-based Medgate Inc. is one example. The company, which sells data management software to environmental health and safety professionals in large corporations, has built a strong global presence by taking a series of measured risks that have turned out well.
“We started with countries where we already had a least one beachhead customer, and where we understood the language and legal system – Australia and England,” says president Mark Wallace. “We now have an Australian office with seven employees and more than 30 employees in England. Canada now accounts for less than 15 per cent of our total sales.”
StarTech.com of London, Ont., is another finalist that has enjoyed rapid growth by reaching far beyond Canada’s boundaries. “International expansion has been a key part of our growth,” says CEO Paul Seed.
The 30-year-old company manufactures more than 3,000 products that provide connectivity for computers and other digital equipment, such as cables, adapters, splitters and converters. By focusing on hard-to-find and unique products, it has successfully expanded into 15 markets worldwide. One of its strategies is hosting customer symposiums in target countries. “This gives us an understanding of the difference and similarities in these markets and helps us make sure that our model works in other countries,” Seed says.
New Brunswick-based Cooke Aquaculture Inc. expanded its reach into the United States and Europe by making a strategic acquisition in Scotland. Kids & Company of Richmond Hill, Ont., is expanding into the U.S. and plans to have five corporate childcare centres open there by the end of the year.
Fiera Foods Co., of Toronto, founded as a small bakery in 1987, is part of an allied group of companies that sells products throughout the world. Baby Gourmet Foods Inc., which started selling it products a decade ago in a Calgary farmers’ market, can now be found in major stores throughout Canada and the U.S.
Whether expanding abroad or focusing their efforts domestically, all of the companies on this list have shown that they have what it takes to achieve sustainable growth.
“It’s not easy for any company to achieve high rates of growth year after year,” Noble says. “But with the right mix of hard work, great leadership and innovative thinking, it can be done. That’s why we think these companies have important stories that need to be told.”
The 10 finalists:
- Baby Gourmet Foods Inc., Calgary
- Cooke Aquaculture Inc., Saint John, N.B.
- dentalcorp, Toronto
- Fiera Foods Co., Toronto
- Global Relay Communications Inc., Vancouver
- Kids & Company, Richmond Hill, Ont.
- Medgate Inc.,Toronto
- Nicola Wealth Management, Vancouver
- StarTech.com Ltd., London, Ont.
- Skyline Group of Companies, Guelph, Ont.