Tech Sector Executive Search Update – Hotter and Harder Than Ever

A quick, admittedly Toronto-centric, update on tech sector labor market dynamics in Canada….

First, the sector is unusually robust with scores of private and VC-backed start-ups, public, PE owned and private mid-sized companies (and even the few remaining large Canadian firms) growing and active in the labor market. Among the many segments (and there are many) with particularly high activity are Digital Transformation, IoT, data analytics, machine learning (AI) and Information Security (InfoSec).

For the first time ever, emerging Canadian tech firms are not only competing among themselves for talent but also with a vast array of new and unfamiliar players for the same pool of talent. Within the tech sector itself, international firms that traditionally would have had little more than sales offices in Canada are now capitalizing on the high-quality talent and its comparatively ‘modest’ cost by opening product development centres and even business units. Well-known large Canadian firms such as Loblaws, Canadian Tire, and Rogers are investing heavily in ‘Digital’ and seeking decidedly more entrepreneurially minded management to lead those efforts. Similarly, most if not all financial services firms are investing heavily in both digital and ‘Fintech’ technologies with many of these teams being situated far away from the Bay Street corporate skyscrapers. They too are purposefully casting against type. Companies such as Thomson Reuters recently announced the hiring of 400 cognitive computing staff in Toronto and breakthrough success firms such as Shopify are supplementing the talent pool in hometown Ottawa with large development centres in Toronto, Waterloo and more recently Montreal (there are likely more). In automotive, GM has taken over a large portion of the American Express complex in Markham and are hiring 700 engineers to drive research into self-driving cars. Ford has just announced it is setting up a similar centre in Ottawa likely hoping to tap into the talent developed by Blackberry’s QNX Division. Uber is setting up a new R&D unit in Toronto with plans to focus on developing artificial intelligence for driverless vehicles. It is their first R&D centre outside of the US. Montreal’s AI activities are gaining similar attention and attracting an equally impressive cast of players. And on and on and on….

On the industrial side, yes the industrial side, there is unprecedented activity across every sector which IoT touches. Toronto-based consulting engineering firm Hatch has established an industry leading ‘Digital’ division with ‘Smart’ Cities, Mining and Energy technology practices addressing markets around the world. Mining firms such as Rio Tinto, Barrick, BHP Billiton and many others have set up ‘Innovation’ functions and/or departments. CN Rail is aggressively staffing a new Operational Technology Innovation Centre in Montreal. Quebec Hydro has established a similar venture and now most other large utilities, transit authorities, and municipalities have or are launching ‘smart’ initiatives of some sort. Industrials in many sectors are reacting to existing or imminent disruption by establishing digital divisions with GE alone now having almost 35,000 digital workers globally (including several centres in Canada) applying their capabilities across the firm’s myriad of industrial markets.

Perhaps not surprisingly, recruiting strategies and compensation levels are being impacted. Start-ups (who traditionally offered below-market cash compensation supplemented by generous – or sometimes not so generous – stock option packages) are struggling as top tier candidates now resist trading short term compensation for the ‘possibility’ of longer term gains. Title inflation is taking place everywhere as firms rebrand roles with prestigious C-suite titles as a low cost tactic to attract key staff. Larger firms are leveraging their ability to include a panoply of short and long term compensation benefits including generous stock or restricted stock (RSUs) to both attract and retain key talent. Private equity firms have become extremely adept at aligning the financial interests of their key executives with their own thus rendering many of them ‘un-poachable’. And giants, led by the so-called FAANG companies (Facebook, Amazon, Apple, Netflix and Google) now provide compensation packages that make it very difficult to repatriate high performing Canadians who may want or be open to returning home. It should be noted that large segments of the US market are at least as ‘hot’ if not hotter than the Canadian market and recruiting ‘stars’ from there to Canadian firms is for many out of their financial reach.

The net effect is that all firms with hiring aspirations are being forced to situate themselves, their recruiting processes (big problem for many larger industrial firms whose processes are too heavy and slow to attract top talent in the tech sector) and their compensation philosophies/plans within these market realities and reflect carefully on how they will adapt in order to attract and retain the resources so critical to their future success.

Interesting times indeed….

About the Author

Robert Hebert is the founder and Managing Partner of StoneWood Group Inc., a leading executive search firm in Canada. Since 1981, he has helped firms across a wide range of sectors address their senior recruiting, assessment and leadership development requirements.

Contact Robert by email at [email protected] or call (1) 416-365-9494 EXT 777

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