‘Let’s Get Ottawa’s Swagger Back’
Warren Tomlin was recently named as Office Managing Partner for EY Ottawa. “EY’s commitment to Ottawa speaks to our delivering on the changing needs and demands of our clients – as all our clients grapple with modernization and reinvention,” he says. “Many businesses are looking to leverage data, AI and machine learning – we know this because we’re doing the same inside our own business.” The long-time Ottawa resident spoke with Ottawa Board of Trade president and CEO Sueling Ching about his vision for Ottawa.
Sueling Ching: Warren, you’ve been part of Ottawa’s tech scene for some time. What’s different now compared to our tech bubble in the late ’90s?
Warren Tomlin: I came to this role after several years at Accenture and IBM, where I had the benefit of being a global partner. One year, I visited 17 countries – I would travel and return to Ottawa and wonder where our edge, – our swagger had gone. I had started my career at Corel and when I think back to what was happening in Ottawa at the time — it was an exciting time. Quite honestly, something’s happened, and I’m not sure it’s all for the best. The question I have, as we look to 2022 and beyond, is how does Ottawa get that excitement – that swagger back? How can we regain that footing of our Silicon Valley North status? Shopify, Telesat, Kinaxis, MDS Aero, Calian, Mindbridge, etc. – they are the current and future technology leaders of our city. I think EY is well positioned to be a trusted partner of our clients, to give them solid financial advice, differentiated business strategy and to have the services deep enough to make it all come together. I’m excited at the opportunity to play our part to get that swagger back and EY is looking to partner with like-minded business and community leaders to succeed in these efforts.
SC: What cities should we emulate?
WT: I’m not sure we want to emulate anyone – rather, we need to be inspired by other world class cities. Pre-COVID, the last trip I took was to Singapore. Singapore thinks very big. I wonder if we need to think bigger than whether we invest in light rail east-west or north-south. These are important enough, however, Singapore thinks “city 3.0” big. You don’t need to look much further than Sparks Street or parts of our core to say, ‘we can – and need to think bigger and bolder.’ It’s time to continue to attract investment and talent – time for us to get our confidence back.
SC: How do you propose doing that?
WT: As a business leader, I want to work with the Ottawa Board of Trade, Tourism, Invest Ottawa, and others — the right groups to say, ‘how do we get the great companies we have here, our passionate leaders, together to re-embolden our vision for the city?’ The answer may be that we need to do exactly what we’re doing and we’ll get there over time, or the answer may be we need to materially rethink some things. I can say that at EY, we are incredibly committed to the city and the agenda that Ottawa has put forward. We are probably investing in Ottawa more right now than any other place in the country.
SC: It is refreshing to hear a business leader talk about a bigger vision for Ottawa. Ottawa has so much more to offer than I first realized, but the gap between our potential and where we are is so much bigger than most people realize. To me, Ottawa’s No. 1 competitive advantage is that we have the ability to communicate and collaborate and optimize our collective resources in a way that other cities might not. How can a full-service firm like yours help make that happen?
WT: The idea of ‘We’re all in this together’ is an important theme we need to carry out of the pandemic. As business and community leaders in Ottawa, it really is up to us and – we really are all in this together. The reality is yes, we’re individual businesses and we can collaborate and, in some instances compete, but we are also a team that can make Ottawa the most competitive city in the country. And I agree it’s there for the taking. I think there’s still a lot of headroom in Ottawa to still be that much more competitive.
Our ambition over the next three years is to double our size and we are committed to being ever more philanthropic and ever more present. We’re at a scale where we can fully serve our clients, but our clients need more complex help than perhaps ever before. They need help from multiple service areas. They need tax help, innovation help, strategy help, capital markets help — they need help end-to-end as they recover and reinvent coming out of the pandemic.
SC: Then it becomes a circle of success. You’re supporting your clients and in turn, they are contributing to the productivity and prosperity of the city as well. Now, let’s just review what services you offer.
WT: We are probably best known for our tax and audit/assurance services – promoting trust and confidence in business and capital markets – but we also have an array of technology and business consulting services to help businesses transform, and a transactions services group that drives corporate strategy, capital allocation, and M&A and divestments. So a mix of foundational services like accounting, married with new services to support clients through all the changes they’re facing. So, we’re everywhere in the city, including doubling down on tech in Ottawa. Personally, I think there are many more stories to be told about tech in this city, and the ones I want to be able to tell next are about Ottawa being scrappy, bold, and working together to get our swagger back. EY is ready to help play our part.