From building antennas for NASA to expanding access to virtual healthcare: Ottawa’s oldest start-up emerges as one to watch at 40
WHETHER ATTENDING A virtual doctor’s appointment, viewing the latest images captured in space, or keeping your files and documents safe from cyber attacks, it’s likely that Ottawa-based Calian was quietly supporting in the background.
The company’s diverse yet highly specialized portfolio of four business units span healthcare, advanced technologies, learning and IT & cyber solutions serving both public and private customers across Canada, the United States and Europe.
The common thread? “Customers trust us when they can’t fail,” says Calian CEO Kevin Ford.
Four decades of expertise
When the margin for error is slim to none — such as providing a third high-performing antenna for NASA’s Global Observing System — the ability to meet such exacting standards, in addition to nurturing long-term relationships, are key values contributing to the company’s steady growth. In fact, trusted relationships are key to the company’s success over the years, recently becoming the leading provider of military training for NATO.
Over the past 13 years, Calian has supported the design and delivery of over 70 NATO exercises – from exercise planning, computer-assisted technologies, role-playing, and mentoring and advising. Calian offers a wealth of multi-national expertise and the ability to respond to NATO mission-critical operational and training requirements. It’s a nod to its expertise and established presence which can only come from 40 years of being a trusted partner in the defence community.
Improving access to quality healthcare
Throughout its history, Calian health has evolved from delivering healthcare and digital health solutions to innovating new pathways to better healthcare on a global scale. This year, Calian partnered with Syantra Inc. to help bring the Syantra DX breast cancer blood test — which detects breast cancer using software developed with machine learning to interpret results — nation-wide. The Calian digital health platform will make this test available to all Canadian women directly or through the Canadian Cancer Foundation. This has enormous potential to change the face of this devastating cancer.
Building trusted customer partnerships
Time and again, Calian has harnessed the opportunity for employees to showcase their expertise, skills, and undoubtedly, passion. It’s heir not-so-secret recipe for building trusted partnerships which has led to repeated successes.
“It has to be driven by incredibly talented people who can rise to these challenges,” says Ford. Every person on the Calian team works hard to meet their clients’ needs, driven by their four key values: integrity, teamwork, innovation and commitment.
Ford adds, “We’re not going to be able to do this without talented and dedicated people. The fabric of a company is clearly its people. And we have amazing people.”
Leading the way
The same values which guide the team at Calian are the wind behind the back of CEO Kevin Ford. Named CEO of the Year by the Ottawa Chamber of Commerce and Ottawa Business Journal in 2017 and EY Entrepreneur of the Year in 2019, Ford attributes his success to teamwork, integrity and commitment. These values, combined with Ford’s enthusiasm for Calian technology, talent and his passion for diversity and inclusion, help him future-proof the business. He is fully invested in the growth of the company, playing a key role in the 18 successful acquisitions Calian has made since 2015.
“Through a combination of strategic acquisitions, innovative solutions and diversification, we continue to increase our customer base in Canada and expand into new international markets,” Ford adds.
A bright future
As Calian celebrates its 40th anniversary this year, it’s a time for praise as well as reflection on its history — from humble beginnings as a one-person firm in 1982 to trading on the Toronto Stock Exchange and growing to the $500-million business it is today.
It’s even more astonishing considering the dot com ups and owns in the 90’s, the 2008 stock market crash and the global pandemic — the business’ lasting power in an uncertain world is impressive.
“If you think of all the things that have happened during the last 40 years, the fact that we’re still here, still growing and a thriving business, is a testament to our customers and their confidence in us, and our employees who live our core purpose of helping the world innovate, learn, lead safe and healthy lives,” Ford says.
And as Calian marks its second consecutive year of a half-billion in revenues, and it marches steadily towards the north-star of $1B revenue, Ford is decidedly proud of the company’s past and optimistic about its future.
“Celebration,” he says, “is absolutely the right word.”