Terry Matthews: Just get on with the globalization thing

One of Canada’s best-known IT entrepreneurs urged Canadian executives Thursday to change their attitude and view globalization as an adventure, not a barrier.  

“Just treat it as a challenge, and get on with it,” Terence Matthews, the chairman of Wesley Clover, Mitel and March Networks, told members of Ottawa’s high-tech community.

Amidst a plethora of cautionary tales that other panelists told at a globalization seminar organized by the Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation, Matthews was upbeat. Where lawyer Paul LaBarge and others named the tax laws, custom regulations, legal climate and intellectual property provisions as potential barriers to trade, Matthews dismissed the cautious attitude he believes hampers some Canadian firms from achieving global success.

“There are no hurdles,” says Matthews, who cited his first successful contracts at Mitel with customers in the United Kingdom. “It’s a mindset.”

Canadian companies should be exploring burgeoning opportunities in Asia, East Germany, South America and the Middle East, instead of waiting to be acquired at home, Matthews says. If not, they risk becoming “branch plants,” he added.

“I would suggest to you that North America is saturated,” Matthews says. “Some (other) economies are growing at a ferocious rate. There are tonnes of opportunities. Eastern Europe is wide open, and growing fast.”

All it takes to succeed is a local partner who speaks the language and is prepared to work with you to serve customers, Matthews says.

But some Canadian firms are deterred by the news coverage of terrorism and unrest in other parts of the world, Matthews told reporters after his address.

“You have more chance of being shot down in Ottawa than anywhere,” he said.

Earlier, James Watt, the chief operations officer for Alcatel’s IP Networks Division, characterized the global marketplace as “hard work.”

“Globalization is a tough job, but well worth the effort. You have to look at the costs and be able to afford it,” he told the same seminar.

Alcatel has 450 large telecommunication customers around the world, meaning the global marketplace is too big to ignore, Watt said. The need to find good talent wherever it exists is also part of what drives the company’s IP division to operate in the United States, Brussels and the United Kingdom, in addition to Ottawa, he added.

But Watt praised Canada as a good base for global operations, given its rule of law, business ethics, strong financial market and well-educated population.

“Being Canadian can be a huge benefit,” Watt said. “It identifies the environment we come from … it is the best way for people to sum up what we can bring to the party.”

Watt, Matthews and Denzil Doyle of Doyletech Corporation also praised the federal government and missions abroad for their practical help to companies working overseas, and for grant and investment programs like the former Technology Partnerships Canada.

Matthews was critical, however, of the federal government’s insistence that its procurement policies conform to international trade agreements restricting preferences for local suppliers.

Companies should push the government to make sure its procurement policies support Canadian companies, especially in the high-tech sector, he said.

The government should be brought to task. We need to support local companies,” Matthews said. “Canadian technology is not at the bottom of the list. It’s at the top of the list.”

Just because other countries sign trade agreements, it doesn’t mean they don’t favour local suppliers, he added. 

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