Global Relay’s Warren Roy launches 2013 CKNW CEO SeriesMar 15, 2013
Warren Roy, founder and CEO of Vancouver tech firm Global Relay, started off the 2013 series of CKNW 980’s “The Chief Executives”, answering radio host Bill Good’s questions in front of a live audience at the Segal Graduate School.
The event was the result of an ongoing partnership between the Beedie School of Business at Simon Fraser University and prominent Vancouver radio station CKNW News Talk 980 to bring leadership and business insights from some of Canada’s top executives to SFU.
Good opened the interview by asking Roy how he got started, drawing the CEO back to his childhood, and his first job. Describing himself as a lifelong entrepreneur, Roy recounted that his earliest dreams revolved around construction; as a child he liked building things, moving from childhood Lego sets to spending time on construction sites. He started his first company, designing and building homes, in 1983.
When the recession hit in the late 80s, Roy’s company floundered, prompting him to move from Ontario to Vancouver. He realized that construction design was heading digitally, and taught himself computer-aided design (CAD), eventually drawing up over 2.5 million square feet of building plans for architect firms in Vancouver.
Good asked if he had mentors during this time, and Roy admitted that he had never had one but instead took the opportunity to learn from everyone.
“My learning pitch is, ‘What do you do? How do you make money?’” he explained, saying that by asking questions he has learned a lot about people and business. This approach has been instrumental in making the jump from construction design to data archiving.
Soon after founding Global Relay in 1999, it occurred to Roy that the email archiving service he was developing for construction firms was something the financial industry needed. With the collapse of Enron, financial regulators globally were imposing stringent compliance requirements for ensuring the integrity of records, and this extended to all forms of messaging.
Global Relay’s move into the financial world resulted from a phone call asking the National Association of Securities Dealers (NASD, now merged with FINRA) for help in developing the firm’s services for the financial sector. NASD offered advice on what the regulations required and this helped Global Relay develop its platform. The firm started working first with smaller financial organizations and learning from them, before moving on to larger ones, eventually working with the Chicago Stock Exchange. Global Relay now offers secure and compliant message archiving solutions to 22 out of 25 of the world’s largest banks.
Good wondered how Roy had managed to make the switch from building houses to running a highly successful technology firm, asking what particular skill set he possessed. Laughing, Roy admitted, “There was no grand plan to get here – just taking advantage of what you see unfolding in front of you, asking questions, and thinking through the circumstances you are in.”
Throughout the interview, Roy answered questions from a highly engaged audience, on subjects ranging from dealing with setbacks to facing competition from larger companies. Roy replied that he wasn’t concerned with larger companies moving into compliance messaging services. Global Relay has established itself as an effective subject matter expert by focusing narrowly on the financial sector. “A broad market strategy would dilute our value,” explained Roy. “Larger companies would have to develop their own internal culture in order to compete with Global Relay.”
He also fielded questions on exit strategies, pointing out that with zero venture capital funding, Global Relay is under no pressure to sell from investors seeking a return. Roy’s definition of success does not include selling to another firm, preferring to keep the company locally headquartered and contributing to the community.
When questioned about employee retention, Roy revealed that this is an area the company is continually working on, and that the organization considers employees and customers more important than management and shareholders.
Good then brought the interview to a close by asking the CEO to describe a typical day in his life. “A typical day in my life is not typical,” Roy said, explaining that he spends half his time traveling, trying to do as much of this in the winter to escape Vancouver’s rain. Working on Global Relay is an all-encompassing life experience, so growing the company takes a huge amount of commitment. Roy enjoys his outdoor Vancouver lifestyle, skiing and sailing in his limited spare time, and has learned to combine business with exercise. He often goes on North Shore hikes with his team, often conducting business interviews with external hires.
“There is nothing better than getting out into the woods and having a discussion,” Roy explained. “You learn more about a person in an hour than working with them for 4-6 months.”
To see all the CEO interviews from the 2013 CKNW Chief Executives Series, visit http://beedie.sfu.ca/events/2013-cknw-ceo-series/