Seen & Heard at Canada's CEO Summit

October 29, 2023

Earlier this fall, CCI's co-founders Jim Balsillie and John Ruffolo convened Canada's CEO Summit in Ottawa.

The event brought together Canada's top chief executives for three days of unrivalled networking, dealmaking, and advice sharing about building powerful companies and securing long-term economic prosperity for Canada.

We can't bring you into all the conversations that happened around intimate CEO dinners or in meetings with government leaders, but we can bring you some of the highlights from what leading experts said on stage about innovation economy.

The keynote talk came from Sonos CEO Patrick Spence.

Sonos has been locked in a lengthy legal battle against Google over patent infringement on Sonos' smart speaker technology. Spence gave the audience his unique insight into how he views intellectual property strategy, and in particular how he thinks about the role of intellectual property strategy for an innovative company:


“A couple of things are really important: one is that you start now, and make sure that you're getting your intellectual property portfolio in a position to defend the opportunity, potentially monetize it, all those things, and be prepared for battle, in a way where you understand what you're trying to do.

“But I also think the other thing that's important is to be able to continue to innovate as a company and continue to do what you need to do. So I have a very small set of people that are focused on what we're doing on the intellectual property side. And then I keep that ring fenced from the people that are working on the next generation of our products. And that's where 90% of our energy and investments and all those things go. I do think it’s important not to let it consume the entire company. You need to keep innovating.”

In the M&A Uncovered panel discussion, Magnet Forensics CEO Adam Belsher, Magnet board member and Axonify CEO Carol Leaman and Questrade Chief Strategy Officer Romit Malhotra talked about navigating successful corporate dealmaking.

Leaman pulled back the curtain to talk about taking a leadership role in a complex deal when Magnet Forensics was acquired by a private equity fund earlier this year.

"It was tricky. It was very tricky. We had a situation where Magnet, as a public company, still have three very significant shareholders in Jim, Jad and Adam. And yet there was a population of public shareholders whose interests had to be looked after. And so, you know, navigating those dynamics was tricky at times.

"And as some of you may have read, we did have an activist shareholder who was not in favor of the deal. And so ultimately, Jim, Jad, and Adam, as a result of their ownership in the business, had to almost remain in the wings, on the sidelines, while what became the board, so to speak, was another independent director and me, who had to then manage the transaction itself. And so, you know, it was tricky to navigate, but it ended up in the right place. And I must say, it was a lot of fun."

CEO Adam Belsher joked, "For the record, she didn’t say that at the time."


Artificial Intelligence was a consistent topic of discussion at Canada's CEO Summit. During the AI Renaissance panel, AltaML Co-CEO Nicole Janssen, NuEnergy.AI CEO Niraj Bhargava and Canvass AI CEO Humera Malik talked about how technology leaders should think about AI adoption.

Nicole Janssen talked about her experience leading AI adoption, and how it impacts workers:

"One of the biggest challenges we see in organizations, around the adoption piece, is that end users fear AI. They see movies, they see news reports, that their job is going to be taken by AI. And that end user is so key to integrating AI — if they aren't behind it, they are going to be that engineer who stops that project from moving forward.

"So involving them in the outset of the development, making decisions about how AI can be integrated, is really important.

"But also, what we've found, we've worked with over 400 use cases in over 100 companies, and not one of them has resulted in job losses. What's happened is most of those individuals have just had an aspect of their job removed, and they've been repurposed to higher value work. So we're really not seeing the job losses that everyone is fearful of. Will there be job losses due to AI? You bet there will be, as a society. But just like with every new technology, there will likely be more jobs added to the economy because of the new technology."

The panel was billed as "Accessing Capital in 2023" with 6ix CEO Daniel Barankin, CNSRV-X CEO Alison Sunstrum, and FinanceIt CEO Michael Garrity.

But Michael Garrity gave a rundown of what he's expecting to see from investors in 2024, and the "sadness" potential for high-growth companies that don't have their finances in order:

"My prediction for 2024 — and I’m not in the prediction business, so please discount everything that I’m about to say. But if I had to predict where I think capital is going to flow next year, I think I sort of see a barbell as a picture.

"There’s increasingly already a trend towards focusing on early stage companies, because I think they're at a premium. They don't have stupid valuations. Maybe they think that they're 5 million pre-money or 8 million pre-money. But there's no one saying they're worth a billion dollars because some stupid venture capitalists gave them that valuation in the last round, in 2021. There's not as much delusion; we’re all entrepreneurs, we're delusional by nature, but there's less delusion in that part of the market. So I think there's an increasing amount of capital of that will flood back in to that part of the market — early stage, seed, Series A, Series A extensions.

"And I think that for companies lucky enough to be like ours, where you've got a good business, you're throwing off cash, you don't need any more money — the money that you're taking in is to scoop up all the delusional companies that are going to be on their knees, trying to just get any kind of recovery that they can't because they can't raise capital anymore. There's going to be a flood of dough, especially private equity and strategic dough.

"It’s going to flood into companies that are going to scoop up and consolidate the market because they're already in a healthy position.

"I think the sadness is going to be in that middle section, where you’re burning through dough, people told you that growing was a good idea and don’t worry about the bottom line. And then all of a sudden your friends at the party leave you when you run out of booze. That’s what it’s going to feel like. I think we’re in for sad times in 2024 for that cohort."

The final panel discussion of the day at Canada's CEO Summit featured Lightspeed Commerce CEO JP Chauvet, Aptum CEO Ian Rae, and former Wattpad CEO Allen Lau talking about CEO succession planning.

Allen Lau gave a heartfelt window into the process of selling his company to South Korean tech giant Naver. And he gave some advice for the CEOs in the room on how to think about succession planning:

"I would say CEO is the loneliest job, and CEO succession planning is the loneliest task in that job. I would also say that succession planning is more important than the succession plan. And then the last thing I would say is that the most part of the plan is to plan for the plan not going according to plan."

We'd like to thank our incredible partners who helped make these sessions possible at Canada's CEO Summit.


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