July 8, 2019 3 months 1 week ago

Obituary: Pioneer, visionary and promoter of Silicon Valley North, John Reid

OTTAWA - Within the chaotic 24/7 news cycle, John Reid – the longtime president and CEO of the Ottawa-based Canadian Advanced Technology Alliance (CATA) – both got and sent the message that reporters need information and that he was a valuable source of it.

For journalists, like me, he was the reliable go-to guy for contacts in or the inside scoop on the latest high-tech developments. In turn, Reid never hesitated to post a CATA news release on a journalist’s Facebook page, like mine.

He understood communication is a dialogue, and was, in the words of his close friend and colleague, CATA board member Paul LaBarge, “the consummate networker,” who knew who he should reach out to and over what issue.

Ottawa’s Silicon Valley North had no better promoter than Reid and his skill as a human semiconductor who connected tech brains, business startups, angel investors and policy makers together in a cyber-symphony of innovation, opportunity and co-operation.

The unique sounds produced under Reid’s baton have been silenced following his sudden passing, at the age of 69 on June 24, while vacationing on a cruise-ship off Norway with his wife of three decades, Carol Beere.

However, the chords Reid struck during his 32-year career with CATA will reverberate from his legacy. His playlist saw him keeping pace with and championing cutting-edge, Canadian-made technology, such as the BlackBerry, and key Ottawa high-tech companies of the likes of Mitel, founded in the early 1970s by the legendary duo of Terry Matthews and Michael Cowpland.

Among Reid’s greatest hits were his belief in inclusivity, highlighted earlier this year in “The ‘Sara Kirke’ Declaration for Diversity & Women-led Enterprises,” a document he drafted in the name of whom The Canadian Encyclopedia describes as possibly the “most successful woman entrepreneur in 17th century Canada. Through the declaration, Reid sought to establish five guiding principles to both promote, and “accelerate diversity” and growth of women-led Canadian enterprises.

He also had the federal government’s ear.

When there was fear that the Liberals’ 2015 election-campaign commitment to put a cap on employee stock-option deductions would result in a tax increase in Finance Minister Bill Morneau’s 2016 budget, Reid convinced departmental officials and the minister of the benefits stock options have in recruiting top tech talent. The deductions were left intact.

“John was passionate about everything he looked at and in the sense of ‘We need to do the right thing here’,” said LaBarge, a founding partner of Ottawa-based national law firm, LaBarge Weinstein and a member of the CATA Innovation Council. “He was fair-minded; he was humane; he was humorous; he was enthusiastic. He would speak truth to power. But underneath all of that was a fundamentally good person.”

David Perry, an executive search consultant in the National Capital Region who served as master of ceremonies at the Reid-Beere wedding reception (held a decade after the ceremony), remembered his close friend as a bold, tireless and unpretentious, Birkenstocks-with-socks-wearing advocate for Canada’s tech industry.

“John never wrote a line of code in his life and never put a silicon chip together, yet he became this master visionary in technology,” said Perry, managing partner of Perry-Martel International Inc., pictured with Reid. “He’s a legend.”

Reid will be difficult to replace as the head of CATA, according to LaBarge.

“In terms of getting somebody who can fill that role the way John did, I don’t think that’s possible. That person would have to redefine the job and make it their own, which is exactly what John would have wanted,” he explained.

“The key will be to maintain the impact of CATA – maybe not in the same way, but certainly with the same values.”

A memorial service will be held for Reid in Ottawa on July 12.