Whitecap Canada: “The Leading Edge of a Wave on Water”
By: Jesse Champagne
Established in 1997, Whitecap set out on a mission to become a custom software developer and systems integrator focused on emerging Internet-based technologies. The vision of the company was to become renowned for its technical prowess, the skills of its people, with a keen focus on quality, high performance, secure solutions, and to bring real added value to the relationships and work they do on behalf of their clients.
We spoke with Robb Carmichael, President & CEO of Whitecap, and asked him a few questions about his company. The software and web-based application industry in Canada is highly competitive. As a mid-sized software developer, Mr. Carmichael believes that their success has always been about thinking differently than their competition.
“In the early days, there was a huge amount of pressure to grow fast in order to establish your company in this space at the expense of profit. It was all about market share and becoming one of the largest companies to do this kind of work – profit be damned! Our model was very different from day one. With my business background, I was very much a strong believer in establishing sound, fundamental financial metrics and putting profit ahead of growth as the priority. We’ll grow organically from within based on our ability to be successful, and without any help from third party sources of financing…I’ve never borrowed a cent to grow this business… I’m happy to share our financials with any customers who ask,” says Robb. “Even though we are a privately held company, I love to show our financials because it’s a really great success story and demonstrates how well the company has been managed over the years.”
Tasked with bringing the company through several technological ‘ages’, Robb stressed how important it was for his company to be able to change with the times.
“If you are not able to adapt quickly to change in this business, you will die. Change or die. You have to stay current with technology. A whitecap is the leading edge of a wave on water. Technology also comes in waves. Whitecap very much mirrors its name, which is always to be on the leading edge of these waves of technology. The early days were all about building websites. As hard as it is to believe, most companies did not have a web site at that time. Then companies wanted e-Commerce shopping sites, integrated web applications, mobile app development and today a lot of our focus is on cloud computing. You are getting different waves of technology coming at you constantly and you have to change, evolve and adapt to that or you will fail as a business,” he says.
Another area where Whitecap differentiates itself from the competition is their group of loyal employees. Their turnover rate is less than 4% per annum, a phenomenal number by any measure. How do they achieve this? The answer, says Robb, is simple: Whitecap is a fun and interesting place to work that rewards its people for their contribution.
“One of the fundamental founding principles of the company is that we have always prided ourselves in treating our people with utmost respect. If we can provide our people with challenging and interesting work, in an environment conducive to new experiences and personal growth, while recognizing that all people want to contribute in the most positive way, we will indeed have created a special place for people to work and grow.” He elaborated, “We do things that are a little bit unique for a privately held company, especially a company of our size. As an example, we provide profit sharing, which is pretty unheard of for a company of 35 people. I strongly believe that it’s the whole company that makes us successful. It’s not me or any individual, it’s the whole company, the sum of all its parts. Every year that we are profitable—and we have been profitable every single year since 2001—we take a portion of our profits, divide it out and share them with everyone in the company. That way everybody participates in the success of “their” company.”
In addition to profit sharing, Whitecap also offers bonuses to its employees.
“When we’re doing really well in a given year, we often payout ad hoc bonuses. People get really excited about that because it’s not something they count on. We have been known to offer bonuses as many as 2-3 times a year.”
Outside of monetary compensation, Whitecap is also a firm supporter of the mantra “Work Hard. Play Hard.”
“We really enjoy our “Whitecap Fun Days!” … This past summer we closed the company for a day and rented five yachts out on Lake Ontario… We went salmon fishing, there were prizes, and at the end of the day there was a big dinner and award ceremony to celebrate our catch and our team. This Christmas/Holiday season we are taking our whole staff, as well as their spouses and significant others to cooking school.”
In a highly competitive market, it is these extra measures that ensure that Whitecap remains at the forefront of the industry.
“You have to remunerate people fairly. You obviously have to be competitive in that regard. Adding competitive remuneration along with profit sharing, bonuses, recognition and fun helps to maintain excellent staff. These are the kinds of things that really differentiate our company and allow us to have such a low turnover rate.”
When asked to look into a crystal ball, Mr. Carmichael was confident that the future would be very bright for Whitecap.
“We have a large enviable installed base of loyal customers which include some of Canada’s largest companies. Our installed base crosses all industry segments including, energy, financial, not-for-profit, healthcare, retail distribution, real-estate and entertainment. When you combine that with our plans for geographical expansion to Calgary in the next year or two, we feel that we are in a position to double in size over the next 5 years… Calgary and Western Canada represents a fantastic new opportunity for us. There are a lot of oil and gas companies there that are underserviced for the kind of work we do. With our established reputation as a quality software developer and systems integrator who provide, secure, high performance custom software applications and SharePoint portals, we are poised for success there. We also haven’t ruled out acquisition as well.
The future is indeed bright for Whitecap and they will no doubt continue to ride the crest of the ever changing waves of technology into the future. They will do so with the skills and core competencies that have brought them the success they have enjoyed to date, all while having fun of course!