The complete story of my time at Invest Ottawa can never be told. I was witness to a watershed in this economic development agency’s history, which involved important personalities, political intrigues, and much more. Invest Ottawa was ground zero for these historic events, because this organization was and continues to be a strategic connection between governments, research institutes, mature tech companies, tech start-ups, and even international partners within Canada’s national capital, Ottawa. In other words, our organization was connected to every single powerful organization and individual you can think of with a presence in Ottawa. Furthermore, Invest Ottawa masterminded foreign missions in order to bring foreign tech companies to the national capital. All these activities were diverse and complex, but shared the common aim of accelerating economic growth and creating so-called “middle class jobs” in the Ottawa region.
While I cannot divulge Invest Ottawa’s secrets, I can provide deeper insight into what it means to be an employee in this economic development agency. To begin with, job titles are mostly irrelevant. Sometimes, the person with an unimpressive title will be given the most important assignments. While holding unimpressive titles like “research analyst” and “business analyst” for Invest Ottawa’s Investment and Trade Department (recently renamed “Global Expansion”), I ended up doing so much more than simply research. I had to recommend changes to immigration policy and consult with an immigration lawyer to make sure I was on the right track. I was expected to extract key insights from a 1598-page document on Canada’s trade and investment agreement with the European Union. That meant learning about harmonizing regulations, intellectual property, customs regulations, and labor mobility provisions – even though I had no formal education in any of these things. My biggest job, however, was when I had to write a comprehensive report on investment and talent attraction opportunities in Europe.
In September 2017, an earthquake hit our Investment and Trade Meeting. With his legendary bravado, Investment and Trade’s Managing Director Blair Patacairk announced that e-commerce Amazon intended to build a second headquarters with 50,000 employees in an unnamed city. He claimed that this was the most spectacular milestone in Invest Ottawa’s history – and he was right. Amazon is rightly considered the epitome of the hi-tech revolution for planning breathtaking innovations like hot air balloons which deliver restaurant meals to your door step and grocery stores without cashiers. We also realized that never before in Ottawa’s history did we succeed in attracting a company which created 50,000 new jobs. In short, we just had to convince Amazon to build a second headquarters in Ottawa. Ottawa was up against fierce competition, since Amazon’s decision not to mention any city in particular meant that every single Canadian and U.S. city with 1,000,000 people was bidding for Amazon’s headquarters. In the end, Invest Ottawa could not beat this competition, but we did succeed in putting Ottawa on Amazon’s radar. Amazon recently built a distribution center right here in the national capital – and my research into Amazon’s mergers and acquisitions activity and new technologies play a small role in making that happen.
So far, I presented my reasons on why job titles do not matter. No matter what job title you have at Invest Ottawa, you can never predict the requirements of your job or what you will have to learn. Next, I will talk about the importance of social networks to career development.
When I look back on my life and career in Invest Ottawa, I realize that human relationships are more important than post-secondary degrees and job titles. The job is a lifelong learning process, which involves being aware of your ignorance, failing quickly, and learning fast. To do these things well, you have to do two things: find the smartest people in your organization and learn as much as you can from them. The secret to my career development are the relationships – sometimes intimate relationships – forged with highly intelligent people, who I considered to be mentors. Blair Patacairk has always been a hero to me, because he convinced me to leave my comfort zone and challenge the boundaries of the possible. Along with Blair, I also tried to incorporate the best from a wide variety of other people – such as Alex Pugh (a legend within the organization), Adam Dewar and Ashley Mascarenhas (both intellectual giants), Dana Borschewski (an expert in managing client relationships and engaging in diplomacy), Sonya Shorey (a brilliant marketer), Katie LeClair (another promising marketer), Evan Blackburn (with deep expertise in tech), Caroline Croft (with deep business expertise), and many others I forgot to mention. Being able to value human beings and their innate talents and then emulate them is crucial to a successful career and probably to having a great life as well.
Jonathan Ruano DHaza
The Writer is an employee at Invest Ottawa.