Young Atlantic Canadians shouldn't have to leave home to find jobs: IBM exec

HALIFAX – The thousands of young people graduating from Atlantic Canada’s colleges and universities every year shouldn’t have to look for work outside the region’s borders now that technology has made it so much easier for the world to come to them, says Dino Trevisani, president of IBM Canada.

While it’s true the region continues to lose young people to out-migration, IBM’s decision to create a series of entrepreneurial hubs with the help of provincial governments, colleges and universities has helped stem the tide of lost talent, Trevisani said in a speech Monday to a group of academics, business leaders and politicians gathered at the Halifax Central Library.

“You have 20,000 graduates coming out of colleges and universities every year, and that’s music to our ears when we hear about that kind of talent,” he said. “What better environment to work in than to look out at the bay and participate in the culture, the history and the beauty of this environment — not to mention the lobster. That’s what people are looking for. They’re looking for that lifestyle.”

Trevisani, who is originally from Hamilton, Ont., said IBM’s Client Innovation Centre in Halifax, which opened in 2013, serves as a good example of how the best talent doesn’t always gravitate to the big cities.

When the centre opened, it had 70 employees and three local clients. A little over three years later, the centre employs 500 people serving more than 30 clients from around the world.

“That centre is the best performing delivery centre for IBM in the world,” he said. “That’s where our market is. It’s the world. And we want to serve that market from right here with our talented people.”

He said the workers in Halifax are young, well-educated, loyal to the company and well paid.

“They want to stay here and be part of the community,” the senior executive said. “I’m sitting in Toronto saying, ‘They don’t need to come here.’ We can create jobs and opportunities for them there.”

Trevisani also pointed to the company’s cyber security research and customer support centre in Fredericton, which was established in 2011 after IBM acquired Q1 Labs. Its QRadar security intelligence platform was developed in Fredericton, in partnership with the University of New Brunswick.

The acquisition prompted IBM to form its security division, which has grown into a $2-billion business employing 7,500 researchers, developers and security experts in 36 locations worldwide.

“QRadar is the hottest cyber security product in the world — and it’s built in Fredericton,” said Trevisani.

The Fredericton office started with 40 employees. It now has 400.

Trevisani also cited top-notch work being done in St. John’s, N.L., at the Centre for Health Informatics and Analytics, which was developed in partnership with Memorial University of Newfoundland.

Trevisani’s 28-year career at IBM has included stints in finance, business management, sales and marketing and global executive assignments. He holds MBAs from both Queen’s University’s School of Business in Kingston, Ont., and Cornell University’s Johnson School of Management in Ithaca, N.Y.

He told the crowd his parents left Italy and arrived at the Port of Halifax to start a new life in Canada in 1952. His mother picked fruit and later worked as a cook, and his father worked at the Stelco steel mills in Hamilton.

“I wish I could have stayed in Hamilton and had a career there,” he said.

When he was hired in early 2015 to oversee IBM Canada’s 14,000 employees, he said he noticed that far too many Canadians were having to uproot themselves to succeed in high-tech.

“My ambition, when I came here, was to change that,” he said. “That’s been my inspiration.”

He said most Canadian universities are doing their part to help, and most provincial governments have stepped up to do the same.

As for IBM, he said the company is committed to building entrepreneurial networks by making technology available to universities and colleges, giving students potential access to global markets.

“That way, they never have to leave Canada … That’s my vision and that’s my aspiration.”