Global Relay CEO and Founder Warren Roy talks about technology, taking a leap of faith and the key factors to business success.
by Michelle Santos
“It came to me at nighttime,” reveals Warren Roy, CEO and founder of Global Relay, referring to the moment he coined the name for his firm. “I’d thought about it for six months.”
The moniker says it all. The Vancouver, British Columbia–based technology company—which specializes in compliance data archiving, electronic discovery (e-discovery), mobile messaging and collaboration—is indeed global, with offices in New York, Chicago, Vancouver, London and Singapore. Servicing more than 17,500 customers worldwide, its clients include small to large broker-dealers, hedge funds, investment advisers and public companies, as well as 22 of the world’s top 25 banks and two public exchanges. The firm uses mail “relay” servers to collect critical information from all over the world and archive it back in its data center in Vancouver.
And to think, it all started with computer-aided design (CAD) drawings and a book on network protocols. With a strong background in home design and construction, Roy recognized the architecture, engineering and construction industries’ need for CAD file management. Although he had no experience in the technology field, after reading Using TCP/IP by John Ray in 1999, understanding how the Internet worked and finding this new frontier to be “a really interesting space,” he took a leap and founded Global Relay.
Fast-forward four years and the opportunity to service the financial sector presented itself following the Enron Corporation and WorldCom scandals, as well as the U.S. Securities and Exchange Commission (SEC) mandates to financial institutions to archive their correspondence. “We had the perfect technology for the finance sector and we jumped into it,” Roy recounts. Today, Global Relay archives e-mail and a variety of other message types 24 hours a day on behalf of 70 percent of all the U.S. hedge funds and 40 percent of all U.S. broker-dealers. The company also captures the public instant messaging of approximately 20,000 traders in the financial industry.
Roy acknowledges the positive impact that Canada’s neighbour to the south has had on his business. “Our whole business was built selling initially to the U.S. market, and we had enormous support from New York–based firms; so today, the majority of our revenue comes from Manhattan. Americans have been exceedingly good to our company. Truly, the biggest opportunity in business and technology is in the U.S. They love entrepreneurs and the underdog. They will give you backing and support more than any country. I personally love New York because it’s the global centre of finance.”
That’s not to say doing business in Canada doesn’t have its own advantages. Having its new, state-of-the-art data center situated in North Vancouver enables Global Relay to ensure its European and Asian clients comply with their respective privacy laws. “To the best of my knowledge, Global Relay is the only non-American technology vendor in the compliance space that services the financial sector globally,” Roy states. “While we do the majority of our business in the U.S., we have to keep data in Canada to meet global privacy laws.”
While other technology companies choose to outsource data storage, Roy and his team opted to keep this service in-house. “Our requirements and our customers’ expectations warrant that we control the entire ‘technology stack’ and be ultimately responsible for servicing it,” Roy explains. “So everything is within our control. No third parties. We’re accountable.” With the magnitude of reliance on Global Relay’s services, the company boasts of servers “designed to never go down.”
Global Relay’s data centre is also certifiably green, thanks to its British Columbian address, home of hydroelectricity, which powers the facility. “Our data centre is the greenest data centre ever built anywhere,” Roy declares. The data centre has also adopted flywheel uninterrupted power supply (UPS) technology to help ensure power in the event of an outage, doing away with the harmful lead/acid batteries other centers typically rely on. Designed to European power standards, it runs higher voltage than North American electricity, thus bringing less copper to the racks. Evaporative cooling reduces 50 percent of electricity usage. These innovations add up to a zero carbon footprint for the data centre.
Building the data centre is one of Roy’s most rewarding and interesting projects to date; it was also a top priority for Global Relay over the past three years. And it’s only the beginning. While Global Relay already has a growing customer base in the areas of insurance, health care and manufacturing, the firm is expanding into other verticals, fulfilling an industry-wide need to safely unify, store, access and leverage data, from anywhere. As Roy puts it: “What vertical doesn’t need secure data managing, archiving and storage?”
For 2014 specifically, the firm will focus on establishing major operations in New York and London to fully capitalize on the financial market. “We’re talking a minimum of 12,000 square feet of commercial tower space in midtown New York and 5,000–8,000 square feet in London—room for 100 employees in New York and 50 in London—over 2014 and 2015,” forecasts Roy.
If the design of Global Relay’s Vancouver headquarters is any indication of what these future employees can expect, it’s safe to say they will look forward to coming to work every day. Roy is an advocate of optimal, enjoyable workspaces, ones that reflect a company’s brand and image. Drawing from his immense experience dealing with global banks, he elaborates on the importance of creating an environment that projects both expertise and trust, and fosters employee engagement. “Your customer’s impression starts when they first open your door,” he explains. “What does your facility look like? How do people speak? Present themselves? Your customers rely on you, so you have to be at their level. Global banks rely on their vendors to make them competitive in the marketplace. If any of our customers don’t feel comfortable meeting with us in our facilities and don’t believe we’re investing in our future and are here for the long term, they won’t likely do business with us.”
One look at Global Relay’s Vancouver office design—a modern, open-space layout that encourages transparency and collaboration—and it’s apparent Roy and his team invested considerably in creating a space that maximizes productivity while promoting employee satisfaction. Case in point: Roy recently hired a personal chef so staff would have access to gourmet meals throughout their workday.
But Roy’s employee engagement strategy extends far beyond catered meals. Recognizing that its employee base is its most valuable asset, Global Relay invests heavily in the professional and personal growth of its employees, putting its top performers on a “global education track” by providing them with the business fundamentals locally, and then relocating them to one of the firm’s global offices—essentially sending them on their own “global relay.”
According to Roy, that is the best way to learn business and elevate one’s value. “I learned the majority of what I know in business being on the road and working within large corporations, mimicking their processes and methodologies,” he shares. “I always tell new graduates in Vancouver: ‘Move abroad. Go to New York City, Chicago, London, and don’t think twice about it. That’s where your education begins.’ Employers are looking for people with global experience, because every company aiming to be successful is going global. And ultimately, your experience, combined with your education, is what gives you value in the eyes of your employers.”
Colin Scarlett, senior vice president for Colliers International in Vancouver, has experienced firsthand the benefits of hands-on, real-time learning in the company of Roy and his team: “Having worked with Global Relay for close to 10 years on so many projects, I’m fortunate to have developed a close, personal relationship with the executive group. This relationship has afforded me the unique opportunity to gain a deep understanding of the business, which ultimately translates into being able to provide real estate solutions based on business drivers.”
Practicing what he preaches, Roy himself is on a never-ending learning program. At the time of the interview, Roy was getting set to embark on an eight-week trip to London and New York. First and foremost on his itinerary was to gather additional best practices that he can integrate into Global Relay’s operations. “The more time I spend abroad, the more information I bring back, and the better technology we can build to service our global customers,” he explains.
Indeed, bettering and furthering its technology offering is a primary and ongoing goal for Global Relay. The company invests more than $1 million every month in software development alone.
It has been, to say the least, a memorable and lucrative journey for Global Relay, now entering its 16th year of operation. The firm’s slew of plaques and trophies attests to its formidable success, with awards ranging from a top 100 spot in Profit 500—an annual ranking of the 500 fastest-growing Canadian companies—to Community Engagement and Person of the Year (which recognized Roy) awards from the British Columbia Technology Industry Association (BCTIA). And that’s just in 2013 alone. Most recently, Roy and Global Relay’s president and general counsel, Shannon Rogers, received Ernst & Young’s 2013 Pacific Region Entrepreneurs of the Year honours in the Business-to-Business Products and Services category.
Looking back on the path he took to get where he is today, Roy reflects on the importance of capitalizing on one’s skills and the continual impact of technology on business. “You never want to start over with something ‘cold.’ Instead, extend your skills,” he advises. “And I think anyone age 35 or older has had technology change their life in a significant way, and it continues to do so. So you always want to leverage your technology skills. And of course, you have to do things that are fun,” he adds.
Amidst all the accolades and accomplishments, the aspect of which Roy is most proud is Global Relay’s economic impact on its place of operation. “The most important thing is the number of good jobs we provide in the city, what we’re doing for Canadians and British Columbians,” he explains. “As a Canadian firm, we’re socialist-thinking. We don’t bet it all on profitability, but on doing the right thing by our staff.”
After all, Roy says, creating and keeping the right employee base is a prerequisite to a lucrative business: “If you don’t have capable, skilled, talented, loyal employees, you will never succeed.”
This article appears in Colliers International's Winter 2013/2014 edition of Knowledge Leader Magazine.
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