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Tuesday
Mar312015

Hunting tech talent

By James JacksonKurtis McBride, CEO of Miovision Technologies, says hunting for local tech talent — even if they’re already employed — is good for the local tech sector. James Jackson photo.
Chronicle Staff

All is fair when it comes to love, war and business.

It’s a mantra adopted by Kurtis McBride, CEO and co-founder of Kitchener-based Miovision Technologies and among the first tech executives in the region to openly admit he looks to hiring employees away from other companies to help fill his own ranks.

For the past two years or so, McBride has changed his recruiting approach to target the best and brightest in this region — even if they already have a job. Some may call it talent poaching, but McBride prefers to call it hunting.

Others have called it hunting unicorns in the search for elusive developer talent that fits their specific needs.

Rather than hurting the tech sector, McBride argues hiring the top talent of other companies actually helps strengthen the Waterloo tech ecosystem.

“When we talk about hunting or poaching talent, we’re not in the business of trying to rip people out of where they are. If they’re happy, that’s great,” said McBride, a University of Waterloo grad who started Miovision when he was one of the first clients at the Accelerator Centre when it first opened in 2006.

But if another company, like Miovision, draws an employee away from their job, it forces those other businesses to “look inside and figure out how to make it so I can’t,” he added.

“Ultimately that will make (Waterloo Region) better competitors on the global market.”

That means making your company a better place to work by providing a more challenging work environment, a friendlier workplace, giving employees more responsibility or other perks that may help retain talent.

McBride’s tactic is to build lasting relationships with talented employees in the region he may want to work with in the future instead of resorting to what he refers to as the “spray and pray” approach of posting a job online and sifting through the hundreds of resumes that flood in.

What prompted McBride’s change in hiring was when another company poached a couple top employees about two years ago. That led to a complete revision of company policies and the development of Miovision’s core values.

Those values include putting the customer first, reinforcing the idea that complacency is not an option, promoting a passion for success, and valuing individuals and empowering teams.

That approach has allowed Miovision, which specializes in providing accurate traffic counts and road volume data, to grow from a three-man team in a basement to a 75-employee company that has a sales office in Germany and operates in about 40 countries.

Over the past 18 months, Miovision has recruited an average of one employee a month away from other tech companies in Waterloo, and McBride encourages employees to discuss their work concerns or ways to improve their work environment as a way of preventing workers from being poached away from him.

When asked how many employees he has lost over the same 18-month period, McBride smiles and responds, “less than one a month.”

This isn’t the first time McBride has sparked interest in his hiring methods. Two years ago he offered a $3,000 “refer a friend” bonus for anyone who referred a software engineer to the company and who passed Miovision’s probation period.

Iain Klugman, chief executive officer of Communitech, which provides coaching, mentoring and other resources to tech entrepreneurs, agreed that cultivating the hyper-competitive nature of the tech sector is key to its success.

“You need to bring a business development focus to talent in the same way you do to selling your product,” said Klugman.

Waterloo has a strong tradition of barn raising and tech startups working together to raise the region’s profile around the world, and McBride doesn’t see talent hunting as running counter to that tradition.

“There’s a unique culture of people helping each other build their business … and I think (hunting) will help build stronger companies here,” McBride said.

When asked if other tech executives share his opinion of talent hunting, McBride said, “We have an understanding that all is fair in love and war.”

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