Eight company- and shareholder-elected members make up the Calian Group Ltd. Board of Directors. The board contributes to the strategy and governance of Calian. This “Meet the Board Blog Series” profiles each board member.
Name: Ray Basler
Titles: Member of the Board of Directors, Calian Group Ltd.
Year Joined the Board: 2005
Ray Basler LinkedIn Profile
Q: Tell us a bit about your education and career history, Ray.
RB: I graduated from the University of Saskatchewan with a Bachelor of Commerce (accounting) and then obtained my CPA designation. My first job out of university was with Deloitte and after a few years I joined SED Systems (previously the Space Engineering Division (SED) of the University of Saskatchewan) as finance director and promptly assumed a broader role including human resources, information technology, QA and project management. In 1990, the company was acquired by Calian (in Advanced Technologies segment today). Fun fact: SED Systems (~$25 million in revenues) was three times the size of Calian (~$8 million in revenues) at the time!
After the acquisition, I had a dual role. I remained finance director of SED Systems and took on the role of CFO for Calian as a whole. In 1993, I was part of the team that took the company public through an initial public offering (IPO). In 1995, eager to sink my teeth back into operations, I returned to SED Systems and in 1997, I was promoted to the position of president. In 2001, after the dot.com bubble had burst, I accepted an invitation from the chairman of the board to assist the Ottawa group to recover from the ill effects of some investments made during the dot.com era. Soon afterwards, I was promoted to the position of COO (2003) of Calian and shortly thereafter CEO (2005), where I remained for ten years until my retirement in 2015.
I was invited to stay on the board post-retirement and since 2020 have been considered a fully independent board member. In sum, the better part of my career was spent at Calian. I have had the unique benefit of experiencing and shaping this great company from the inside as well as from the board standpoint.
Q: What is the single highlight of your career thus far?
RB: It’s difficult to select just one because so many good things have happened over 30 years. In terms of a turning-point event, I would say taking Calian public through an IPO in 1993 would definitely rank up there. It provided funding for our growth, raised our business stature in the community and offered liquidity to our employees, many of which were shareholders at the time. It also allowed us to put in place an employee share purchase plan and a stock option plan for them to continue to benefit from the Company’s success. In the last five years, we did two additional equity raises which were instrumental to fund our acquisitive growth agenda. Looking back, taking Calian public was a key step in our corporate evolution.
From a personal perspective, the appointment to the position of CEO of a public company is certainly another highlight. It was the pinnacle of my career!
Q: You have been both CEO and a board member at Calian. What has been your greatest contribution to the company?
RB: Under my leadership as CEO, I feel our greatest accomplishment was winning the strategic health services contract with the Department of National Defence in 2005, with a realizable value of ~$500 million over ten years, or ~$50 million per year. This win put us on the map and was a key milestone in the evolution of what is now our current Health business unit. In fact, since then, it has increased significantly in value. Calian renewed it in 2017 for ~$1 billion over twelve years. This contract continues to provide the core offering as our Health group expands into other growth markets.
As a board member, surrounded by exceptional business leaders, I may seem like a bit of an anomaly having come from within. However, I strongly believe that my background and experience offer an intimate knowledge of Calian and its operations, which complements the skills and backgrounds of the other members of the board. I believe that this corporate knowledge brings a certain comfort level to the table.
Q: What are you most proud of from your time at Calian?
RB: It may seem funny to say this, but I am most proud of what I left behind when I retired as CEO: a company with a strong financial position, a significant backlog of work and a seasoned management team to execute it. I strongly believe that when you retire, it’s not only about what you have accomplished but also what you leave behind for others. On that note, I am extremely proud of where Kevin and the team have taken the company since my retirement, proving that succession planning is a key ingredient to long-term success.
My forte is finance. My mantra is “controlled profitable growth”, meaning I do not believe in growth for the sake of growth. It must be achieved in a risk-aware and disciplined manner and must provide profits and cash flows to reinvest back in the business for growth and innovation as well as provide a return to our shareholders. Even today, when I sit in board meetings, I can see that discipline showing through, whether we are discussing acquisitions, innovation or even day-to-day operations. Our recent Q1-23 results represented the 85th consecutive quarter of profitability. This track record all started back in 2001 when I first led the post-dot.com recovery at Calian. It’s comforting to know that the business lessons we learned back then have not been forgotten.
Q: If you were chatting with a new investor, what is the #1 thing you would tell them about Calian?
RB: I would emphasize the theme of “strength through diversity”. We have four distinct segments and each one is well-managed, generates profit and cash flow and is achieving long-term growth. History has shown that when one segment has headwinds or setbacks, the others more than compensate for it. We call it our four-piston engine. While this diversity adds complexity, it also adds stability in our results. Just look at the performance of Calian compared to its other technology peers in the past year. We did very well against them and our diversity was a big part of this. Today, Calian is at a size and maturity level that we can accomplish effective cross-selling within segments and across segments providing an opportunity to grow organically that other pure-play companies don’t have. I believe our diversity will always be one of our strongest assets.
Have you read the previous articles published in this blog series?
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