Terri-Jane Yuzda


Matrikon Bucks the Trend

Freelance Columnist


All of us have heard about the Alberta Advantage. But the Edmonton Advantage? You better believe it, says Nizar J. Somji, P.Eng.

As president and CEO of Matrikon, Mr. Somji charts the upward path of one of the provincial capital's most noteworthy corporate successes. The technological sector, as a whole, has endured nearly three years of non-stop struggles, but Matrikon has kept right on truckin'.

An information technology company that sells and services its signature software products on six continents, Matrikon (MTK on the Toronto Stock Exchange) pleased shareholders in April by reporting record earnings for the second quarter.

Despite challenges created by the fluctuating Canadian dollar, Mr. Somji believes the company should remain on track throughout the current quarter. Meanwhile, Matrikon plans to add as many as 50 employees to its roster of almost 450.

Analysts often cite a richly diversified industrial client base and efficient governance as reasons for Matrikon's resistance to the woes afflicting its business rivals.

But Mr. Somji believes the city of Edmonton deserves a slice of the credit. "It's a good spot, for a number of reasons," he explains during a chat in his 18th-floor office above Jasper Avenue.

"The cost of doing business in Edmonton is low, even compared to Calgary. It's almost 20 per cent cheaper for office space alone."

He's equally enthusiastic about the high-quality grads who continue to emerge from the University of Alberta, the Northern Alberta Institute of Technology and Grant MacEwan College. Mr. Somji estimates between 60 and 70 per cent of his staff acquired their post-secondary training and education locally.

Work for Matrikon,
See the World

Thanks to Matrikon's long list of offshore customers, many of them are seeing the world.

"We have a U of A grad heading up our operations in Australia," Mr. Somji says, running down the list. "The fellow who runs our office in Bahrain is a U of A grad, the guys who run our Eastern Canada office, our New York, St. Louis and Houston offices - they all came out of the U of A."

Of course, Mr. Somji is another proud alumnus. He earned his M.Eng. in process control/chemical at the U of A, after taking his bachelor's in electrical engineering in England.

Now providing software solutions to a remarkably broad range of corporate clients, representing the automotive, mining, oil and gas, forestry and pharmaceutical industries, Matrikon started out almost 15 years ago as a one-man consulting operation, based in Red Deer.

"We were initially a service-oriented company," Mr. Somji recalls with a grin. "I wrote many of our first programs on DOS and Windows 3.1. Now our younger people can write code much faster than I was ever able to do."

Mr. Somji honed his practical skills during stints with both Dow Chemical and Nova Chemicals before he decided to fly solo. And he admits his technical background didn't necessarily equip him with the entrepreneurial pizzazz needed to build the company.

He met any shortfalls in that area, however, by adhering to a business adage: hire wisely.

"That was the breakthrough. We hired key entrepreneurs who created the marketing energy we needed," Mr. Somji recalls.

Many of those hires were fresh from campus. "That's what's so satisfying. You see people who started with us at a young age really making things happen for the company," he says.

"I go out on sales calls with them and I can see the entrepreneurial energy that drives them. It's fun to see."

Good News Keeps Coming
Of course, nothing's more enjoyable than informing your shareholders that revenues are robust and earnings are healthy. Since going public two years ago, Matrikon's been bullish on that kind of encouraging news.

In 2002 Canadian Business Magazine ranked Matrikon ninth among publicly traded tech companies, with rankings based on revenue and profitability growth. Last spring, meanwhile, Matrikon nailed two important Alberta Business Awards of Distinction, including the Premier's Award for Outstanding Achievement.

Why? No mystery at all, shrugs Nizar Somji. It's his people.

Home | Past PEGGs | PEGG Search | Contact Us