A woman scorned is a wonder to behold

tony1459Edit90X167.jpg By Tony Patterson

What is it said about a woman scorned? Hell hath no fury? That’s probably hyperbole. But you have to watch out when she’s not happy.

Shirley Westeinde was not happy when OCRI and OCEDCO merged. (For the benefit of readers who don’t live in Ottawa, more’s their pity, I will unravel the acronyms at the end of this article. Simply press More below.) That was eleven years ago. I was writing a column for OBJ at the time and I gave the merger a cautious benefit of the doubt. There were reasons that could be put forward in its favour and I allowed that “a takeover of OED by OCRI may be a good thing. There is a spirit to OCRI, a dynamic that will transform the economic development process for Ottawa, which has lingered in the doldrums lo these many years.
“OCRI rocks. It is a unique and precious creation, the envy of jurisdictions in Canada and beyond that are seeking the secrets of cluster building.

"With its ad hoc partnerships to address the challenge of the moment, its connection to community needs and interests, and above all its intensive, extensive, never-ending networking, OCRI is the dervish around which Ottawa has swirled into the capital of Canadian high tech.”
“My instinct was to take a swing at the union. I thought I saw a winner taking on a loser, risking dilution of its essence in the deal.”
I went on to list the reasons in favour but I won’t repeat them because my instincts against the whole thing were closer to the truth. Shirley Westeinde, who was on the board, was strongly opposed. She was sure the OCRI spirit would be diluted, despite best efforts to bring the two cultures together. She was bang on.
When Jeff Dale came out of Systemhouse to head the newly merged organization it was a huge grab-bag of programs, projects and people funded by three separate revenue streams, increasingly vulnerable to deflation from political and stakeholder pricks, and an acronym in search of a name. (OCRI was begun as a means to connect higher learning with high tech. It started as the Ottawa-Carleton Research Institute simultaneously with the glorious emergence of Silicon Valley North. Some came to believe that the acronym OCRI had a magical, mystical aura that the whole world was tuned in to. They managed to make that case when OCRI and OED merged. Neither one nor the other was to be submerged. The name would be changed, it was said, to reflect a “union of mandates.” But creativity dwindled, no new name was ever found, and OCRI became a handle with nothing to hold.)
Jeff Dale struggled mightily with it for eight years, then handed off to Claude Haw. Nobody’s done more to create businesses in Ottawa, as an entrepreneur and mentor, than Claude, both on his own account and as factotum for Terry Matthews. He did manage a remake, including an updated constitution, getting a new name to fit OCRI and shucking activities that were clearly inappropriate for an economic development agency. Then he resigned. I called to congratulate him, both for leaving on a high and for getting out fast.
Now they’ll be looking for a new CEO. That wasn’t mentioned by the incoming chair at OCRI’s AGM last Thursday. Claude’s resignation wasn’t public until Friday. I didn’t ask the chair whether he was aware at the meeting that the CEO would be quitting the next day. I’m curious, but of course it’s not important. What’s important is who the flickering torch gets passed to. I guess the call for candidates will be out soon. And I guess the choice of the new CEO will rest largely with the incoming chair, Jeff Westeinde.

Postscript for non-Ottawans
OBJ, the Ottawa Business Journal, has a storied past in Ottawa's media world. Founded by Bruce Firestone, who also brought the hockey-playing Senators to Ottawa against all odds and is now training entrepreneurs at uOttawa, it was restored by David Luxton, who built an armaments giant in Ottawa out of bits and pieces and also revived the world's largest tulip festival. It's now run by a trio of young pros who scooped it from under Transcontinental when that Quebec publishing giant, which had owned it for a decade, was preoccupied by other troubles.
OCRI started life in 1984 as the Ottawa-Carleton Research Institute>Ottawa Centre for Research and Innovation>Ottawa Centre for Regional Innovation (new as of May 2011). OCRI’s first president, Gerry Turcotte, went on after a dozen years to head the iconic Communications Research Centre, heart of Canada’s space and telecom research.
OCEDCO was the Ottawa-Carleton Economic Development Corporation and for a while before being swallowed by OCRI was OED, but I don’t remember what that stood for. Its final chair was Adam Chowaniec, an all-star high tech veteran. I think he favoured the merger mainly because he despaired of ever getting OED to work as it was then positioned under the thumb of the city and hoped that the partially independent OCRI might straighten OED out. Unfortunately it worked in reverse.
Westeinde is the family name of entrepreneurs in property development and management, land remediation and green real estate projects. Shirley and her husband John have two sons, Jeffrey and Jonathan. They all have companies running. Shirley is a Companion of the Order of Canada.

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