Business Management

Intel's Canadian Chief on the UK and His New Home

The UK and Canada have always had tight links. Although they are now in different trading blocs (the EU and NAFTA respectively) they share a language, monarch/head of state and of course, before confederation in 1867, Canada was a set of British colonies. As ever in these matters, the mother nation has not always been loved for every action but the countries remain on highly cordial terms and the ties that bind show no sign of loosening.

Graham Palmer has seen both sides. A Brit, brought up in the northern English town of Doncaster, Palmer has had a 26-year career at Intel. He spent seven years running the chip giant’s UK business until he migrated to Toronto 14 months ago to be Canada country manager. I spoke to him about the differences either side of the Atlantic in terms of business and technology. Having quite literally “weathered a pretty tough winter” Palmer, speaking these days with just a tinge of the local accent mixed with original Yorkshire lilt, says he is enjoying Canadian life.

“The first thing you spot is that there’s a great affinity between Canada and the UK,” he says. “People have family ties and they’re holidaying back and forth so you’re starting from a positive. From a personal perspective, my wife is Canadian so that helps and we were able to get passports for the kids — so it’s just me and the dog that are foreigners.”

London increasingly dominates the UK economy whereas Canada appears to be more balanced in terms of where wealth is generated. But Palmer sees comparisons between the English capital and Toronto, especially as each depends on financial services for sizeable chunks of their local economies. However, when it comes to selling datacentre tin, there are big differences.

“FSI is huge in London and Toronto is a large hub too but there are differences. In the City [London’s financial quarter] we’d lead on [server] power efficiency and performance [of servers] but space is not as critical a factor and energy costs are not a critical factor in Canada. It’s significant but it’s not talked about in the same way because there’s energy self-reliance.”

There are also macro-economic differences, most notably in the way the two countries handled the banking collapse.

“From a recession perspective, Canada weathered that really well: GDP continued to be positive and there wasn’t that massive dip there was in other countries, including the UK.”

The Canadian business culture is participative and open, Palmer feels.

“It’s quite a tight area. There are communities that have grown up and traded with each other for a long time so there’s a high level of interaction and that’s helpful. People are very welling to coordinate with partners. If I need to speak to Cloudera, Cisco or Dell or any of our partners, I can quite quickly get a meeting together. The business community very much engages with newcomers to the market. Toronto welcomes diversity. Immigration is very, very positive and it’s an absolute boiling pot of cultures.”

Although Canada, the second largest country in the world, dwarves the UK in land mass, it has only about half of its 63 million population. Also, population concentration in key areas means there are not the issues of selling to a highly dispersed population that the outsider (including this correspondent) might imagine as most Canadians live in the south, within driving distance of the US.

“Geographically, government is based in Ottawa; Toronto is that commercial piece with a concentration of financial services; and out west, Calgary is oil and gas. Then there’s Vancouver with government and healthcare and oil and gas. It’s a huge country but the population is concentrated and in Toronto in particular it’s much like London with a lot of modern, hi-tech building.”  

Part of Palmer’s role is in dealing with the big levers of business and, in terms of dealing with government and public bodies, Palmer says that the Canadian two-tier provincial and federal model makes it probably a little easier to access decision-makers than in the UK. He finds no great differences between UK and Canadian business culture but some significant variance in evolution of some segments.

“Certainly there are a lot of similar challenges but there are a couple of opportunities in the Canadian market. E-commerce is very underdeveloped. Most Canadians like to touch and feel their products and there’s a fledgling growth opportunity here. Amazon is not nearly as prevalent here as in the UK. You don’t have to travel very far to shopping malls but there are other benefits from the online shopping experience and it’s slowly changing.”

Palmer cites retailers and service provider Canadian Tire as a leader here and notes that Canada has one of the highest rates of broadband penetration so the upside potential is large. Data sovereignty is also a hot topic that is fostering the growth of cloud infrastructure services in the country, he says.

And while London has only in recent years made a bid to be seen as a serious tech hub, Palmer is full of praise for the business accelerator Communitech and Canadian tech entrepreneurs, notably those that have sprung up in the Waterloo, Ontario area where BlackBerry, Open Text, Descartes and many others were created. Intel has invested in, and works closely with, local firm Thalmic Labs, a wearable computing pioneer that markets an armband for gesture control.    

He believes Canada’s “strong fundamentals” make it a good prospect for growth. But he also notes that it’s a fine place to live with an extraordinary outdoors life.

“You focus on business all week and then you drive for two hours and its God’s own country, it really is.”


Martin Veitch is Editorial Director at IDG Connect


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Martin Veitch

Martin Veitch is Contributing Editor for IDG Connect

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