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Canada's predictability a hit with foreign companies

Wipro chairman Azim Premji

Peter Power/Peter Power/The Globe and Mail

When Bangalore-based technology giant Wipro Ltd. was laying out its global growth plans, the stability of Canada's economy stood out in a sea of turmoil.

That predictability is largely why India's third-largest software services provider decided to open a Canadian headquarters, with initial plans to hire at least 100 people in computer science, analytics and software development.

The company officially opened its doors on Wednesday in Mississauga, becoming the latest in a string of foreign companies to bolster its presence in Canada.

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As debate rages over foreign bids involving Canadian companies - from Potash Corp. of Saskatchewan Inc. to the Toronto Stock Exchange - Wipro's expansion reflects a quieter trend. Foreign direct investment in Canada - a measure of lasting investment - has ballooned 42 per cent over the past five years, according to Statistics Canada. And that growth spans sectors - from Barclays Capital in finance, to Google Inc. in tech, to Target Corp. in retail.

Long overlooked on the world stage, many companies are singling out Canada as the financial crisis subsides, drawn by the appeal of a stable economy, a diverse, well-educated population and a solid financial system that's underpinned with commodities that the world wants.

"It's very stable, and growing. It produces oil, which helps today in terms of having solid growth," said Azim Premji, Wipro's chairman, in an exclusive interview with The Globe and Mail at the company's new office. Sales in Canada more than doubled in the past year, even before the company ramped up plans.

"We're taking it seriously now," Mr. Premji said.

In an unstable post-recession world, Canada's very boringness - its predictability - is now viewed as a prize asset.

The attraction is clearly reflected in the number of foreign takeover offers in recent months, particularly in the mining and energy sectors. But takeovers aside, many firms just want to build their reach in Canada.

Google Inc. told The Globe and Mail this week that the company boosted its Canadian work force by 50 per cent last year, to about 200 people, and that it expects at least the same increase this year. Global executive search firm DHR International is adding to its head count this year, and plans to open a Calgary office. Chinese telecom maker Huawei opened Canadian headquarters last month in Markham, Ont., and plans to add 280 more jobs in Canada over the next two years.

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London-based Barclays Capital opened a new office in December and is bolstering its advisory business in mergers and acquisitions. California-headquartered LinkedIn launched a Canadian office last year.

The list goes on. For many companies, it's part of a global expansion after companies retrenched during the recession. But Canada seems to be getting more than its fair share. Deloitte, for example, a global accounting firm, wants to boost its global payrolls to 225,000 from 170,000 in the next five years. In Canada, though, it's aiming for much larger percentage growth - adding 5,000 new people to its head count from 8,000 currently, according to Su Grant, senior manager of recruitment strategy.

Growing interest in Canada from U.S. firms is showing up in help-wanted ads. Workopolis, Canada's largest online job board, says the number of billings from U.S. companies that advertised on its site rose 27 per cent last year from 2009.

Economists and currency strategists, too, are taking a closer look at Canada as investors become more interested. Tokyo-based Nomura Securities, for example, began covering Canada last spring. It cites Canada's relatively strong fiscal position and diverse commodities base as reasons for its increased scrutiny.

With files from reporters Iain Marlow and Omar El Akkad.

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About the Author

Tavia Grant has worked at The Globe and Mail since early 2005, covering topics from employment and currency markets to trade, microfinance and Latin American economies. She previously worked for Bloomberg News in Toronto and Zurich, writing on mining, stocks, currencies and secret Swiss bank accounts. More

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