When Sam Sebastian came to Toronto in 2014 to head Google's Canada operations, the American executive figured he'd likely spend three to five years here before moving to another post within the Silicon Valley giant.
Those plans have now been blown off course. On Tuesday, Oakville, Ont.-based Pelmorex Corp., operator of the Weather Network, announced the 46-year old Mr. Sebastian would become president and CEO, replacing founder and controlling shareholder Pierre Morrissette, 70, who becomes executive chairman.
"From the moment I started in business I always wanted to be a CEO," Mr. Sebastian said. "But I also fell in love with Canada in my three years here. The reality is my [two] kids are happy, [my wife] Kathy is happy, and the momentum in this country is pretty special."
Combined with the chance to work in the familiar digital media sector, "it was too good to pass up," he added. Plus, Mr. Sebastian's new office is an eight-minute drive from home – he is a neighbour of Mr. Morrissette's – compared with the long commute to Google Inc.'s downtown Toronto offices.
The high profile hire is an endorsement for Canada's tech sector. The country has been gaining notoriety and the attention of global tech giants, including Google, who have picked off some of the country's best and brightest, particularly in the hot artificial intelligence (AI) field. The Canadian government has responded by loosening immigration requirements to entice global tech talent to move here and committing funds to the AI sector. Still, the U.S. remains a draw for Canadian talent: A recent survey found 60 per cent of the graduating class of University of Waterloo's systems design engineering program had jobs in the U.S.
"This is a great statement [and] reminder that Canada is an amazing talent magnet," said Dan Debow, a Toronto entrepreneur and friend of Mr. Sebastian's.
Mr. Sebastian, a teen tennis star in his hometown of Columbus, Ohio, earned an MBA at Northwestern University's Kellogg School of Management and ran the real estate business for U.S. online classified advertising giant Classified Ventures before joining Google 11 years ago. During his time at Google Canada, he worked to ingrain himself in his new community. He joined the board of Tennis Canada, became a director of Kitchener, Ont., startup Bridgit Inc. and co-chaired the 2016 RBC Innovator's Ball.
He met with Prime Minister Justin Trudeau regularly and rubbed shoulders with leading Canadian CEOs, even though his rank within Google was well below theirs. At Google's splashy Go North tech conference in Toronto last fall, he talked unabashedly about his new home, evoking the country's history, geography and "electrifying" startup scene. "Sam was a terrific leader at Google and we're committed to building on his success," said Allan Thygesen, president of the Americas with Google. Mr. Sebastian will be replaced on an interim basis by Google veteran Sabrina Geremia.
Pelmorex is more than a dowdy pay-TV provider of weather information. The 28-year-old private firm, which generates $100-million-plus in annual revenue, has stayed abreast of shifting media trends: In 2000, it derived almost all of its revenue from broadcasting; today that share is 30 per cent, while web and mobile platforms account for most of the rest. Mr. Morrissette said he expects the transition to continue with the broad adoption of AI-enabled voice-based searches. "Multidimensional-faceted changes are taking place … Sam brings tremendous experience and expertise, [making him] the ideal guy to take Pelmorex to the next level."
Pelmorex has started using its troves of data to appeal to advertisers looking to launch time-sensitive campaigns. Mr. Morrissette said the company, which has operations in Spain, India and Britain, is keen to keep expanding globally, possibly through acquisitions.