Not Afraid to Scale

Global Relay seeks to continue its run of year-over-year growth by strengthening each of its departments to improve the company as a whole

Global Relay serves more than 20,000 customers around the world, including 22 of the top 25 global banks. With 375 employees, the Vancouver-based company has doubled its revenue over the past couple years. While numbers are important, director of finance Koert VandenEnden knows that its people drive results. “Our CEO says, somewhat jokingly, that accountants and lawyers shouldn’t be left to run the business—you need visionaries on your team instead of people that just worry about obstacles,” VandenEnden says. “But you need to combine vision with execution—that’s where accountants and lawyers come in.” During a prolonged period of aggressive growth, he’s asking his team to develop new skills and drive results to improve the entire organization.

What convinced you to make the leap to Global Relay after many years with KPMG?
I love Vancouver and want to raise my growing family here. I saw this as a chance to be part of a core team rather than advising clients. I also saw the opportunity to be part of a team that achieves great things together by building great technology, and there aren’t many chances like this in Vancouver.

What’s the internal culture like?
It’s high performing, but it’s work hard, play hard. We have fun as a team.

Tell me about the transition to Global Relay. What are some things you’ve tried to accomplish in your first few years?
We’ve gone from 250 to 375 employees since I started. For many years, Global Relay evolved organically from its small tech, start-up roots. But once you reach a certain level, you need to grow in a new way. I had many tech companies as clients at KPMG, so I had learned and observed the good and the bad from them. I wanted to help Global Relay make improvements, especially in its finance department. That involves building the foundation to scale the business as it continues to grow.

“The business is doubling every couple of years, but our finance department shouldn’t. We should drive efficiencies by importing better processes and more capable systems.”

What are the big enablers that you find around scalability?
It’s people, process, and systems—all three matter. But our big goal became to improve processes at a faster rate than growth instead of merely keeping up with growth.

How do you do that?
I wanted to keep us lean in finance and accounting. Yes, the business is doubling every couple of years, but our finance department shouldn’t. We should drive efficiencies by importing better processes and more capable systems.

Is it difficult to step in and push for these changes at an established company like Global Relay?
Well, the changes are only necessary as a growing company’s needs change. As a small business, it makes sense to adopt an all-hands-on-deck strategy, but you outgrow that at some point. If you keep that approach forever, you lose accountability and efficiency because everyone thinks they have to do everything and then nothing gets done.

What’s the alternative?
We’ve assigned clear responsibilities, and we communicate well to make sure everyone at all levels in our team understands what they’re expected to do. That was a fundamental and necessary shift.

In 2009, Vancouver’s beloved Gastown Grand Prix bicycle race lost its sponsor. Global Relay stepped in with a multiyear committment to help revive the historic event in 2012. Today, the company’s employees volunteer to organize and operate the annual event that attracts roughly 25,000 spectators.

But how do you make sure that it works, and that the changes stick?
Through dialogue and by promoting collaboration. For example, we had a junior accountant who was a real wiz at Excel, so we had her teach some of us. But it’s really about communication. It’s about proper delegation and training. We get feedback, we alter our steps, and we make sure people understand the “why” behind what they’re doing.

What do you think others get wrong in this space?
I’ve seen that we’re sometimes quick to solve symptoms instead of root issues. I try to make sure we go deep to solve the root problem as well as the symptom. I also think it’s important to respect the work that others did before I got here. I’m not trying to step in and arbitrarily change things. I’m trying to build on the great work that’s already done and put us in the best possible spot.

Is creating change and getting buy-in difficult?
It can be, but I’ve seen that you decrease pushback by actually following through. I like to have quarterly meetings with my direct reports to find out what’s working and what they need help with and we hold biweekly meetings with our whole team. We look at what they committed to the month before, and that mechanism really helps me see if we’re executing on making significant, long-term improvements.

What impact can you have on Global Relay’s bottom line?
If we’re doing our job, then we’re in the right position to know the financial status of our company and be able to monitor and forecast results. We can give our executive team reliable and accurate information that they can use to make informed decisions.

What’s next?
We have a lot of growth objectives as a company, and it’s an exciting time for us. The most important thing I can do is make sure we’re growing—but in a controlled way. I know that with the right team in place we can keep executing and moving forward.