Lessons from the truly courageous

Learn from some of Canada’s top private businesses

As Canada’s largest professional services advisor to private clients, we are passionate and committed to your future success – always looking ahead to anticipate your needs and help you prepare for any unforeseen challenges.

We know that the journey to success requires strategic decision-making and appreciating the potential that each opportunity brings. To that end, we have asked some of our most courageous companies to share their success stories.

It is our sincere hope that these stories will encourage you to achieve your own business goals. Let us know how we can help you get there.  

Cowater International Inc.

The courage to grow

It all started on a canoe trip in Algonquin Park, when three friends shared a vision of starting a consulting practice to help developing countries thrive.

Thirty years later, that vision has developed into a leading firm in international development project management. Cowater International Inc. implements projects to improve the public, social, economic, and infrastructure challenges in developing countries. Headquartered in Ottawa, Cowater has executed over 400 projects in more than 65 countries, from Nepal to Malawi to Indonesia.

The privately owned consulting firm undertakes about 10 to 12 new projects per year, says its current president and CEO, David Baron. Each takes about three to seven years to complete and employs from five to 100 people in each location, depending on the scope.

Cowater’s clearly doing an excellent job. It’s received numerous awards, both local and national, and recently added another badge of honour: a 2017 Best Managed Companies Award, which recognizes privately owned and managed companies that demonstrate exceptional business performance. The award is even more remarkable because Cowater earned it the first year the company applied, a rare event.

Specifically, the firm was recognized for its impressive growth over the last few years, its global presence, and how it attracts and keeps talent. It was also heralded for how it approaches risk: a rigorous vetting process coupled with a healthy amount of courage to help it determine which contracts to pursue—and which to walk away from.

“It takes a tremendous amount of management courage to continue to go into new places--some of the most challenging environments in the world--to help these countries develop.” — David Baron, president and CEO, Cowater

The value of coaching

As part of the Best Managed program, every company has access to a coach from both CIBC and Deloitte. Cowater’s management team enthusiastically committed to the coaching process, embracing the opportunity to examine what it’s doing well and what it could reposition to get better results. For example, the team discovered during coaching from Deloitte Private partner Dan Dore that it could improve its maternity-leave program to make it even easier for professional mothers to get and stay in leadership positions. As a firm with an improvement mindset, it’s already in the process of implementing that change and more.

“It was more than filling out an application, that’s for sure,” Baron said. “We got something out of it.”  

Cowater has had its fair share of challenges, especially opening offices in developing countries, but meets them head-on. What words of advice might the company have for others?

“Growing in a global market that’s getting increasingly competitive on a global scale is not easy,” says David. “You have to be on the forefront of the market to survive and thrive.” That starts with having the right people, and using modern technology systems that will work around the world.

For a company that began on a canoe trip, Cowater has successfully navigated an impressive number of oceans to help other nation's progress.

Read more about this 2017 Best Managed Company:

“Taking care of our people, understanding that people are the foundation of this company, and treating them right (…) is our HR strategy. It also gives us the courage to change the world.” — David Baron, president and CEO, Cowater