Reflecting Upon 20 Years

Reflecting Upon 20 Years

Twenty years ago today, the name HighVail Systems Inc. was incorporated, and our company began operating from the dining room table at our home in Thornhill, Ontario. My cellphone was our main line, and I used my home computer, an outdated yet still functional hand-me-down printer, and a fax machine that I traded for a left-handed putter with my good friend Mike Jovanovich. That’s roughly how HighVail operated over the next two and a half years until we moved into our first office in downtown Toronto at 100 Adelaide Street West.  

But the story really harkens back to late 1998, when I was ostensibly forced to move with my family from our hometown of Montreal to Toronto, to be part of a rebuild of the business of my then-employer. After steadily increasing sales in my territory by more than 20X, the President decided in early 2002 that I was no longer needed, and abruptly let me go. Coincidentally (or not?), soon after my departure, their business began to falter, eventually going bankrupt. Karma?  

After doing some freelance sales consulting for the next few months, I landed a new sales role at Symcor Technology Solutions. Then, in February 2003, just 4 months after starting, I was informed that our division was being shut down and that we would all be terminated. However, they would need me to stick around a bit longer to help mitigate any extended responsibilities they had, for which I would continue to be compensated, including full benefits (so important to a family with two young children). Once that commitment was met, I would be free to continue the business, just so long as it was done solo, or as part of another company. No further Symcor affiliation was possible. Realizing the golden opportunity that had just presented itself, I, along with the lead technical guy (my original partner Glen MacDonald), started our company 60 days later.  

We wanted our clients and partners to know that we would always be there for them, whenever they needed us to be, and so HighVail, (short for high availability) was born.

100 Adelaide Street West; our first HighVail office.

Upon starting up, we wanted a name that would exemplify who we were, emphasizing our key strengths, as well as what we offered in terms of skill set and working relationships. We wanted our clients and partners to know that we would always be there for them, whenever they needed us to be, and so HighVail, (short for high availability) was born. Well, that and also the internet domain (and .ca) was available. 

The Bank of Nova Scotia (now Scotiabank) was our first and remains to this day our largest client. Having started conducting business with them in late 2002, we were able to leverage other industry relationships to supply them with the products they needed. This gave us the credibility to get both vendor and bank lines of credit, without which HighVail may never have gotten off the ground (thank-you to my good friend, Dan Di Teodoro at Access Distribution). Scotiabank was then and continues to be our financial institution of choice, for as my father has taught me: in business, as in life, you support those that support you.   

For this, I would like to thank all those with whom I am connected, personally and through social media, with special thanks to Susan Award, Daryl Poechman, Chris Glen and Steve Hawkins of Scotiabank for trusting and supporting us from the very beginning. And to all those too numerous to mention here, for your initial and continued trust, your (sometimes brutal) honesty, your partnership and most importantly, your friendship. To this day, you’ve all helped HighVail improve and grow stronger every day. 

Twenty years is truly a milestone, in business as in life. But like any great achievement, it’s rarely accomplished alone.  I’ve been very fortunate to be married to the love of my life for close to 39 years, without whose support, encouragement, and ability to get past all my idiosyncrasies, I would be nowhere. I’d like to similarly thank HighVail’s current and past team members:  Glen, who helped take us to heights we never dreamt possible, allowing him to retire early and live the life he and Nancy always wanted;  Laura (Glen’s sister and my “office wife”) who ran our operations impeccably (and kept me in line) for the first 15 years;  partners Krys Armatys, HighVail’s first technical hire, and now our COO, who’s been a critical and indispensable part of the business since 2005, Matt Siemens, James Radmelick, Jeremy Rojas and Nenad Rokic, who have all been crucial parts of our business for the last 12+ years. To them, the rest of the current team and everyone else who’s contributed to HighVail’s enduring success, a heartfelt thank you. I’d also like to throw out a special thank-you to Randy Malinsky, who’s been not only our accountant since day one, acting as our CFO when needed, my “consiglieri” and mostly my true friend and confidant through everything.  We and mostly I could never have done it without you by my side every step of the way! 

In closing, I want to acknowledge both my parents. My father, who was not only my mentor, but also my first boss teaching me many life and business lessons that I rely on every day. Unfortunately, he left us far too early to witness my marriage to Joanne, or the birth of our children, but I know he would be, and is, proud of what I and my three brothers have accomplished, personally and professionally. I always feel his presence, which has been a key driving force throughout my life. Equally, my mother, who is still going strong at 95 and continues to fill me with encouragement every day.  As I reflect today upon the last 20 years, I can’t help but smile, and feel both emotion and pride for all we’ve accomplished. Despite many bumps and bruises along the way, including these last three unforeseeable pandemic years, HighVail has both survived and thrived. We’ve evolved from being a reseller of computer servers and storage to a services-led “boutique” player in DevOps, Cloud and Automation solutions, that still sells hardware, just with a much stronger value proposition.   

There’s so much more I could say (and those who know me know I always have a lot to say), but my hope is you as readers get from this short post how proud I am of this company, and all associated with it.   

Here’s to the first, and the next, 20 years. Cheers! 


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