Top 100 2017: How Avigilon Corp. rose from a fledgling security camera outfit to B.C.’s fourth-largest tech company by revenue

Avigilon CEO Alexander Fernandes doesn't plan to let lower-cost rivals derail his digital surveillance company's push to keep growing revenue

Credit: Robert Kenney

Fernandes founded Avigilon to bring digital video to the security industry

Avigilon CEO Alexander Fernandes doesn’t plan to let lower-cost rivals derail his digital surveillance company’s push to keep growing revenue

Alexander Fernandes takes issue with the proverb that you can learn from your mistakes. “I don’t see that as wisdom,” says the 48-year-old founder and CEO of Avigilon Corp. His preferred alternative: “Don’t make the same mistake twice.” With an almost scholarly knowledge of the bromides and mantras of business texts by authors ranging from Dale Carnegie to Napoleon Hill, Fernandes makes a convincing case that his alternative education has served him well.

Since launching Avigilon in 2004, he’s overseen its rise from a fledgling security camera outfit to B.C.’s fourth-largest technology company by revenue. The digital surveillance hardware and software provider has lost some of its lustre of late: its stock was trading at about $15 in late May, well below a high of $34 in 2013, and overseas upstarts have eaten into its market share. But the Vancouver-based company remains a top performer on the Toronto Stock Exchange, and revenue jumped 33 per cent last year.

Born in Montreal, the son of an accountant, Fernandes was obsessed with personal finance as a child. By age 12, he knew The Wealthy Barber well enough to pick apart its flaws. “I figured out at a young age that I’d be a multimillionaire,” Fernandes says.

To get there, he spent five years in the Canadian Armed Forces, studied computer and telecommunications electronics at Vancouver Community College and went on to work at a series of startups. After several exits—he always took equity instead of pay when possible—he reached his goal. “I woke up in my mid-20s, and I was a multimillionaire,” Fernandes recalls. “It happened much faster than I expected.”

In 1999, Fernandes founded his first company, QImaging, which built cameras for medical and industrial use. Three years later, he and his partners sold the B.C.-based business for $20 million. Flush with cash, Fernandes set to work on his next venture. The idea was simple: digital video camera technology had moved at warp speed in the early 2000s, but the security industry—one of the largest markets for such technology—was still dominated by analogue cameras.

Avigilon grew swiftly. By 2013, two years after the company’s initial public offering on the TSX, its market capitalization passed $1 billion. Then the growing pains kicked in. When Avigilon went public in 2011, its high-definition cameras had a technological edge over legacy competitors like Canon Inc. and few new rivals that could cause concern. That began to change in 2012 as low-cost offerings from Chinese players like Hangzhou Hikvision Digital Technology Co. Ltd. flooded the North American market.

Fernandes has met that pressure on price by emphasizing innovation. Since 2013, Avigilon has invested heavily in video analytics, securing patents for automatic licence plate recognition and face appearance search. The company has another advantage, too. With its Apple-like end-to-end product offering and its factories in Richmond and Plano, Texas, Avigilon is well suited to meet the cybersecurity needs of finicky clients. “To my knowledge, not a single piece of our hardware or software has ever been hacked,” Fernandes says.

But as always, his focus is on the bottom line. Fernandes points out that by reaching $126.2 million in revenue in the final quarter of 2016, which puts Avigilon at a run rate of $500 million for the year, the company achieved a goal he set out in his personal post-IPO five-year plan. He’s quick to share what he believes to be the recipe for success, learned all those years ago: “Perseverance and determination are two mandatory elements; most challenges are mental in nature.”