Zachary Douglas starts new role as MIP president
Well, that vision is about to become "real" with the appointment of Zachary Douglas, who, starting today, makes Hamilton history as he becomes the founding president of the MIP.
Mamdouh Shoukri, vice-president of research and international affairs, and a member of the selection committee to appoint the MIP president, says there's been a lot of work going on behind the scenes for several months now, but the appointment of the president will give the park the visibility it needs.
"The committee voted unanimously to appoint Zachary as the inaugural president. His previous experience in project management and co-ordination, real estate sales and leases and economic development make him the ideal person to move the park in the direction we had envisioned," says Shoukri, noting the MIP will operate as a separate entity, at arms' length from the university.
Douglas comes to the MIP from Saskatchewan, having served as a senior executive in both the public and private sectors. I had the chance to ask him about the MIP in general, about his new role, about the challenges and opportunities and how he plans to deal with both. Here's what he had to say:
What excites you about this new position?
Much of my career has been about business and economic development and the organizational development required to support economic growth. This position provides an opportunity to support growth in the Hamilton area through innovation and the commercialization of research. The unique challenges of developing a research park on a "brown field" site also intrigued me.
What do you believe are the greatest opportunities and challenges for the MIP?
The greatest opportunities lie in forging strong relationships between McMaster's research strengths and the business communities' need for new technologies and innovative new products and solutions to meet their customers' needs.
The greatest challenges lie in fulfilling MIP's mandate of stimulating knowledge-based economic development in Hamilton, while becoming a positive financial contributor to the university by providing a return on McMaster's investment and generating related developmental benefits and enhanced research opportunities.
How will you maximize these opportunities? How will you deal with the challenges?
There is a great team already in place. The interest and support in the public, business community and at the university is strong. The expectations are very high, but the ingredients for success are largely in place.
My job will be to help refine the vision and execute on it. My approach will be based on building internal and external project-specific teams to go after opportunities as they surface. These teams can cover a range from informal to formal public private partnerships sometimes known as P3s. The challenges can be met by maximizing the value of the land and physical assets as they are developed and by directly participating in
strong commercial projects.
How has your past experience prepared you to take on this new role?
My prior work experience involved executive management responsibility for Innovation Place which is a very successful research park owned by the Government of Saskatchewan and associated with the University of Saskatchewan. I was also very involved in the initiation of the Regina Research Park adjacent to the University of Regina which is just now hitting its stride.
This experience gives me a unique perspective on what it takes to make a park successful. I hope to apply the lessons learned, both positive and negative, from that experience to the MIP situation.
What will be your first order of business for the MIP?
The first order of business for me is to work with the MIP Board to finalize a decision on the "red brick" building. I sense that because of the time since the original announcement of MIP, everyone is eager to see concrete results and tenants moving in.
Much work has been done behind the scenes by Mamdouh Shoukri and Nick Markettos (along with several others from the university and the business community) to get things organized from a financial and structural point of view. I think we are now ready to make the park "real".
How will you engage the area's business community in the development of the MIP?
To a great extent, the success of the park will depend on the relationships it builds with the community at large but particularly with the local business community. Obviously, the property development and property management components of the business community will need to be engaged, but I believe we will need to go beyond that to build linkages with manufacturers and processors as well as the service providers and suppliers.
They can be a source of clients and tenants for the park as they grow their businesses as well as beneficiaries of the incremental business activity that the park generates. We will need to work hard to build these relationships at a number of different levels.
On a more personal note, what does this move mean to you and your family?
This will be a significant transition for our family. While I have traveled extensively and worked for brief periods outside Canada, we have never lived outside the province of Saskatchewan. Our two teenagers will be off to university very soon (perhaps McMaster), so my wife Carol and I are looking forward to getting to know a new city and community together. The reception and warm welcome I have received from everyone I have met is very encouraging. I am already exploring Hamilton and am very much liking what I find.