Aspire to Tech: CTO, Cymax Group

Career Spotlight – Brad Kent

What is your role? What is your title? Where are you located?  How long have you been doing it?

I am the Chief Technology Officer at Cymax Group. I’ve been here for about 2 years. My role is to lead every aspect of technology at Cymax Group, which is a big part of our company. I handle everything from the laptops our employees use, cyber security, developing and improving our products, Freight Club and Channel Gate, to things like artificial intelligence, which we’re really leveraging to grow and optimize our business.

I’ve been in the analytics and technology space for over 20 years now. As a company, we’re very proud to have our headquarters in BC, and to continue to strengthen the BC Tech community.

What makes your job interesting?

It’s certainly never boring! There are 3 things that stand out. The first is that, intellectually, it’s engaging work. We are solving complex problems that few companies must deal with. For example, we have hundreds of thousands of furniture SKUs, that we sell across multiple different marketplace channels. We need to set a price for every single product that’s optimal for the product. That’s a really complex optimization problem, mathematically. I’ve always found myself drawn to solving those kinds of problems, and I think that’s something that we like to do here.

The second thing that I find interesting about working at Cymax Group is the people I get to lead. We’ve got data scientists, data engineers, product managers, network administrators, and software developers. Being able to support their careers, and help unblock them when they’re stuck and help them to be successful is really exciting.

Lastly, I’m a huge believer in Canadian tech. I love Canadian tech. When I was growing up, we were talking about Brain Drain – the phenomenon and fear that we were losing all our talent to the US. So, I am really proud to see Canadian tech and Cymax Group is a great example of that. I want to see Cymax Group get to Unicorn status of a $1 billion valuation.

What is the most fun? What is the most challenging?

I think the thing that’s different about Cymax Group is the immediacy with which you can go from ideas to implementation. I’ve worked in a lot of other places where there’s a very long runway. Some businesses just take a long time to affect change, whereas we can take an idea and implement that within a matter of days and see the results – see how it’s changing the bottom line. I love being entrepreneurial, and we have a company culture that promotes and encourages us to be.

The most challenging aspect is that there’s a universal truth that in technology there is more work than you’ll ever be able to do. The demand always outstrips the supply. I think there are so many great ideas, and there’s so much that we have in our vision that we want to do. There are so many things that we want to push on from a technological perspective to improve our employees’ experience, our vendors’ experience, and of course our customers’ experience.

It’s balancing all these competing priorities and trying to make sure that you’re picking the ones that are going to deliver the biggest ROI.

How does your role help drive the company’s success?

Technology needs to be at the center of everything that we do – this is something we agree on at Cymax Group. We will win, and we will differentiate, and we’ll be better than the competition because of our technology. We’ve grown a lot over the past years and remained adaptable. Our focus right now is on innovation, taking advantage of machine learning and making an investment in tech.

In 2022, we were named on the Team True North ranking of top performing tech firms that are on track to get to $1 billion. Last year our shipping platform Freight Club was ranked #32 for rapid revenue growth in Deloitte’s Technology Fast 50. We’ve got momentum. We’ve got great ideas, and we’ve got the intellectual capability to execute them. Tech is really going to be at the heart of automating the complexity in e-commerce, and that’s how we’re going to drive success for the company long term.

What does a typical day look like for you? What do you actually spend your time doing?

In the morning, I usually start by going through our reporting. We’ve got an amazing analytics team. There are so many metrics, and there’s so much complexity in what we do that we have to look at our business in very fine detail. So, I’ll go through and look at our sales and margin data as well as some of the technology and operations reporting to get a sense of the pulse and see how we’re performing. I spend a lot of my time in meetings, usually working on large-scale transformation projects – big bets that are going to propel us forward. I spend time coaching and supporting my direct reports, either by unblocking them or talking about career development. A lot of time prioritizing requests and trying to understand requirements, and just trying to make sure that we’re being efficient about how we’re tackling our backlog of different requests.

I’m usually thinking about longer term areas that we need to be working on, thinking about team structure, thinking about technology, corporate strategy, identifying areas that we can improve and creating ideations for the next level of a particular process or a capability that we have.

Tell us about your career history?

I would say I have an eclectic background. When I was graduating high school, I had a choice between going into computer programming or finance, and I ended up doing both in the end with my career! I actually chose finance and got a bachelor’s from Wilfred Laurier University in Business with an accounting and finance focus. I got my certified management accounting designation, which was really great, because that gave me a lot of fundamental understanding about how to think about business, and value creation. That is a skill that’s incredibly valuable to have for a CTO, because you get to know how value is created. You get to know the ROI, you get to think about business chasing.

I then quickly moved into analytics, leading areas like analysis, business intelligence, forecasting, and machine learning. I led multiple midsized teams and analytics in several different companies, all of which were either tech companies, or significant portions of their business were founded on Tech.

I was really close to the tech scene, and as I got deeper and deeper into analytics, I found there’s a convergence between analytics as a function and technology. They just continue to kind of get closer and closer together, almost merging. When I came to Cymax Group, I joined as their head of Analytics and AI, I brought in a vision for where we want to go and leveraged that to drive kind of our future. Now I have the ability to take technology elements and combine them with AI, so it’s definitely not your typical CTO career profile, but it has worked for me!

What was your very first job and how did your career path take you to where you are today?

I worked at a butcher shop when I was in high school, which was interesting. I was cleaning machines and serving customers. The day I showed up I didn’t know what any cut of meat was, so people came in and said things like “I need two striploins” and I would have to flip all the signs over to find out what a striploin was.

My first job post-university was as a transfer pricing analyst at Deloitte, which at the time was a new space. All the governments agreed to completely change how corporate finance and tax legislation worked, and it was interesting, because it mixed tax, law, analysis, and finance all together. It was a very eclectic mix of teams. When I was there, I spent a lot of my time helping build small pieces of software to automate some of the reporting work. So even at that moment, I knew I needed to somehow combine this passion for technology and computers and programming with the core of my job, which was business and finance.

Where might you go next? What’s your next role?

Honestly, I love tech. I love the mix of technology and analysis, the innovation and being able to take disruptive technology like large language models, which is what Chat GPT is, and thinking about how we can leverage them. So, to be honest, I don’t see myself changing roles or looking for anything else. I very much feel like I want to stay involved in the work that we do here with e-commerce and logistics, and really look to see how we apply the disruptive technology that’s constantly coming out. My focus is to help Cymax Group achieve its Unicorn status.

What motivates you for your future career? Will you stay in tech?

I’m definitely going to stay in tech. I am looking for just a couple of things – I want to work with great people and I want to solve cool problems! As long as I’m doing those two things, I’m actually pretty content. Cymax Group has a lot of really interesting problems, and a lot of great people. Tech in general tends to have that combination, so I’m pretty content, all things considered.

Any final words of advice, or advice for young people?

The world is changing so fast. The goalpost for what you need to be successful is moving at an exponential rate. The collective knowledge of what technology requires is expanding faster than you can ever know. It used to be that you get a university designation, you learn how to program in one language, and that would set you off for 20 years, and you could probably be fine with just that. Now the biggest skill to have and the biggest advice I can give is to learn how to learn. Learn how to be really nimble and learn how to be hungry around learning. Figure out what you need to learn, because everybody has different quirks as to how they learn and what’s going to help them. Then you have to be a sponge. You have to try to absorb as much of that information as possible, because the truth is that the bar is going to keep rising, and you need to keep adapting to all the change that is coming. If you can be adaptive and resilient and learn quickly, then you know, you’re going to have a long career in tech, because that’s really the most important criteria I can think of, your ability to learn.