Alumni Career Stories: Q&A with Hamed Shahbazi (BASc '97)

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Hamed Shahbazi is the chairman, CEO, and founder of WELL Health Technologies, an emerging leader in the Canadian tech landscape and currently the largest publicly traded healthcare stock on the Toronto Stock Exchange (TSX). The company invests in digital tools to help health practitioners meet the growing demand for healthcare services, and is now the leading telehealth service provider and the largest owner-operator of outpatient medical clinics in Canada.

Fresh out of the civil engineering program at UBC, Hamed launched his first venture, TIO Networks, and made a big splash when he later sold the company to Paypal in a high-profile deal.

How has your career journey differed from the “typical” engineering graduate?

I studied civil and structural engineering, but I’ve never worked as an engineer or worked for a firm — perhaps it's because I was unemployable! I consider myself a tech generalist and an entrepreneur at heart that deeply believes in positively transforming and impacting businesses through advances in technology. 

I started a financial technology company, which I later sold to PayPal. After that I helped to launch a media and tech firm at the forefront of digital content distribution, which had one of the top 10 IPOs in Canadian history. More recently, I founded a tech healthcare company that is now the largest publicly traded healthcare stock on the TSX. I'm very proud of the projects I've been a part of and the people I've served with. And still, there’s lots of time to go!

What was your first job after graduation? Was it the type of job you were expecting?

I took on a lot of responsibility almost immediately after graduation, and I believe it really shaped who I am both personally and professionally. Launching a tech start-up in my twenties, I didn't know what to expect; it was incredibly difficult, but I learned a ton and it helped set me up for future successes.

Tell us about something you wish you had known when you graduated.

That I should not play it too safe, to trust in my abilities, and to make bigger moves earlier in life. 

I launched my first start-up when I was 22. Back then, I was much more afraid of failure than I am now. I did everything in my power to ensure that the first iteration of the TIO business model would not fail, and while I succeeded at that, it took me so much longer to pivot the company from a small niche to a bigger market. If I had failed fast, it would have opened up the space for me to come up with a more compelling business model sooner. I eventually made the right calls, but I wish I had started my capital allocation learnings and experiences earlier. It’s my professional calling and I absolutely love it!    

What are the most important skills/qualities you’ve cultivated to help get you where you are now?

I am, by nature, a relentless executor and driver of a strategic plan. I also love people and that's helped me to build really strong relationships along the way. I've learned the value of bringing in others who are able to address the areas where I am not as strong. Other than that, I've cultivated a deep understanding of how to execute a mergers and acquisitions (M&A) drive growth plan. I really believe in creating value through capital allocation. I have dedicated the last 10 years of my life to this and I’m committed to being the best capital allocator I can possibly be.

Were there any mentors or notable people in your life who helped guide you along the way? How did their influence impact or shape your career?

Yes! I would give a lot of credit to Steve Sadler, CEO of Enghouse. He has been a fantastic mentor to me. I learned a lot about capital allocation from him. He’s a superstar and is one of the smartest people I've ever met – strong, strategic, insightful, and relentless.

Describe a situation where you had to make a decision that felt career-defining. How did you feel as you made the decision? What did you decide and how did it affect your career?

The decision to begin acquiring companies was a big one for me. Before that, I was a very conservative in how I considered growth. To me, it confirmed that I was ready to face the complexity and heightened responsibility associated with M&A.

Describe a situation where you had to navigate unexpected change. What helped you get through it?

Running a healthcare company during the pandemic required an incredible amount of change-management and ingenuity to transform the business in a very short amount of time. What got us through was extremely quick decision-making and an absolutely super team.

If you could go back in time, what advice would you give to your younger self?

For me, that’s an easy one. If I could go back in time, I would really encourage myself to redefine my relationship with the word failure. Over time, that’s exactly what I’ve done. When I was younger, I saw the definition of failure as doing something and not having it work out. Obviously, no one wants to achieve failure, so you just continue relentlessly, to try and make what you set out to do, work. 

What I see failure as today, is an absence of pivoting or transforming or trying to make something work (even though) it’s not going in the right direction. That’s very different from being attached to a certain outcome. When you’re not attached to an outcome, and you’re flexible and you’re open to change then you can still approach the problem with the same zeal and relentless energy. Being open to change, being open to transformation makes all the difference in the world. 

This can be true in your personal life as well as in corporate and business life, so it’s something that really works for me now. I’ve been able to, over time, do that. But I wish I’d started earlier.

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