Game Changer: Chris Pogue, President and CEO, Thales Canada
Chris Pogue, President and CEO of Thales Canada, has had a long, decorated career in defence, with 20+ years of experience in the industry. As this issue’s Game Changer, he advises on the digital transformation and reshaping of the Canadian defence community. Reflecting on his previous career experiences within the RCAF and R&D community, he also invites readers to get interested in the forthcoming digital nexus that will provide new opportunities for technological advancement within the Canadian space sector.
How did you start out in this industry and how has it brought you to where you are today?
I served over 20 years in the RCAF, attained almost 5000 C-130 hours; served in various operational and command roles; at the CF’s School of Aerospace Studies; and in the R&D community. I’ve not drifted far from those roots. I served as President of CAE Professional Services, applying modelling and simulation technology beyond simulators. At General Dynamics Mission Systems, I led large-scale multi-system integrations and exported Canadian capabilities. Then, as President of MDA Government, I helped deliver on many of Canada’s space ambitions. Thales now extends my career of serving those who serve, which has evolved to become my north star.
What is your role at your organization today?
I’m honoured to work with 2200+ people from coast to coast as President and CEO of Thales Canada. We deliver value, innovation, and excellence to the defence community through our programs. We serve the RCN through the AJISS Enterprise (Arctic Offshore & Joint Supply Ship In-Service Support), a program that’s as transformational in capability as it is in its relational contracting model. As an electronic systems integrator, we’re building the heart of the Canadian Coast Guard’s new fleet. We serve other critical sectors with urban rail, avionics and space capabilities, and digital identity and security. Canada is also home to Thales digital centres of excellence, developing new capabilities to meet Canada’s needs, and bringing more of Canada to the world.
What was your most challenging moment?
I’m either an overt optimist, or it hasn’t happened yet. I see challenge as a forcing function in how people and systems develop and become anti-fragile, or more effective under stress. For context, in the early days of flight training, I had my doubts. Great mentors, coaches, and training programs enabled my success. Hard became achievable. It’s about perception. Experience has taught me we can overcome anything when we understand we’re never alone and invest in trust.
What was your A-HA moment or epiphany that you think will resonate most with our reader, tell us that story?
That trust is the energy source necessary to overcome any challenge. Twenty years ago, we were grappling with the concept of System-of-Systems – how to interconnect independent systems to achieve mission success. Structurally, while independent in every way, these systems together deliver emergent behaviour and capabilities that help solve challenges.
For me, this idea maps universally (to teams, organizations, and countries), if we allow ourselves to view people abstractly as independent systems (if you have children, you’ll appreciate that analogy). We need only consider today’s supply chain challenges as a use-case to appreciate the inherent complexity. Ultimately, any system-of-systems demands trust. Where trust is lacking, failure prevails. I’m focused on enabling systems-of-systems in all forms to address the challenges we face.
What is the one thing that has you most fired up today?
I believe we’re on the cusp of a digital nexus, where enabling technologies are collectively reinforcing one another and maturing together. This unique moment creates opportunities that were unattainable ten years ago. I’m most excited by what we refer to as augmented intelligence – mission-critical systems that enable decision-makers in difficult environments to make better decisions by using all the data to make the right decision, rather than the right data to make a decision.
I’m often reminded of the OODA Loop (Observe, Orient, Decide, Act) as a paradigm for decision-making and the impact speed has on success. Frankly, this is what drew me to Thales – clear and focused investment in Transparent, Understandable and Ethical Augmented Intelligence (TrUE AI) – which we are developing right here in Canada as a cornerstone of digital transformation not just for the military, but across sectors.
What is the best advice you received?
I’ve been lucky to receive a lot (which could be a sign that people think I need it). I take it as a sign that we collectively care, which strengthens people and organizations. My mother’s guidance has no doubt shaped me. When I left the house, she would ask, “what exciting thing is going to happen today?” She sent me into the world every day with a mindset of expecting exciting things; my expectations shaped my perspective and, sure enough, I found excitement.
What is a habit that contributes to your success?
To me, a habit has to be simple enough to become one and effective enough to remain one – engrained in your personal operating system. For me, the most simply applied, yet radically effective, system to enact change is to make lists. Daily, weekly, monthly, yearly: lists give focus, enable prioritization, and help apply one’s energy to challenges. Every morning, make a list; every night, assess progress. Adapt, rinse, repeat. Enjoy the profound feeling that often comes with ticking off an item.
What people or organizations do you believe best embody the innovation mindset? (Does not have to relate to the defence & security industry, can be related to your everyday life)
Young kids naturally embody it. They see wonder and imagine possibility without constraint. We can achieve that by looking at challenges through the lens of wonder – building what Simon Sinek calls an “infinite mindset.” Where that mindset prevails in a diverse and purpose-driven group, innovation follows.
How is your organization changing the game within your industry sector?
We’re pushing the boundaries of digital transformation in what we deliver every day. We’re evolving a culture defined by innovation in all forms, including how we partner in collaboration. We recently initiated Synergy, a program designed solely to enable small- and medium-sized businesses to ‘cross the chasm,’ achieve sustainable scale in Canada, and reach global markets. I’m inspired by our first SMB partners. They’re game-changers; we’re fortunate to have high-trust collaboration.
What are some of the biggest impediments to innovation in your industry sector?
Trust. It’s crucial to surface issues and create the conditions for innovation to thrive. Also, willingness to look beyond cognitive borders. We often constrain ourselves to the familiar. If defence looks to the commercial sector, we can gain in the same way radar capability, or GPS, developed for military use migrated to the commercial sector. Think on the wearables market: a multi-trillion-dollar segment that exists by virtue of GPS. Within our Digital Identity and Security business, Thales secures over $1T/day in e-transactions globally. That means very two days we secure a bit more than Canada’s annual GDP ($1.7T). We have to find ways to ‘pull’ that capability, maybe modified, into a military context.
How has innovation become engrained in your organization’s culture and how is it being optimized?
We are midst of reshaping our defence business to focus on three core activities: delivery, growth, and innovation – with innovation being transversal. We’re imagining a future where those three focuses commingle and grow by virtue of their overlap. I know we’re on the right path when I listen to the conversations we’re having we’re focused on how we can deliver greater value, faster. That dialogue changes how we act, and new behaviours shift and shape our culture.
What technologies, business models, and trends will drive the biggest changes in your industry over the next two years?
Two years feels close, but digital transformation is compressing timelines. I think we’re seeing more effective business models. I return to the AJISS Enterprise. With the relational contracting model, a suitable contractual timeframe, innovation ingestion mechanisms and performance-based outcomes, we have a model that can deliver greater capability, faster, and at much lower costs. We’re also on the cusp of an entirely new ways to sense and gather information. Quantum technologies will reshape how we protect and move data, and quantum sensors will evolve entirely new types of intelligence. This’ll create an ever-increasing demand for trusted Augmented Intelligence to help us not only make sense of what these new sensors allow us to observe, but also how we orient ourselves, decide and, ultimately, act.
What is your parting piece of advice?
Look for connections in multiple versions of our nested system of systems. Know they exist, and trust that they will emerge in time. I like to think that very big ideas – the kind that transform organizations or people’s lives – get implemented small-ly: simple Ideas, implemented incrementally with few players and no compromise. The result is far greater impact than could come from any one idea. I’d add on acting small-ly, be wary to not confuse slow change with no change.