Honoris causa (Law), 2000
Who needs Google and Bill Gates when you have Dr. Ken Spencer?
Spencer is the co-founder of Creo Products Inc., which not only grew to become one of the province’s largest technology companies in BC history but also paved the way for a new form of corporate culture in our province.
Spencer completed a PhD in Engineering from UBC in 1972, an MBA from SFU in 1981 and received an honorary doctorate from SFU in 2002. He was inducted into the Business Laureates of BC Hall of Fame in 2011.
Creo specialized in the manufacturing of imaging and software technology for computer to plate and digital printing. But Spencer explains that what set his company apart from the rest of the industry wasn’t as much what they produced but how they did it.
“Creo was all about empowering people to do their job and trusting them to know the best way to do it. There was no middleman watching over them,” he says.
Over a decade before Google began offering in-house lunches, dog friendly offices and massage credits, Spencer and his partner, Dan Gelbart, were challenging traditional corporate culture with their own cutting-edge business practices.
“In most companies, if an employee wanted to buy something they needed to get upwards of nine signatures on their purchase order. At Creo, they didn’t need any but their own. We left it up to them to decide,” says Spencer.
Creo also gave shares to employees and was the first company to offer flexible working hours.
“Still today when I talk to former employees, they say those were some of the best days of their lives. People had fun and worked hard—many putting in 12 hour days—because they were motivated to succeed,” he says.
Spencer explains that the ideas behind his new approach to management were formed through his experience working for companies like Macdonald Dettwiler, which he then expanded and strengthened during his SFU MBA program.
“During my MBA, I was exposed to a lot of cutting-edge literature in the field. I discovered that most of the ideas I had thought of were already being talked about, but there weren’t many people doing it. I realized that nobody was going to let me experiment on their business so I better start my own,” he says.
The experiment clearly paid off. Creo was acquired by Kodak in 2005 for one billion dollars.
Now retired from the corporate boardroom, Spencer continues to support the province as our very own Bill-Gates-style-techie-turned-philanthropist. He made a $1-million contribution to Science World’s recently built Ken Spencer Science Park and continues to contribute to education and employment organizations. Closer to home, he co-founded the Technology Entrepreneurship@SFU program (TE@SFU) to foster product collaborations between third and fourth-year business and applied sciences students.
- Written by Jackie Amsden and Office of Graduate Studies & Postdoctoral Fellows
Published in 2015