VICTORIA — A few months ago, Ted Lattimore was happily retired at age 55, enjoying life with his wife and two grandchildren and the great outdoors along the B.C. coast.
On Tuesday the former Vodafone executive took over as chief executive officer at Carmanah Technologies Corp., charged with the tall task of driving a languishing solar power and lighting company to a new level of growth.
“I was intrigued by Carmanah and what it does — and I love a challenge,” said Lattimore, who spent the last two decades helping build the cellular phone industry in Canada and, more recently, in Romania with Vodafone.
“This isn’t the first time I’ve interrupted a sabbatical to go back to work,” added Lattimore, who has also worked for Xerox, Bell Canada and Telus over the years.
Lattimore’s appointment caps a five-month succession plan by outgoing CEO Art Aylesworth that one analyst noted as unusual for its reverse order. Carmanah brought in former Kodak executive Philippe Favreau as chief operating officer in May and, three months later, hired Roland Sartorius from a Bell Canada subsidiary as chief financial officer.
Lattimore has the task of controlling high costs associated with developing cutting-edge solar products, improving earnings for the exporter amid the soaring Canadian dollar and boosting Carmanah’s sagging share price.
He will lead an executive team with some tough decisions on new product development and the direction the company will take to increase markets for its products, which range from solar power systems and edge-lit street signs to aviation and marine lights and bus-shelter lighting.
Shareholders responded to Tuesday’s announcement by bumping Carmanah stock up by two cents, or 1.48 per cent, to $1.37 on the Toronto Stock Exchange.
Carmanah shares (TSX:CMH) have spiraled closer to 52-week lows lately as investors have pondered the company’s future leadership, new product offerings and poor earnings results.
Carmanah posted a $3-million loss during this year’s second fiscal quarter, a huge swing from a $124,000 profit in the same period a year ago. The company has lost more than $3.5 million after two quarters ending in August, compared with a $100,000 profit over the same year-ago period.
Lattimore said despite his unfamiliarity with the solar-power industry and Carmanah’s operation, he is up for the challenge.
“I see a company that has great products based on sustainability, which is on everyone’s mind these days. But it’s a company that also appears to have problems … performance has plateaued,” said Lattimore.
He noted Carmanah went from $4 million a year in revenue to $60 million over a short period, but has hit a wall in determining how it can grow further.
“The industry is still growing, so why is `the company` slowing down? I’m part of the team to break through that — and that’s where it gets exciting.”
Lattimore told analysts in a conference call he has a “100-day plan” to align investors, customers and employees “and get a handle on anything we can start doing differently in the short term.”
He wasn’t specific on what any of the changes could be, but said it will be a critical period to assess the business.
Lattimore said the challenges in the early years of the cellphone business were similar. He worked with Bell and Telus developing the wireless markets in the 1980s and 1990s, and did it all over again with Vodafone as president and chief operating officer in charge of Romania.
From the first year as a venture capital investment in 2000, Lattimore led Vodafone Romania to annual revenues of $1 billion US and a share of the market lead in 2005. “And we’re dealing with double- and triple-digit inflation in the country,” he said.
Solar and cellphone companies have similarities, he noted, in that they produce stand-alone products that do not require a grid or someone else’s infrastructure.