Cathy Ridley, founder and chairman of relocation firm Moveplan, shares the advantages and challenges of setting up an office in Canada’s largest city, Toronto
It was as a “one-woman band” that Cathy Ridley set up MovePlan in London in 1986. Thirty-two years on, the firm – which coordinates relocations for companies from two to 25,000 people – now has 14 offices scattered across the globe, from Manhattan to Melbourne.
Having established a presence in the US in 2005, Ridley set her sights on Toronto 10 years later. “It seemed like a no-brainer,” she says. “It’s the fourth-largest North American city, plus wasn’t involved with the 2008 financial crisis.
“It’s also North America’s second-largest financial centre, which is interesting for us because 70 per cent of our clients are finance-based, such as banks and hedge-funds.”
Since opening an office on King Street West (in Toronto’s fashion district) in October 2016, MovePlan Canada has attracted clients including three of Canada’s biggest banks, as well as a university.
The biggest challenge according to Ridley, has been recruiting. “There is a decent talent pool in Toronto but we have a tough methodology [for recruiting] because we can’t get moving wrong.
“Whoever we recruit will need to be trained in ‘our way’.” To accommodate this, MovePlan has used staff from its US offices to train its Canadian workforce. MovePlan Canada currently employs five staff, led by a British expat.
Ridley also notes that Canada’s federal structure, which sees business often regulated by the provinces, is different from the UK, but “is something MovePlan is used to, having worked in the United States.”
One surprise of working in Toronto, she says, was that “networking starts earlier. You sometimes get emails saying, ‘Would love to meet you – see you at 4.30pm, in a bar!”
But while networking happens with urgency, Ridley cautions that business decision-making doesn’t always follow suit. “Canadians are very generous with their time but they don’t do things quickly – it takes a while for things to get going,” she adds.
Eighteen months after launching in Toronto, Ridley is now looking at expanding to Vancouver, on Canada’s Pacific coast.
“In other regions such as the US or Asia, we’ve built our business via a big client such as the Royal Bank of Scotland. But Canada’s been different – we just turned up… It’s been a thoroughly pleasant experience so far – we’re delighted with the start we’ve had.”
Cathy Ridley is a member of IoD London.