NAIT grads take the proverbial bull by the horns
Hubert Lau (Computer Systems Technology ’91) readily admits that up until four years ago, he wasn’t exactly an expert when it came to cattle. In fact, it’s a recurrent joke between Hubert and business partner Ted Power that until they took over ViewTrak Technologies Inc. all they knew for sure was that there were two ends to a cow, “A pointy end and a smelly end,” laughs Hubert.
Little did he know, however, that he would become executive vice president of the company that provides IT solutions for the livestock industry.
About a decade ago, after the first BSE incident occurred, there wasn’t a reliable system in place to respond to food safety emergencies, market disruptions (domestic and international) or meet consumer demands for food traceability. That’s where Hubert wants the Beef InfoXchange System (BIXS) to come in.
In addition to being a successful entrepreneur, he is the president of BIXSco, which is jointly owned by ViewTrak and the Cattlemen’s Association (CCA). The company owns and operates BIXS, the central database that tracks the birth, feeding, medical records, ownership, movement, harvesting and grading of 12 million cattle in Canada.
Ted, who also attended NAIT, is president and CEO of ViewTrak and the owner and president of Trace Applications Inc., a software company that developed a system that is the industry standard for providing traceability and quality assurance for companies that manufacture, distribute and fabricate with high-grade steel and alloy products, like pipe, valves, fittings and structural steel.
Today, the duo works closely with a roster of ViewTrak’s investors—some of the biggest names in Alberta’s business, including Brett Wilson, a Canadian investment banker, investor, philanthropist and former Dragons' Den co-star.
So, how did they end up working with Brett Wilson? Hubert says it’s a popular question.
A solid history of entrepreneurship
A serial entrepreneur, Hubert has run several successful technology companies in the years since he’s graduated from NAIT. He is the founder and president of the IT consulting and networking firm, Ekota Central Ltd., which has serviced over 1,000 small and medium-sized businesses, charities and government departments within the past 16 years.
He has a long list of accomplishments:
- becoming the largest exporter of malting barley to China;
- working with the Chinese Government to successfully negotiate with Microsoft;
- playing a key part in building the largest financial trading floor in Canada
He spent some time in Bermuda before finally settling in Edmonton. Then, in June 2012, Brett Wilson and Marc de La Bruyère, chairman of MacLab Enterprises a privately held residential property holder in Alberta and the Northwest Territories, approached Ted and Hubert for help with the near-bankrupt ViewTrak.
They carefully weighed the opportunity, finally deciding to take the “bull by the horns”. First they shared CEO responsibilities, finding themselves in an entirely new arena. Neither had any experience in the cattle industry, but they did have a solid foundation in traceability, software and technology.
Current trends focused on food sourcing, also referred to as ‘farm to fork’ or ‘gate to plate’ have become increasingly important to many companies. McDonald’s, in particular, chose Canada for its pilot project in 2012 to define sustainable beef, with the intent to purchase its beef supply only from verified sources that meet strict regulations on the care, feeding, medical treatment and harvesting of cattle.
The BIXS software is designed to create data sharing along the beef value chain, which includes the Canadian government, meat processors like Cargill, farmers and ranchers, feedlots and others in the cattle industry. Because the data is fed into BIXS from these various sources, it has the capacity to track cattle throughout its lifespan.
So, it was a huge win for Hubert and Ted when McDonald’s committed to use BIXS for the project. In addition to this boon, ViewTrak currently boasts the most widely sold cattle auction software, holding 95% of the market in Canada and growing their 30% share in the US. Namely, its Feedlot Solutions software is used by a major portion of the cattle feedlots in Canada and the US. And, the company’s electronic probe is used to grade over 50 million carcasses a year in China for the world’s largest pork producer, Shuanghui Group. ViewTrak was also contracted by the Canadian Lamb Producers Cooperative to develop an electronic lamb grader, the first of its kind in the global market.
In February 2016, ViewTrak won the Export Award of Distinction from the Alberta Chambers of Commerce. Hubert couldn’t be happier. “Here’s a small company from Edmonton, Alberta, working with some of the largest players, in the most dynamic economies, all over the world.”
A reflection on the value of collaboration
Sharing knowledge is not only the crux of his business at ViewTrak, it’s also a big part of Hubert’s own philosophy. “My true passion in life is promoting what I call ‘collaborative economics’, which is sharing ideas, knowledge and experience with other people to inspire them and give them a tool to help themselves and others—the truly sustainable way of giving.”
“With NAIT, I immediately learned applicable skills which launched my career in a way no other institution in Alberta could have. I will always be thankful to my dad and to all the instructors who shared their knowledge and encouragement.”
To this end, he hosts an event called “This Town”, which helps raise thousands of dollars annually for several charities while promoting business and investment in education. And, leveraging 10 years of business experience in China, Hubert currently serves in advisory roles for AMCC LLC and the Confucius Institute in Edmonton (CIE), as well as ambassador for the Business Network International (BNI), all of which help local and global organizations grow and flourish.
Looking back, Hubert has fond memories of his time at NAIT. “My post-secondary education started at the University of Alberta. It was a great learning experience, but at the end of the day, I did not feel I was learning enough practical knowledge.” That’s when his dad convinced him to consider NAIT’s Computer Systems Technology program.
Today, Hubert is a member on NAIT’s Alumni Association Advisory Committee and he recently joined the campaign cabinet for Essential: The NAIT Campaign, the largest fundraising initiative in the history of the polytechnic. “Part of the enjoyment of being back at NAIT is meeting the students. I often sit and listen to young people talking and I’m learning from them,” he says. “You should always continue learning. That’s why I love NAIT: lifelong learning.”