Faculty of Applied Science & Technology
Degree: Computer Science Technology
Year of graduation: 2004
Avigilon’s President and COO says he was able to find success by refusing to settle.
When James Henderson first enrolled in Sheridan’s Computer Science program back in 2001, he had never been on the internet, let alone owned a computer.
Today, he is the President and Chief Operating Officer of Avigilon Corporation, an organization that capitalizes on new technology by designing, manufacturing and marketing video surveillance software and equipment. Recently he led the sale process resulting in a USD $1 Billion acquisition of Avigilon by Motorola Solutions – one of only three acquisitions of its size in Canada in the last decade. It's quite the progression from his early college days, to be sure, but Henderson credits his growth to his insatiable curiosity.
“The day you believe you have all the knowledge you need is the day someone surpasses you,” he says. “I think people should be looking to better themselves every step of the way. It’s part of what keeps you driven and what keeps you ahead — learning new things and acquiring knowledge.”
Under Henderson’s leadership, Avigilon has expanded its market presence and brand awareness, leading the company to be acquired by Motorola Solutions earlier this year. These accomplishments led Henderson to be chosen as one of Canada’s Top 40 Under 40® for 2018.
Henderson chatted to us from his Texas-based office about how to get ahead in the world of business:
You’ve held nearly eight positions at Avigilon since joining the company 2011, growing from Director of Sales, Ontario & Atlantic Canada, to President and COO. It’s quite the progression. What do you think have been the keys to your success?
You get paid to do your job, but you get promoted for doing more. That’s a mantra that I’ve practised throughout my career. I’ve always tried to go above and beyond, contributing in every way, shape and form that I can to my company’s success. In a lot of cases, that was about supporting and putting efforts into areas of the business that weren’t necessarily under my purview. When you’re doing more than what’s expected and living that philosophy, when a position comes up that requires someone with a high level of responsibility, it puts you in a great position to take that next step in your career.
What was your goal when graduating from Sheridan?
I think most people in university and college have the goal of being successful, but success can be defined in a number of different ways. For some people, success is about fulfilling their love of music or their passion for agriculture. For me, I always had a passion for business. It really comes down to work ethic. I was holding down two jobs while I was in college, so I carried my work ethic right through graduation and focused on business and giving everything I had towards that passion.
What first drew you to Sheridan?
There were two major factors. At the time, Sheridan was starting to put a heavy focus on technology, and while I wasn’t sure where my career was going to go, ultimately, I knew I enjoyed technology and that technology was going to play some part in it. Secondly, I knew Sheridan had put together a great co-op program, and I was prepping to go into a career that I had no experience in at the time. When I went to college, I had never been on the internet and didn’t have a home computer. I knew I wanted to get involved in technology and through Sheridan’s laptop program and its co-op program, I was able to get practical experience before I went out into the working world. Looking back, it was definitely the right choice for me. I got a great education with a focus on technology and hands-on experience, and I was able to help generate a bit of income while studying to pay for it all.
How did your co-op help you in your career?
Taking part in the co-op program helped define a bit of what I wanted to do, but mostly what I had an affinity for. Did I know exactly what I wanted to do with my degree? No… and I don’t think most students do. Sheridan gives students the time and ability to explore different avenues and understand different possibilities — it helps define where you want to end up. That’s how it played out for me. My experience helped me get my first job and progress in my career to where I am today.
What role does young talent play at Avigilon?
We operate in over 120 countries, and if I look at the talent at our organization, the majority comes from students that join us fresh out of school. They’re the next generation, and they have a lot of fresh ideas when it comes to tech, so it’s important for us to add that new perspective to our organization. It helps with the entire lifeblood of the company and helps us drive new angles in all aspects of the organization. Attracting top-tier talent from schools is essential.
What advice would you give to current computer science students?
First, I would say that you can’t expect greatness or success — you have to work for it. The other thing is to keep an open mind when it comes to what you want to accomplish or are planning to be in the future. A lot of people might go into computer science thinking they’re going to be a programmer, but if they keep their mind open and try new things, they may find they’re a better leader or project manager. If you’re open to new experiences, you’ll have access to more opportunities.