There’s nothing like a cancer diagnosis to illuminate priorities and focus the mind.

It’s a safe bet Gerry Remers would have preferred a less dangerous route to clarity, but he wasn’t given a choice when he discovered a lump in his throat a year ago.

And so, the Kitchener-based president and COO of Christie Digital Systems Canada did what anyone might do. He took time off to undergo treatment for his non-Hodgkin’s lymphoma, and eventually returned to work.

“I’ve been back a month and a half,” Remers said this week in his office, a light-filled space with large windows, a flickering fireplace and – of course – a glowing Christie display, flush-mounted in the wall. “Things are looking good.”

At a gala tonight in Kitchener, Remers will be honoured with a Luminary Award and inducted into the Waterloo Region Entrepreneur Hall of Fame, for building Christie into a world-leading developer of digital projectors and displays.

Christie has seen an eightfold increase in revenue, to $800 million from $100 million, under the guidance of Remers, who was president of Electrohome Projection Systems when he negotiated the company’s sale to California-based Christie in 1999.

In an interview with Communitech this week, Remers reflected on the honour he’ll receive tonight, and drew a parallel between leading an innovative company and confronting the challenge of cancer.

“For a company, at the leadership level, I think it’s very easy to get sucked into day-to-day decisions and day-to-day issues that really aren’t that germane to the long-term success of the corporation,” he said.

“Having gone through this, and doctor’s advice notwithstanding, the idea is to pull yourself back from the day-to-day and really focus more on the elements that you need to focus on to ensure long-term viability.”

As he turns from cancer and back to Christie’s future, Remers will draw on the same formidable skill set he used to guide its past growth, and to earn the honour he’ll receive tonight, albeit unexpectedly.

“In many respects I was very surprised and obviously very honoured to be given this award,” he said. “Surprised, because I’ve never thought of myself as an entrepreneur.”

Like many, Remers had felt that risking personal capital was a prerequisite to earn the title of entrepreneur, but on further reflection, he realized “that an entrepreneur is an innovator, and you can innovate in large corporations as much as you can as a small startup.”

At Christie, it meant Remers risked corporate capital to lead innovation not only in product development, but “along many, many different lines,” from lean manufacturing processes to progressive HR policies to responsible corporate citizenship.

“So to me, the more I thought about it, I’ve encouraged innovation in the company and on many different fronts,” Remers said. “In that respect, I think of myself as an intrapreneur, working for a large corporation, as opposed to an entrepreneur who is risking his own capital.”

In the coming years, as the worldwide market for digital cinema displays approaches a saturation point, Remers will no doubt have ample opportunity to innovate further.

He sounds more than ready.

“To me, it’s that sense of, are you looking for new opportunities? Are you comfortable changing things?” he said.

“I try to be a change agent within a large corporation, getting people to step back from their day-to-day roles and saying, ‘Guys, have you thought about what might be the case two or three years down the road?’”

Bolstered by recent experience, Remers can undoubtedly answer his own question with a yes.

About The Author

Anthony Reinhart
Director, Editorial Strategy

Anthony Reinhart is a veteran journalist who left the Globe and Mail to join Communitech in 2011. Tony has covered everything from crime, politics and courts to business, the arts and sports, and his writing has won numerous journalism awards. He is Communitech's Director of Editorial Strategy and senior staff writer.