Monday, June 18, 2007

The Big Trip: One Year Off 2002

In 2002, my wife and I took one year off work, pulled the kids out of school, bought a trailer and spent the next 8 1/2 months driving around North America. It was without a doubt one of the best years of my life and something that we talk about years later. Here's a link to a google map I'm constructing on the trip.,-117.13623&spn=7.33247,14.80957&z=6&om=1

Friday, June 15, 2007

Is Your Business in Trouble

Is your Business in trouble?

by Greg Fjetland

from Profit magazine

There are lots of obvious warning signs that a business may be in trouble. But how does your business fare with this checklist of less obvious trouble signs?

  1. Do you find your employee turn-over increasing, even among stalwarts who have helped grow the business from scratch?
  2. Do you find your banker increasingly cautious, and less receptive to increasing your access to credit?
  3. Do you find yourself spending less than you should on scheduled equipment and property maintenance, in effect robbing the future to pay for the present?
  4. Have you prepared a financial blueprint for the year and perform a variance analysis every month to make sure you’re on track, or do you find it increasingly impossible to work within its guidelines?
  5. Do you have a system in place to monitor customer satisfaction, or have you lost several key accounts lately and really have no idea why?
  6. Is your business so successful that you may have trouble meeting orders and paying for required additional materials, or have you implemented an Accounts Receivable system to reward customers for prompt payment?
  7. Do you re-evaluate your business assets annually, or do you risk having unrealistic evaluations on your balance sheet, disguising the reality of how healthy your business is?
  8. Have your stock levels grown, revealing that you’re not in touch with which products are in demand and which need updating, or do you assume that time and changing customer demand will take care of your overstock situation?
  9. Are you being forced to cut into your margins more and more by dropping prices, or are you able to increase sales by better positioning your products?
  10. If your customer complaints have increased, have you responded by calling them, holding focus groups and then acting on their feedback?
  11. Have you grown the company out of the range of your expertise and capability but find yourself resisting hiring the talent necessary to maintain the company at its peak performance?
  12. Do you dread coming to work in the morning and have you noticed a corresponding lack of enthusiasm in your employees?
  13. Has the loss of more than 5 percent market share per quarter in two consecutive quarters, and if so, have you determined why and taken remedial action?
  14. Have you found your business increasingly reliant on just one or two key customers and suppliers instead of being well-connected to numerous business partners?Has your business lost focus and broadened to include anything you can make a buck on, instead of zeroing in on its core products and services

Monday, June 11, 2007

Quiz: How well are you looking after your Finances?

Quiz: How well are you looking after your Finances?

from Profit magazine

If there is one lesson for us all to remember from the dot bomb implosion, it's the need to be prudent and vigilant in safeguarding our personal capital. All too regularly, the best laid plans do go astray, so planning for the worst case scenario is always a wise recourse. Financial planning need not be an expensive or time-consuming exercise, but it does need to be looked after, and the sooner, the better. Trying to plan for likely contingencies requires knowledge and foresight, so here's a quick quiz to give you a head start.

1. Have you increased the risk to your personal finances by investing all of your equity in your business, or is your portfolio safely diversified into other opportunities?

2. Have you remained current on business insurance options such as Segregated Funds, Key Person Insurance and Overhead Insurance that help to guarantee your business's continuing viability in the event of an unexpected crisis? MEANING YOU SHOULD INVESTIGATE, BUT NOT NECESSARILY BUY THESE PRODUCTS? I’m suggesting some of these options are relatively new and I think the question suggests these are good ideas for a business owner to consider. A rewrite that contains the answer is: Do you hold business insurance options such as Segregated Funds, Key Person Insurance and Overhead Insurance or are you willing to risk your business's continuing viability in the event of an unexpected crisis?

3. Have your planned a tax-efficient exit strategy for your eventual retirement, or will Revenue Canada be the chief beneficiary?

4. What measures have you taken, such as incorporation or spousal ownership of equity and capital, to minimize your personal liability in case of business bankruptcy?

5. Do you take maximum advantage every year of all tax-saving vehicles available to you such as RRSP and RESP?

6. Have you engaged the services of a certified financial planner to review your personal finances and provide the best advice on how to manage your investments?

7. Have you provided any personal guarantees for company loans, potentially placing your home and other assets at risk in the event of business bankruptcy.

8. Have you provided an adequate salary for yourself and your family commensurate with your level of responsibility and hours spent on the job?

9. Have you ignored the potentially tax saving tools of an Individual Pension Plan (IPP) or Retirement Compensation Arrangement (RCA) for both retirement and succession planning for you and your business?

10. Do you increase your savings as your takehome pay increases by following a budget, or do you spend all of your paycheque (and often more?)

Bonus question!

11. Do you practice sensible money management by automatic payroll deductions from your paycheque to a savings and/or retirement account, paying off your monthly credit card balances, and setting money aside for large purchases?

Alexandra Babbel:

Super Voice, Super Mom, Superwoman

By Greg Fjetland

Kelowna’s Alexandra Babbel finds perfect harmony in parenting and performing

Last fall Alexandra Babbel of Kelowna made an emotional return to her ancestral village in Ukraine. Accompanied by three family members, she visited her mother’s now empty house and searched the woods for the old bunker that sheltered her family during World War II. Alexandra’s journey has led her full circle from the Okanagan back to Ukraine. “Part of me felt like I really belonged there. The atmosphere was so familiar,” recollects Alexandra. Alexandra is a compassionate, articulate, spiritually fulfilled mother of three who balances a no nonsense approach to life with an infectious sense of humour. An acclaimed opera performer, she is a sterling example of the world class talent that the Okanagan Valley draws from around the globe.
This story really begins back in 1943, where crouched in their crude bunker in the woods, Anton Kosachuk and his family listened to the distant pounding of the artillery. When Russian and German forces collided in Ukraine during WWII, the Kosachuks and other terrified citizens of the village of Salomka fled the conflagration. After three months of living in their crude shelter, they left and headed straight towards Germany. On their incredible journey they overcame the many hardships of wartime, including hunger and crossing through a minefield.
En route, isolated from his family and apprehended by the Russian Army, Anton was thrown into a prison and scheduled for execution. He despaired. An old man who shared his cell asked him, ‘How can you give up hope. I am old yet I’m still full of hope.” Anton found the bars of his cell were rusted and he broke free that night. Later in a refugee camp, he met his future bride with whom he would one day emigrate to America.
After World War II, the Kosachuks settled in what was to become East Germany. Eighteen years later, the family came to the United States to live in Michigan. Little Alexandra was their sixth child. From an early age she loved to sing accompaniment with her father. When she was 17 she began private voice lessons and subsequently graduated from the University of Michigan with a Bachelor of Music.
In 1983 she moved to Edmonton to take her Master of Music. There she met John Babbel, an Okanagan resident. They married and moved to Chicago where Alexandra began her illustrious performing career, including her role in the world premiere of a major new opera. She sang with a variety of companies including the Lincoln Opera and Milwaukee Opera.
Additionally she sang with many symphonies as a featured soloist and toured extensively through the States, Europe and Russia. With her deepening experience and knowledge, Alexandra began to teach at universities in the United States and Canada. Her voice teaching produced several young singers who have gone on to enjoy careers in music. Meanwhile, her own career was taking off like a rocket.
But just before the birth of their first child, a new realization set in. “There are many performers to play the role of Mimi (in Puccini’s La Boheme) but only one person to be my kid’s mom,” says Alexandra. The young family moved straight to Kelowna from Chicago in 1991, a homecoming for her husband John and a new life for Alexandra. They now have three children.
Today, Alexandra balances her busy family life with an equally demanding professional schedule. She practices about two hours per day. “A Mozart a day keeps laryngitis away,” she laughs. She manages a reduced tour schedule. Trans World Radio International sponsored her recent trip to eastern Europe where she made 15 appearances in 11 days but still managed to visit her former family home in Ukraine. She professes to a deep love for eastern Europe. “The people own so little but they’re so happy,” she says. “Materialism and leisure are the two big kings here but they never satisfy our spiritual hunger.”
Alexandra continues to embody her father’s hopes for a future: “It is so important to maintain hope and do your best in pursuing your vision. While one must remain within one’s ability and resources, it is vital to listen to the dream inside. My parents never gave up in the pursuit of freedom. Nor shall I give up in pursuing what is in my heart for the young artists of this city.”

Competiive Intelligence

Competitive Intelligence Quiz

first appeared in Profit magazine

One of the business catchphrases over the past few years has been Competitive Intelligence: the process that transforms information into relevant, accurate and usable strategic knowledge about competitors, position, performance, capabilities and intentions. CI, as it’s broadly known, doesn’t use illegal methods to accomplish its goals. Rather, CI uses publicly available databases to figure out your present and future business environment. Rate your Competitive Intelligence with the following quiz:

Have you assigned an employee - and given him or her a budget - for collecting and analyzing competitive intelligence?

Are your CI data collection efforts focused primarily on gathering historical competitive information from secondary sources, or are they mostly concentrated on soliciting future-oriented information from a well-developed network of internal and external sources?

Do you monitor the internet for blogs or other websites that may be posting disinformation that is injurious to your company’s reputation?

Do you confuse competitor watching - collecting data on your competition - with real CI i.e., developing an external focus that provides strategic early warnings about market shifts and risk control, and also to uncover new opportunities?

Does your CI team examine all aspects of your business: sales, marketing, product development, and strategic planning, or is it selectively focused to the exclusion of other areas of equal importance?

Is your CI distributed selectively and appropriately throughout the company such by email or intranet, or does the information languish on someone’s desktop?

Do you only rely on traditional CI or do you look at in broader market intelligence such as regulatory changes, technology trends, and other strategic scenarios within your industry?

Does your company waste time and money because your company lacks an enterprise-wide coordinated CI effort and so different departments are collecting the same information?

Are your CI efforts focused on growth opportunities of high interest to management, offering the best margins or growth potential? For example, is your CI group working with your market research group to identify customer segments that have high demand for your products or services and a limited choice of competitive offerings from which to choose?

When your CI group finishes collecting information, does it simply organize the information, or does the group generate value-added content, such as judgments, opinions, hypotheses, predictions, implications for your company, and strategic recommendations?

Does your CI group meet regularly with your senior executives to gather their intelligence needs and feedback on how it can improve the intelligence process and deliverables for these executives?

Are You Doing Enough to Prevent Internal Theft and Fraud?

Are You Doing Enough to Prevent Internal Theft and Fraud?
by Greg Fjetland

first appeared in Profit magazine

Employees steal from businesses more than shoplifters. Internal theft and fraud is widespread throughout every industry and represents a major challenge for business owners. Employee theft continues to be a source of bankruptcy and business failure. Take this quiz to see if you’re doing enough to safeguard your business.
1. Given that gambling and drug addiction is a major cause for employee theft, have you contracted with the services of a professional counselling agency and made their services available at no charge to your employees?
2. Since the best way to avoid employing a thief is not to hire him or her in the first place, do you conduct extensive pre-employment background checks that include examining of criminal records and calling references, and do you hire an external agency to do this if you’re too busy?
3. Do you tell new employee during orientation how important loss management is to the company and let new employees know that the company's theft prevention measures are tools to protect employees from false accusation.
4. Do you make company policies on theft, pilfering and misuse of company electronic resources - private emails, online games - well-known to all employees?
5. Do you develop a "culture of honesty" to preventing internal theft by building awareness about inventory shrinkage and theft issues, and do you provide a means for employees who observe illegal or inappropriate behaviour a way to report them?
6. Do you employ active loss prevention measures such as closed circuit cameras, and passive measures such as restricting access to certain areas and information?
7. Does your loss awareness and monitoring apply equally and appropriately to all employees, from casual employees to senior management?
8. Do you password protect your company computers and telephone accounts <<< TELEPHONE ACCOUNTS? CAN YOU TELL ME THE UNDERLYING RATIONALE HERE? (E.G., DO YOU WANT TO STOP PEOPLE FROM MAKING CALLS TO AUSTRALIA, OR LISTEN TO OTHERS’ VOICE MAILS? and have them changed frequently? Rationale is that hackers broke into my wife’s workplace 1-800 phone system (some workers hadn’t password protected their accounts and ran up thousands in long-distance bills. After the line was disconnected, phone calls came in for days afterward at the rate of two or three a minute.)
9. Do you monitor for “time theft” by noting times of arrival and departure, private telephone conversations, length of breaks and other sources of work loss?
10. Have you considered hiring a private investigator to deal with internal thefts instead of calling the police to minimize public disclosure?
11. Do you empty cash registers often so that there’s never more than sufficient cash in the till to cover purchases and have a drop safe system for depositing cash?
12. Because many thefts are done by ex-employees, do you have a key and alarm code control system that includes no-copy keys to allow for employee turn-over?
13. Do you require two signatures on all cheques, one of which is from a senior partner or officer?
14. Have you set up a system of internal controls that will deal with both receipts and payments to and from the company, such as having a senior company officer reconcile the bank statement monthly but somebody else sign the cheques?
15. Do you have your books audited annually by a certified accountant?

Master of the Accordion: Remi Picco

I wrote this story about my accordion instructor for the defunct Showcase magazine.

Remi Picco: Master of the Squeezebox

Christmas has come early for 76-year old Remi Picco. The Kelowna resident eagerly displays his new 10-track digital recording equipment. “It writes straight to CD,” he says in his studio, the walls lined with speakers, amplifiers, mixing board and a tremendous variety of electronics. Not surprisingly, a security system blinks in the corner of the room. Clearly at ease with this complex musical equipment, Remi says with confidence and a gentle smile, “It offers me unlimited musical possibilities.“
The heart of the equipment sits gleaming on a shelf. Gloss black and bejewelled in rhinestones, it’s a top-of-the-line, state of the art ”Petosa” accordion. Custom built in Italy, the 16-channel Petosa connects the studio equipment together as an electronic ensemble.
You could call Remi the Okanagan Grand Master of the Accordion, the Maestro of the Squeezebox, or a Virtuoso of Harmony. Trophies crowd a shelf in his studio; he has won an award every year he has competed at the famous Kimberley International Old Time Accordion Competition. This year he won the Diamond award, the first time its been offered. On another wall are signed photos of past and present giants of the accordion world. Remi knows each of them. “They’re all friends of mine,” he says.
Formerly much maligned as the instrument of schmaltz and geriatric waltz, the accordion has experienced a tremendous surge in popularity in recent years. Remi’s schedule is evidence of this growing appreciation; he’s playing 17 events this holiday season. “It’s my busiest ever, “ he says, “I’m already booking into next year.
The accordion is a difficult instrument to play well. The musician can see neither hand, and both hands must play independently to provide melody, harmony and rhythm. Though a keyboard is part of the instrument, the accordion, Remi points out, is really a wind instrument. The subtle skill of controlling the bellows breathes life into musical pieces. “When you wear the instrument, it becomes part of you, “ he says, “When you play a Strauss waltz, its your own expression.”
Remi is known throughout Kelowna for his many appearances. He plays at ethnic society dances, such as the German club, the Italian club, and the Sons of Norway. He also performs at innumerable weddings, banquets, anniversaries and events like OUC’s Career Fair. His success stems from his love of connecting with his audience through his toe-tapping dance music.
Remi remains a popular favourite at senior care homes such as Hawthorne Park and Three Links. At such venues his audience is often younger than he, something he attributes to his love of the accordion. “It’s bestowed the gift of youth on me, “ he professes. His youthfulness is apparent in the swift sureness of his strong fingers over the keyboard. “At 76 I’m playing better than when I was 25,” he says.
Remi only began playing in his teens after he immigrated to Canada from Italy. Living outside Cranbrook, he taught himself to play by ear on a model that he and his dad purchased for thirty dollars out of the Eaton’s catalogue.
After a variety of jobs in the resource industries, Remi attended teacher college in Victoria before returning to the Kootenays to teach. Later in Vancouver he ran began taking accordion lessons. He was 28 years old and his teacher “made me start from scratch.” In later years he moved to Kelowna and pursued the accordion fulltime. He now teaches, plays gigs and arranges music.
Remi’s life is full with other pursuits too. Earlier this year he played the role of a strolling accordionist in a CBC-TV French production. As well, he adjudicated a competition and conducted a 52-piece ensemble. And in July he and his daughter flew to Brazil where they drove to a remote countryside spiritual centre. “It was an enlightening unforgettable experience,” he.
Music remains his enduring passion. He plays hundreds of selections from memory and has a repertoire of thousands from written music. His cabinets hold uncounted volumes of accordion books and reams of sheet music. His collection of accordion music is outstanding, possibly the largest in Canada. “Oh, gee, I’ve got music coming out of the walls “ he says, “A fellow came from back east just to buy some from me.”
Remi’s musical range encompasses the range of his library. He easily demonstrates his musical virtuosity, playing the same piece in a variety of styles. His musical comfort zone extends from east European polka and waltz to Latin tango and rumba, from Scandinavian schottische to Italian tarantella, just to scratch the surface. Recently, says Remi, “I’ve become more interested in semi-classical music.
His knowledge of music theory is no less encyclopaedic. He discusses with ease the nuances of minor and major keys, discords, and intervals. “It makes me a better player,” he says. For Remi Picco, music constitutes part of his life, and the cultural life of the Okanagan is the richer for it.

King of the Valley: Ron Derrickson

This article first appeared in Canadian Business magazine.

King of the Valley

Ron Derrickson rules with an Iron Fist in a Velvet Glove

Fly over B.C.’s Okanagan Lake and you look down on a valley of surpassing beauty. The sensibility of the place seems more European than Canadian, with its many wineries and upscale ski resorts. Such amenities attract new residents and the valley’s swelling population has ignited a sizzling real estate market, now among the most expensive in the country.
The real estate boom has created a lot of wealth and more than a few millionaires in the Okanagan. But no one has had a more dramatic and unlikely rise to riches and influence than local boy Ron Derrickson. His eponymously-named RMD Group of Companies consists of some 20 companies with properties including mobile home parks, a family theme park, a marina, apartments, dozens of leased industrial and commercial properties, substantial tracts of prime undeveloped land, and other residential and recreational developments including a brand-new executive golf course. All told, if sold lock, stock and barrel, Derrickson’s holdings could ring in at an estimated $100 million.
Pretty good for a guy with a Grade 8 education.
Ron Derrickson, 59, did graduate from the Business School of Hard Knocks. Must have been some school because Derrickson possesses the acumen and shrewdness to match the business wherewithal of any MBA or CEO. Rather than hindering him, he’s managed to exploit his First Nations (read income tax-free) status to maximum advantage.
Along the way, he has locked horns with politicians from the local to federal levels, been six-time chief of the Westbank Indian band, been the subject of numerous formal inquiries and a royal commission, won the largest libel suit ever in Canada and was badly beaten in a bloody murder attempt by a hired hitman. He’s a yacht skipper and former North American speedboat champion.
Today, Derrickson just laughs about most of it. He runs his business empire from a suite of small offices overlooking his Old McDonald’s Farm theme park. His jet black hair is slicked straight back and his heavy gold jewelery and diamond-encrusted ring look good against his copper-coloured skin. He presents as a man in full, without artifice, brimming with confidence and a practical “Let’s get at it” air. Derrickson laughs easily at his own jokes and others’. He tells a good story and is possessed of exceptional people skills. His emotional intelligence is way off the scale: A manager walks out of the office next to his. He looks at her and asks, “What’s wrong?” “Nothing,” she avers. “Yes, there is,” he says, “What is it?” “Well,” she says, and spills out her story.
Derrickson concurs. “One of my greatest strengths has been my ability to read people,” he says. “I can look at someone and tell if he’s lying.” Derrickson is direct with people, speaks bluntly and to the point always, and suffers no bullshit. This directness has earned the enmity of many in the valley.
Derrickson was born dirt poor, living in a tar paper shack. He and his brother became the first Indian babies to be born at Kelowna General Hospital. His father, Ted, was a farmer, and so Ron worked the land from a young age. (The family name was Tousawasket - pronounced chu-cha-wasket - but an Indian agent chose the Anglo name Derrickson out of a hat.) He and his brother attended school in Kelowna, again the first Indians to do so. The school dealt him his first experience with racism. “It was terrible, just horrible,” he says of the bullying, emphatically, now more than a half-century later. His parents pulled them out of the Kelowna school and sent them to a residential school in the Okanogan Valley across the line in Washington State.
Dropping out of school in grade nine, Derrickson picked onions and other farmwork before packing his bags and heading to Vancouver. He tried his luck at different low-paying service jobs before becoming a welder. He enjoyed the work and was good at it, working inside massive $10 million turbines and earning union wages.
Knowing the inherent value of land from his farming background, Derrickson returned to the Okanagan and bought a ranch, land that the Westbank shopping mall now sits on. Later he bought another, running a total of 700 head of cattle. “You know I worked very hard,” he says earnestly, “My wife left me because of my work. She expected me home at five and I got up at 4 in the morning and I wouldn’t be home till 11 o’clock at night. With the cattle business it was a 7-day a week operation. Those cows have to be fed…at 6:00 and they want to eat again at 6 in the evening. And I had two ranches to look after and an hour and a half drive between ranches.” He learned to artificially inseminate his cattle and turned that into a business. “Try handling 40 cows in heat” he said once, “and you’ll find out what work is.”
Derrickson steadily accumulated property on the reserve. Normally, Indian reserve land is owned by the band. But the Westbank Band, established in 1963, is an offshoot of the Okanagan Indians and its members were granted Certificates of Possession by the federal government. Individual band members can own, sell and purchase the Certificates. So the land was cheap; it was Indian property that whites couldn’t own and in the early 80’s an intractable recession gripped the B.C. economy.
“There’s no magic in what I’ve done,” says Derrickson. “I knew what my course was and I never wavered.” He adds, “I’m not no deep intellectual. I bought a little piece of land and got some income from it and bought another.” He purchased his last property some 20 years ago. In 1986 the Coquihalla Highway opened, providing a direct connection from Vancouver to the Interior. Land values soared. In the meantime, Derrickson pursued low-cost developments that provided a steady cash flow.
With his increasing wealth, Derrickson bought a speedboat and joined the racing circuit. He recalls driving 87,000 miles in 8 ½ months to compete. He returned to the business world after taking 126 wins and the North American championship.
In 1976 Derrickson became the elected chief of the Westbank Indian band, winning five consecutive two-year terms. His motivation to run for chief stemmed from a realization that “there were some things that needed to be done.” He moved quickly to put the books in order and raised the ire of some when he took a tough stance re-negotiating leases on Indian land. A few trailer park owners responded by taking out a contract on his life. In August 1982, when he answered the door at his home, a stranger struck him in the head with a sharp-edged steel bar. A second blow severed arteries in his wrist, spraying blood. Struck again and again, Derrickson finally managed to break free and smash open a gun cabinet to reach a handgun. He shot the assailant before collapsing. Derrickson ended up in hospital with 248 stitches and his would-be assassin with a bullet wound and in prison.
Under his leadership the Westbank band’s fortunes soared from squalor to one of the wealthiest reserves in Canada, an “entrepreneurial hothouse” with 12 profitable tribe businesses Derrickson helped to develop. But internal dissension from band members and their rumours of financial malfeasance saw Derrickson the subject of 17 separate Indian Affair inquiries, Justice department investigations and RCMP probes. (An independent audit found, according to the chartered accountant, “All the allegations proved false. Everything was clean, everything documented.”)
Derrickson was defeated in the 1986 band election and then became the focus of a 20-month royal commission into his band activities. His business dried up, staff walked out on him and banks cut off his line of credit. A low-point in his life, the damage to his reputation reportedly caused him to consider taking his own life. The investigation cleared Derrickson of any wrong-doing and he subsequently sued his detractors, winning (at the time) the largest libel settlement in Canada.
Derrickson has never been a stranger to the courts. The Kelowna Court Registry names him in 34 Supreme and Civil court actions and five disputed traffic tickets. He is known for his litigious nature. Says Lyle Brewer, a specialist in First Nations land management and development, “He is unmerciful if someone tries to screw him. He won’t take any crap. They’ll feel his wrath...” As for his traffic tickets, Derrickson says, “I always fight my speeding tickets.” Once in court to deal with two of them, he struck a deal with the judge to plead to one if the other were dismissed.
In 1998 after a 12-year absence he was re-elected chief for a final term. He soon negotiated a tough deal with provincial and federal governments for native logging rights, signed a self-government treaty with the federal government, banned a local TV station’s news crews from the reserve, fought tooth and nail against a unionizing effort and proposed the reserve as a tax-free zone like the Bahamas or Grand Caymans.
With his remaining substantial tracts of prime undeveloped land, Derrickson today is a lightning rod for developers. Its the reason he says he doesn’t like to dine out locally, complaining that people always pitch him with deals. But deals there are aplenty. He’s just struck a deal with property developer Rykon to develop 98 acres of land around his new golf course. And a hush-hush deal sees him bringing a major new auto dealership to the valley.
Derrickson now takes more time to enjoy the good life. He lives alone but keeps a housekeeper/cook and a handyman to look after his lakefront home and property. He’s having the lakefront home re-modeled, including a $50,000 custom kitchen and a touchless carwash added to his 3-car garage.” His home reportedly features a wine cellar, horse stables, a 30-meter covered dock, a tennis court, a collection of first-edition books signed by their authors (including Hemingway) and some 500-year old Ming vases.
Pretty good for a guy with a Grade 8 education.

One Year Off: Hitting the Road

This article first appeared in Moneysense magazine.

Hit the Road, Jack

Sage Advice on RVing around North America

Last summer our family completed a 40,000-kilometer, 8-month drive around North America. Our two boys learned to surf in the waves off beaches in Baja California. We prowled through bayous in Louisiana and swam in the astonishingly blue waters of springs in northern Florida. We watched icebergs in Newfoundland, and in Cape Breton, ventured down a coal mine.
Let me tell you, it’s the best thing we’ve ever done. The trip proved to be an enormous family adventure. Part of our motivation stemmed from a desire to step off the day to day treadmill and share time and experiences with our sons Serge, 12, and Vaughn, 10, before they grew up. Our trip not only met but exceeded our hopes and expectations, and our sense of family togetherness has endured long after the trip ended. Whether you go for six days, six weeks or six months, spending time on the road with your family and seeing the incredible sights of North America is a world class adventure you’ll always remember. Plus the trip can be surprisingly inexpensive. If this interests you, here are words of advice from the road.
RVing is hugely popular in North America and not just because it can cost significantly less than other holiday options. Major benefits include being able to bring your pets and piles of personal gear, making friends at campgrounds on the road and, perhaps best of all, deciding your own schedule. The sense of freedom is truly exhilarating.
Choosing your vehicle presents your first and toughest decision. The category of Recreation Vehicle covers many different vehicle and towing combinations. RVs range in size and price from tent trailers to little Volkswagen Westphalia vans to enormous diesel buses with triple slide-outs. Choosing the right RV really depends on your trip. Says Al Shillington, the service manager of a major RV dealership in British Columbia, “What are you going to be doing? It all depends on what you’re planning to do and what you’re going to bring with you.” For overall comfort and room, Shillington recommends a motorhome. Trucks with fifth-wheel trailers, he says, are also popular because they’re dead easy to drive and back up Most trailers now feature two axles for safety and road stability. From white-knuckle experience I recommend avoiding a single-axle trailer.
People usually start out with something small, says Al Shillington. “I started out with a tent and worked my way up,” he says. Increasing size, however, has its drawbacks. Drivers of large rigs we met in Mexico complained bitterly of the price of gas and the narrowness of the roads. We chose a GMC Safari van for our tow vehicle and a small trailer because we liked the flexibility the combination offered. We were able to leave the trailer at a campsite and drive into town.
You might want to look into renting a RV. (Check out the rates at the RV rental website in the sidebar.) Renting for a long trip will prove more expensive than purchasing a RV and selling it afterwards, especially for a trailer. We sold ours for pretty much the purchase price. Trailer insurance is surprisingly inexpensive but pricey for the large rigs. And you can save plenty by buying your RV privately instead of from a RV Lot. Auto dealers who take RVs on trade-in sometimes offer them at firesale prices.
Whatever you choose, take plenty of short trips in your new RV before leaving on the big trip. You may find the size of the larger rigs daunting initially but all the drivers I spoke with said that they grew accustomed to driving them very quickly. No special driver’s license is required regardless of RV size. And attend to required purchases before you leave. We went out only a couple of times on short weekend hops and found we had to buy a new hitch and snow chains on the road. Searching for a RV shop in a strange city taxes your patience and takes the fun out of the day.
I’d also recommend purchasing a vehicle with a continent-wide warranty. It takes the stress out of breaking down on the road while you’re far from home. Our GMC Safari broke down in Moose Jaw. The 1-800 number instantly summoned a tow vehicle and the offer of overnight accommodation.
If you’re going south, an air conditioner is a great idea. We spent three months driving across the southern States, from San Diego to Key West. Though we loved Florida, especially the fresh water springs in the north and the Keys in the south, we suffered from the humidity. By April, it proved so acutely uncomfortable our two boys cried one night and I felt like joining them. Even tent trailers in Florida come with air cons and the owners run them 24 hours a day.
One concern every Canadian shares is the appalling (or lack of it) value of our dollar against the Yankee greenback: $1 U.S. = $1.60 Canadian. In other words, you’ll spend 60% more in the States than in Canada for equivalent services and goods. Fortunately we found camping in State Parks to be good value at about $15 U.S. a night. Obtain the best rates at private campgrounds by paying the monthly rate. By visiting in the winter off-season we never had a problem finding a good campground for the night except on holiday weekends. Depending on the state, gas is a bargain at about half the price in Canada, even with the exchange rate. All told –for gas, accommodation, and other expenses - we spent about $3,000 a month on the road.
Like us, you may be plagued with worries about taking to the road for an extended period. What about personal safety in Mexico and the U.S.? What about the children’s schooling? What about all the unknowns? Our fears proved baseless. Sure, we had close encounters with stingrays, riptides and alligators but that was part of the adventure. I recommend always talking to the locals for the best information. “Is it safe to swim here?” I asked a fellow in Louisiana. “Sure, as long as you don’t bring your dawg in the water, “ he replied. “The splishy-splashy brings the gators around.” You see, now that’s good advice!
Another concern that proved false was that the U.S. would prove to be a dull country full of malls and theme parks. On the contrary, many places proved to be unbelievably exotic. We especially enjoyed the snowy sequoia forests in California, Carlsbad Caverns in New Mexico, a time-tripping Civil War Re-enactment in Virginia and the busy exciting streets of New York, New York.
We found Microsoft Streets and Trips software to be very useful. Before hitting a new town we’d turn on the laptop for directions to the next shopping mall, gas station, bank machine, whatever. Priceless. I strongly recommend checking out the state tourist information stations situated at the state line on all major highways. They’re valuable source of maps, brochures and discount coupons. Use public libraries to check your email.
If travelling through the United States or Mexico on your own sounds a bit daunting, check out joining a caravan. Different options abound from formal guided tours to friends travelling together. Check the sidebar for information. At any rate, however you choose and wherever you choose, taking to the long and open road can be a marvelous experience you’ll never regret.

Links you may useful in planning your own roadtrip
Mexican Auto Insurance

Information Pages on Baja California

Mexico Tourist Information

Free Camping in the U.S.A. Guide

RV Rentals

USA Tourist Information

Canada Tourist Information

Guided caravans across Canada and the U.S.

Guides caravans into Mexico and Central America

Excellent source of information on Rving

When Your Neighbours are Neighbourly

This article first appeared in Harrowsmith Magazine.

What can you do when your Neighbours aren’t Neighbourly?

Here’s how local organizations can help protect their lands from vulture loggers.

When you live in the country, it’s usually with the expectation of quiet solitude coupled with abundant natural beauty. So when a new property owner in the Shuswap watershed in the southern B.C. interior began clearcutting his recently acquired 4,000 acres last summer, naturally he ruffled a few feathers. “There was no warning. People woke up and the feller buncher machines were outside the windows and they went 24 hours a day,” says local resident and a regional district director Eugene Foisey. People in the area complained about the incessant noise and even called the police but the new owner, says Foisey “claimed he was a farmer working his land and so exempt (from noise abatement laws) under the Farm Act.” Foisey is no stranger to the logging industry - he’s a lifelong logger himself – but says of this logging, “This was particularly egregious.” The woods he says were totally clearcut, right down to the creeks.
Robert Frost famously wrote, “Good fences make good neighbours” and by that spoke to the importance of neighbours developing a good working relationship. But when land is appreciated only for its assessed value, relationships with the neighbours take a back seat. With the increasing demand for natural resources, coupled with ceaseless urban sprawl, land use conflicts abound across rural Canada.
We depend on our neighbours to act in a co-operative and considerate fashion but when they choose not to, we have to rely on local laws. Unlike say, Fisheries and Oceans, which is governed by federal law, crown land is a provincial responsibility and a patchwork of laws exists across the country. Commercial logging operations are governed by provincial laws. For example, loggers must leave a riparian buffer zone along creeks for watershed protection in British Columbia. Such laws don’t apply to private land owners. Will Horter is the executive director of the Dogwood Initiative, a non-profit group that advocates for sustainable land use. Of private land use laws controlling logging in British Columbia, says Horter, “They’re so generalized they’re useless. They’re pretty much of a joke. And they’re not enforced.”
A consequence is what some disparagingly call “vulture logging” – clearcutting by individuals who look for rural lots that they can purchase, log and resell for quick profit. Private land owners can choose to selectively log so that the log harvesting is hardly noticeable, or they can cut everything down as quickly as they like. They can sell off the barren land and move on.
That’s what Eugene Foisey and residents of the Shuswap watershed were up against after their own vulture logger moved in. Foisey and other residents in local Cherryville organized themselves into a group called Friends of Responsible Ecological Sustainable Timber (FOREST). The group began by trying to speak to the landowner. When that didn’t work, they began lobbying different levels of government, held protest rallys on the piles of left-over slash, videotaped the clearcut logging operations, held townhall meetings and raised as much media attention as they could.
On secluded Denman Island in B.C’s Gulf Islands, the same thing happened in 1997. Almost one-third of the island was purchased by logger/developer Mike Jenks through his company Jemi Holdings. (Currently Jemi owns about 25,000 acres in B.C. with interest in 106,000 acres in Ontario.) Clearcutting began within two weeks despite local protests. Wayne Quinn of the Islands Trust, a legislated council of trustees mandated to preserve the Gulf Islands, led a legal battle to stop the loggings. “We went through a trial and an appeal after that and we lost both times,” he says.
After seeing the loss of forests on Denman and other neighbouring Gulf Islands, residents of Saltspring Island were determined to the stop clearcutting there in November 2001. Again, large parcels of land had been purchased by an absentee landowner. But Saltspringers in a high-profile effort united to block the vulture logging, even going so far as to chain themselves to the logging trucks. They also campaigned to raise money to buy the land back. Local resident, author and well-known radio personality Arthur Black led a last minute fund-raiser featuring naked men and fig leaves. The provincial government added to the pot raising a total $16 million to purchase the land to be set aside for parks.
Chalk one up for the little guys.
Says Wayne Quinn today of future legal battles against private land clearcutting, “We have to use the tools available to us and those are limited to the development permits required for steep slopes, watershed or ecologically sensitive areas.”
It’s too late for some of the lands in the Shuswap but Foisey and FOREST carry on the fight. “We’re pushing for new bylaws with a bite but at the same time offer small landowners a carrot to preserve the forests,” he says.

The Raw Food Cookbook

Alive ‘N Raw
Elyse Nuff brings her uncooked message to the Okanagan

By Greg Fjetland

She hasn’t had a cooked meal in years, and Elyse Nuff says she feels great. The 60-year old woman is a passionate advocate for eating raw, uncooked meals. After a close encounter with a potentially fatal liver disease, she began searching, not for sources of illness but of wellness. Her journey has led her to challenge one of our modern customs, so prevalent as to be invisible: cooked food.
“Cooked foods are a poison to the body,” says Elyse flatly. “You are born with a warehouse of enzymes and you have to replace them with natural enzymes.” Cooking destroys the temperature-sensitive enzymes. The result is the onset of what our medical system views as age-related diseases, but which Elyse sees as a result of enzyme depletion. She presents herself as living proof; since abandoning cooked foods and eating strictly uncooked and organic foods, her health, energy and stamina have soared.
Though her face glows as she describes preparing raw foods and its nutritional benefits, Elyse Nuff is no starry-eyed dreamer. She’s a hard-edged, keen-eyed former newspaperwoman, realtor and alderman. She sat on the board of a regional district. Her political experience is apparent. She speaks her mind emphatically. “I’ll come after you if you misquote me,” she says to this reporter convincingly. Her skepticism stems from her experiences in running two newspapers, and recognition that many will dismiss her notion of a diet of raw foods as extremism and lacking in scientific basis or necessity.
Elyse now finds herself with an unexpected mission: to spread the word of the benefits of fresh fruits and vegetables. “Turn away from the stove to the refrigerator,” she says. She says she’s in vanguard of people who recognize the benefits of raw eating. She describes her occupation as health consultant. ‘I’m not a doctor, “ she notes. But more scientific research, she says, is backing up her viewpoint, and more people are choosing to eat uncooked foods.
She attributes the prevalence of chronic illness in our society to diet. “People have to become aware of what they’re eating,” she says. “Sooner or later they have to bite the bullet and take responsibility for their own health.” The consequence is ill health. “Pretty soon your body will lay you flat. That get your attention but by then you’re verging on a chronic or major illness.”
Elyse’s ardor and passion stems from her deeply held belief that this suffering is totally unnecessary. She holds without doubt that our food system is designed to maximize profit, not health. Elyse is convinced that given organic raw fruits and vegetables the body will heal itself, from aches and pains, even cancer.
Despite the skepticism her message meets with, Elyse welcomes the challenge because of the very tangible benefits. “Sure it’s a huge change,” she admits. “We change our habits very reluctantly.” The trick is to start small and make incremental changes. As the benefits become apparent, people will abandon cooked foods. “You have to be determined to be the best you can be,” she says. “You have to be determined to be well.”
A raw food diet should be a convenience, she says, not a hindrance. It saves time because you no longer have to stand at the stove and then scrub pots afterwards. It saves money, because cooked food, especially purchased prepared food, is expensive. She rarely shops. A local organic farmer delivers her fruits and veggies to her door.
Elyse is accompanied on her road to wellness by her husband Eldon. Though also committed to a raw food diet as well, he does admit to backsliding and eating cooked foods once in a while. For breakfast the couple might enjoy fresh juice and fruit salad, for lunch soup and crackers, and for supper, tossed green salad, sprouted grains and stuffed red peppers.
To help people change their eating habits, Elyse has written, designed and published a recipe book. “Alive ‘n Raw….As Nature Intended” contains information about raw food and recipes. The book serves as an introduction to the raw food approach and philosophy. “It’s for the greenhorn,” she says. “I’ve put my experiences into this guide for people without them having to poke around in the dark.” The recipes are simple, straightforward, surprisingly varied and tasty. The flaxseed crackers are excellent. Recipes range from salads and dressings to entrees and dessert. Elyse is currently presenting her recipe book at book-signings throughout the valley, scheduled for Nature’s Fair on March 1st and Chapters on March 8th.

Thursday, June 7, 2007

Showcase magazine: The Redzone

Alan McTeer in the Red Zone
An interview with a charming adventurer turned novelist

By Greg Fjetland

“The cabin is rapidly filling with smoke. I force myself to think, to concentrate. How can I put out this fire? If I depressurize the cabin at this altitude, the fire can’t possibly burn. I look down to check the oxygen gauge on my emergency bottle and put on the mask. I push the depressurization toggle to the off position. The switch, which was probably never used before, breaks off in my hand.”
Excerpt from Red Zone

Alan McTeer laughs when he tells the story now but he says that at the time, his plane’s cabin fire was not in the least humorous. He survived the fire but was just beginning the misadventure that forms the story in his new novel “Red Zone.” Impressively, the Kelowna-based author, filmmaker and adventuring pilot swears that his novel is “90 percent true.”
Over coffee at a local Starbucks, McTeer, roguishly handsome with his close-cropped silver hair and flinty blue eyes, tells his tale. A natural raconteur, his stories flow effortlessly, convincingly and continuously. He talks about meeting CIA agents and key players in the Calli drug cartel of Columbia, smuggling planes out of South America, and mining gold in Bolivia. He worked with the U.S. Air Force and, after his arrest, with the Drug Enforcement Agency. Red Zone, his first novel, is the recounting of one business trip that went very badly askew.
This adventuring author has had a lifelong fascination with planes. He began flying with Air Cadets at the age of 12 in Rossland. But a renal aneurysm put him out of the running for flying for the Canadian Forces and he became a millwright at Cominco in Trail. When he was 26 he moved to Calgary and began selling Cessna airplanes. “That’s when the trouble started,” he says.
His dentist told how his plane had been impounded in Mexico. McTeer volunteered to retrieve it. At the Mexican airport he started a fire as a diversion while he tried to get the plane started. He flew it back all the way to Calgary, limping along on one magneto. “We were young, dumb and stupid,” he confesses.
Encouraged by his early success he started a business in Las Vegas called Flight Recovery Services of Nevada. Later he moved the business to Miami and began recovering confiscated planes for insurance companies. The planes he sought were in countries throughout the Caribbean and South America. The stakes were high but the money and business were good.
In 1984 a job offer led him to Bolivia. For four years, he worked as a broker selling planes and helicopters. But when one of the planes crashed, the pilot’s family threatened McTeer and his wife and their two children. He took off to the mountains to sluice for gold while his family returned to New York. When a flash flood wiped out his operations he moved back to United States to try to pick up where he left off.
But back in Florida with his many contacts, the easy money of drug smuggling attracted him. McTeer was caught and convicted but served only a few months for his full co-operation with the Drug Enforcement Agency.
Although McTeer’s life had been exciting enough up till now, this is where Red Zone begins and things really heat up. Written in the terse style of Elmore Leonard and peopled by more bad guys than you’ll meet in a lifetime, the novel rings true with the authentic details that only someone who’s been there can provide. Anxiety, like the high-pitched note in a suspense movie, pervades the book as its protagonist, Alan Richards, and his sidekick Mario are inexorably drawn into increasingly dangerous situations. Red Zone is the fast-paced and relentless story of the crash-landing of Richard and Mario’s burning plane, their arrest, torture, imprisonment, release and subsequent reluctant and ultimately –thanks to Richards – unsuccessful drug smuggling. In desperate bids to stay alive, the unlikely companions make deals to escape bad situations only to find their next ones even worse. Mario, providing comic relief, manages to dig them in deeper and deeper with his overactive libido. Gradually, and by the barest of margins, Richards turns the outcome in his own favour. He returns safely to America leaving Mario behind.
Today, McTeer finds himself an unexpectedly successful author. “My relatives are saying to me, “Hey, I didn’t know you could write,” he laughs. Sales of Red Zone have been good, he says, with the book handled by Chapters in Canada and Barnes and Noble in the U.S. The book has been broadly and favourably reviewed and McTeer says a film deal is “definitely in the works.” For those of us readers who remain concerned with Mario’s well-being, McTeer says we’ll just have to wait for the sequel.

Profit: How well are you looking after your Finances?

Quiz: How well are you looking after your Finances?

If there is one lesson for us all to remember from the dot bomb implosion, it’s the need to be prudent and vigilant in safeguarding our personal capital. All too regularly, the best laid plans do go astray, so planning for the worst case scenario is always a wise recourse. Financial planning need not be an expensive or time-consuming exercise, but it does need to be looked after, and the sooner, the better. Trying to plan for likely contingencies requires knowledge and foresight, so here’s a quick quiz to give you a head start.

1. Have you become so wrapped up in the finances of your business that you have neglected your personal finances by not diversifying your investment portfolio and taking advantage of other financial tax-saving vehicles, such as RRSP and RESP?
2. Have you remained current on business insurance options such as Segregated Funds, Key Person Insurance and Overhead Insurance that help to guarantee your business’s continuing viability in the event of an unexpected crisis?
3. Given that only an estimated 10% of family-owned businesses survive to the 3rd generation, have your planned a tax-efficient exit strategy for your eventual retirement, or will Revenue Canada be the chief beneficiary?
4. What measures have you taken, such as incorporation or spousal ownership of equity and capital, to minimize your personal liability in case of business bankruptcy?
5. As a full or some time contractor, have you instituted a system to guarantee your sub-contractors carry WCB coverage and other liability insurance so that you’re not on the hook, perhaps years down the road, if problems develop as a result of their actions?
6. Have you engaged the services of a certified financial planner to review your personal finances and provide the best advice on how to manage your investments?
7. Have you provided any personal guarantees for company loans, potentially placing your home and other assets at risk in the event of business bankruptcy.
8. Have you provided an adequate salary for yourself and your family commensurate with your level of responsibility and hours spent on the job?
9. Have you considered the utility of an Individual Pension Plan (IPP) or Retirement Compensation Arrangement (RCA) as a both a retirement and succession planning tool for you and your business?
10. Are you aware that annual maximum initial IPP contribution rates are significantly higher than RRSP contributions rates for older individuals ($26,000 for a 60 year old in 2004 vs. RRSP maximum of $15,500)?
Bonus question!
11. Did you know that contributions made to, or benefits earned under, an RCA do not reduce any amounts you may contribute to an RRSP, spousal RRSP or IPP (or other registered pension plan)?

Moneysense magazine: How to get your stuff back.

Getting Your Stuff Back

Hiring a private detective may be the best solution to recovering stolen property.

By Greg Fjetland

Suffering the outrage and indignation of home break-in and property theft is a troubling fact of modern life for many Canadians. Police across Canada reported more than 1.2 million incidents of property crime in 2002. Almost 275,000 break-ins were reported, the majority of them residential. (Prince Edward Island reported the largest increase in break-in rates at 29%.) Unfortunately, overworked and understaffed police departments don't have the time or resources to track down all the thieves and their stolen goods.
The good news is that victims of crime can do quite a bit to help recover their goods as was my personal experience. When our family went on an extended trip two years ago (See MoneySense “Going Places” June/July 03) we decided to rent out our furnished home in our absence. We rented the house to a family we knew casually. They turned out to have no intention of paying the rent. Their cheques bounced and after two months we evicted them. We hired a property manager to look after the place and he promptly found us a new family that had no intention of paying the rent either. And when they finally moved out after 6 months they took our household furnishings with them.
We tracked down our first tenants through friends. They’d heard our tenants had moved to Calgary so we called long distance directory assistance for their number. Then with a court order for payment in hand we called a Calgary lawyer. After his phone call, our first tenants agreed to pay the outstanding rent.
Our second set of tenants had moved only across town but were now living under the wife’s maiden name. We learned her previous name from an old bill left behind in their garbage and then obtained their new address through the kindness of a clerk at the cable company. (People always pay their cable bills the clerk assured us.) Once we supplied the RCMP with the address, our officer promptly went to pick them up. And quite a scene it was too, the constable later told us, with the husband cursing and the wife crying, a new born baby in her arms, as the couple was bundled into separate cruisers. (He was later to claim our furnishings were mistakenly taken by the movers and the rent non-payment was an oversight!)
Another option is to hire a private investigator to assist in your search. This was the route chosen by Richard and Lois Soneff of Kelowna. The couple awoke one morning in November 2002 to find their new custom jetboat stolen out of the back yard. Richard had just finished helping to assemble the boat, took it out for its first run and brought it home on Friday. The crooks struck the next night. “I’ll never forget how I felt,” he says, when he discovered the boat gone. The appraised value of the uninsured boat was $60,000, a major financial blow to the couple.
The Soneffs contacted the RCMP but weren’t convinced that the police were going to devote the time or effort to track down their boat. Richard undertook the task of finding the boat himself by taking out newspapers advertisements in B.C., Alberta and Washington State offering a $5,000 reward. He also hired a private investigator to help research and track down leads, searching for his stolen boat. Together, he and their private investigator sent out thousands of emails and faxes to gas stations and boatyards.
More and more victims of property crime are relying on private investigators to recover their goods. As a result P.I.’s report that their business is booming. “We’re swamped,” says Suzanne Parisien, president of FBIG Investigations (Okanagan.) which employs 13 licensed private investigators. Parisien says some of their business is because the RCMP assign greater priority to crimes other than property theft. RCMP Media Liaison Constable Heather Macdonald disagrees, saying that, “All files are assigned to a member.” Parisien says that the FBIG Vancouver branch has a whole division concerned with property recovery.
In tracking down the culprits, says Parisien, any leads provided by the victim can be helpful. “Typically we’ll use reliable sources, which could be anyone from neighbours, friend, relatives and the authorities,” she says. She says FBIG investigators don’t use the Internet much because the information isn’t current.
But don’t expect to hire today’s Sam Spade for $100/day. Private investigators don’t come cheap. FBIG charges the industry standard: $65/hour and costs. Costs can include long distance phone bills and travel expenses. Clients can be into big money pretty quickly so Parisien says they usually only get called in on big ticket items, like the Soneff'’s boat or items with a strong sentimental value, like jewelry or other keepsakes.
Besides checking with directory assistance and, Constable MacDonald says to visit local pawnshops to see if you can recognize your belongings. She also advises to keep serial numbers and photos of items in a safe place to help identify and reclaim recovered items.
So we managed to get our stuff back and the back rent paid too. And the Soneffs, following a tip, hired a plane and spotted their boat on a farm one hour north of Prince George. The Soneffs called the cops who promptly went and arrested the bad guys and got them their boat back.

Profit magazine: Maximizing the value of your business

Are you doing the best things to maximize the value of your business and prepare it for sale?

Have you made sure that your succession-ownership transfer structure is tax-effective by discussing this with your accountant?

With the help of your realtor, have you identified potential buyers and a sent them a sales prospectus with enough information to elicit interest but no so detailed as to identify your business (and so turn off potential customers if word gets out your business is for sale?)

To attract interested buyers, along with a description of your business, does your sales prospectus list key financial figures such as profit, cashflow, value of assets and total debts, and compare these figures to previous years and any unique aspects such as market leader in a product?

If you are deeding your business to your family in your will, are you setting up a battle royale by not telling them, or have you all sat down together to talk about the arrangement and what works best for all parties (including a buy-out instead of a share in the business?)

Are you choosing a time to exit when the business is doing well and the market conditions are advantageous, or are you leaving when your hand is being forced and you may not realize all the value in your company?

Have you prepared a realistic three- to five-year business plan that will appeal to a potential buyer but is wholly truthful as well?

To appeal to buyers, have you ensured that when you leave that all of your expertise doesn’t walk out the door with you, by training and delegating your roles to others and helping to development the requisite management skills in-house?

Given that the succession planning process generally takes 12 to 18 months, with an orderly transition taking as long as three to five years, have you placed your own succession on the back-burner under the mistaken impression you can quickly take care of it later?

With the help of a succession professional who understands your business sector, have you formalized your succession plan by detailing through a document with whom, what, how and when the transition occurs?

Do you have a contingency plan in the event that something happens to the purchaser or that he or she doesn’t work out?

Have you determined a business valuation that establishes a realistic and fair dollar number business, based on assets, earnings, intellectual property, marketplace position and reputation?

Given the emotion that’s often involved and to help yourself to be clear on the sale, can you articulate why you’re selling the business: desire for personal liquidity; need of expansion capital; anxiety caused by personal liability and unreasonable risks; age and health; or simply need for a change?

Since the use of professional services is usually essential to the successful sale of a small business, have you consulted a lawyer, insurance broker, accountant and banker for advice and help?

Have you thought like a potential buyer and done the staging necessary to maximize the value of your business: increasing sales, reducing expenses and debt, cleaning up the property and other steps to increase the “curb appeal”?

Have you examined the possibility without emotional bias that your business may be worth more in pieces - assets, real estate, customer base- than sold as a whole?

Profit magazine: Are You Getting the Most of Your Networking?

Are You Getting the Most of Your Networking?

An unspoken yet critical component of business is trust. The people who know and trust you is essential to your enterprise. That’s why business networking has always been important to successful businesses. Good networking is more than just remembering names and faces; it’s also about developing real relationships. Take our quiz to see how you measure up.

For local contacts, have you joined a professional businessperson’s group like the Rotary Club, Downtown Business Association or an industry specific group to meet, discuss, share, brainstorm and network?
If you have joined a business club, are you willing to spend the time to develop real and sincere relationships, or is it all “just business” to you?
For international contacts, have you considered joining an internet-based networking site like or
Do you make it a point to go to at least one industry conference per year and meet enough other people to make it worth your while for the coming year?
Do you enhance the quality of your networking contacts by appropriately following up with a thank you note or email to genuinely extend your interest and appreciation in meeting that person?
Have you made networking part of your strategic plan by writing it down, assigning staff and a budget to join organizations and attend business functions to carry out relationship-building activities?
Have you practiced a 10-15 second “verbal business card” filled with benefits of doing business with you, or do you just wing it, hoping to create the best impression?
When working an event (and not just the room), do you tend to focus on just a few people – and so miss most people - or do you limit your interactions with any one person to 10 minutes maximum?
Do you consciously seek to create a positive first impression through your appearance, demeanour, posture, handshakes, eye contact and facial expressions?
Do you look to “Pay It Forward” by going out of your way to help other business people, even if no immediate payback is obvious, by introducing them to a possible partner or business opportunity?
When you network, do you speak your goals clearly, saying what it is that you do, who you do it for and how you might be able to help each other further?
Have you taken the time to read a few of the excellent (and entertaining) books on networking, such as The Frog and Prince: Secrets of Positive Networking To Change Your Life?
Have you used the three best questions "How did you get your start in the 'widget' business?", "What do you enjoy most about what you do?" and the key question, “How can I know if someone I meet would be a good prospect for YOU?"
Given that 2 out of 10 prospects make up 80% of your sales, do you know who those people are and do you go out of your way to network and keep in touch with them?
Have you considered starting your own industry-focussed blog or e-newsletter to create a buzz for yourself and so that clients and colleagues feel they know you even before they meet you?

Monday, April 16, 2007

An Inexpensive Way to Travel Europe

This fall my family and I are going to Europe for about three months. The plan currently is to go to Istanbul and Turkey for about three weeks, London for about a week, Morocco for three weeks, Spain for about three weeks and maybe Rome and/or maybe Egypt. Pretty ambitious and sounds like a lot of travelling but the timelines are pretty generous. Anyways, my wife and I and our two boys have done this sort of thing before (five years ago we took a year off and spent 10 months driving around North America, from Baja to Florida to Newfoundland then back to Kelowna) so a lot of travelling doesn't bother us.

What does bother me is high prices and the Euro makes travel to Europe quite expensive. I've run through a few scenarios of the cheapest way to do it (RV, hostels, camping) but I think the best way is to stay in holiday villas and fly between countries. Europe is full of holiday villas, little one or two bedroom apartments, generally on the coastline outside of cities. The owners are there for the summer but in the off-season beginning in October you can rent them very cheaply, say, $400 a week.

Here are some of the better sites I've come across.

There's lots more but those are some of the ones I liked best.

Once in Europe, you can fly for incredibly cheap prices. Here are some of the better discount airline sites I've found.

A good site for comparing all the discount fares at once is:

Without a doubt, staying in London is a pricey business. Even staying at a hostel for a family of four is going to be at least $130/night. Fortunately a friend turned me to www/ If you book ahead you can stay for a cheaply as 26 pounds a night for a family room. For the four of us, that's a great deal, especially given some of their hotels are right in the heart of London.

Thursday, April 12, 2007

Whistler Blackcomb: Gellatly Bay Nut Farm

Just got back from a couple of days at Whistler Blackcomb. What a ski hill. Massive. Incredible views. The mountains go up, up, up. The rope tow on the top of Blackcomb drops you off at 7400 feet. That's getting close to a mile and half. From there, my son and I saw a line of people trudging higher. We joined the line-up and, just over the lip, were rewarded with the tremenous site of a glacier cirque and a new layer of snow from the previous night. It was still early in the morning so only a few people had laid down tracks. We got our sticks on and it was like, being in Valhalla. Sunny with a few clouds drifting by the cliff faces, spires of rock, frozen blue waterfalls. Unbelievable. Some of the best skiing I've ever done.

Now, here's a hint for the thrifty. A daypass at the ticketbooth is $81 for adults. Not bad, considering what you get. But at the 7/11 on the highway in Squamish you can get discount tickets. I got mine for 50 bucks, and about thirty for my son. Good value.

This story I wrote for Harrowsmith on a local nut farm turned regional park.

Nuts About Nuts: the Okanagan’s Gellatly Nut Farm is a pioneer’s jewel

When the Gellatly Nut Farm Society in B.C.’s Okanagan Valley recently put out a call for a volunteer work party, I optimistically showed up carrying a pair of pruners. Staring up at the tops of the 30-meter nut trees, I shared a laugh with the society president and founder Fern Jean. Fern is the grand-daughter of David Erskine (Jack) Gellatly, the pioneer who planted this heritage nut orchard in 1905 and ran the business through good times and bad. Fern, 69, is as gnarled and sturdy as the trees that surround her, shares her grand-father’s commitment to the land’s future. She’s spearheading the effort to save this valuable Canadian heritage farm from the bulldozers of the developers, and she’s winning the fight.
Preserving the family nut farm is Fern’s passion and it’s an important one. The nut orchard represents close to a century of selecting, testing and breeding nut trees to develop cultivars that combine high quality with frost hardiness. Jack Gellatly gathered nuts varieties from around the world, and tested and intercrossed them with related North American species in order to produce new hybrid varieties. For this reason the Gellatly Nut Farm has been described as the “cradle of hardy nut growing and breeding in North America and beyond” and continues to be popular for nut sales in the fall. It is, in fact, the oldest surviving commercial nut farm in Canada
The farm’s roots run deep in the region’s history. One of the early farming entrepreneurs in the Okanagan valley, Jack Gellatly planted and cultivated heartnuts, walnuts, buartnuts, trazels, filhazels and chestnuts. His farm proved a solid success and Gellatly sold his saplings as far afield as Europe. (Samples of fourteen named cultivars were acquired by the USA Department of Agriculture for the U.S. National Germ Plasm Collection.) Misfortune struck in 1906 when a sudden windstorm destroyed his large, newly completed greenhouse. (The glass had been shipped around the Horn from England.) Jack had to re-mortgage, putting up the land as collateral. “He had to borrow money and Grandma insisted he cut off a ten-acre section for each of their boys,” recollects Fern. Her grandmother’s foresight literally saved the farm. In 1920 a spark from the smokestack of the S.S. Sicamous, a CPR sternwheeler that plied the waters of Okanagan Lake, set the packinghouse ablaze. With no insurance and his farm sold, Jack spent the rest of his life fighting the C.P.R. for compensation. He died physically and financially spent.
Today this acreage is all the remains of the pioneer’s efforts. In 1999 when the 10-acre parcel of land was threatened with development, Fern formed the society to fund the farm’s preservation. The local community responded enthusiastically. The society signed up 800 members and has raised $500,000 to date. The land is now designated as a regional park and owned by the district.
Despite its park status, the farm is in need of serious upkeep. Jean points out that because it’s a designated B.C. “Class A” heritage site, any changes to the site have to be done carefully. About half of the current trees need to be removed. “Take out the weak and sad trees and let the strong ones live,” she says.
The Gellatly Nut Farm is a shining example of a potentially perfect agri-tourism enterprise. Situated on the shores of Okanagan Lake, this still largely undeveloped site offers a long beach with shallow swimming waters and a stunning view across the lake. That alone will draw visitors. Additionally, the nut farm has a rich history and related activities in which visitors can participate. For example, one of the most popular events is the fall nut harvest. Volunteers shake the trees and gather the booty. The orchard echoes with peals of laughter and excited voices. Says Fern of last year’s nut harvest, “We had hundreds of volunteers. We had loads of school kids. I had one school girl come up to me and say, “This is the happiest day of my life.” Such is the joy the bounty of nature can inspire.

To Learn More About Nut Growing

“Nut bearing plants are prized for their fruit, wood, and ornamental values. These plants will grow into a valuable timber resource, while producing crops rich in food value, flavourful, nutritious, prized for baking, appetizers, salads, main dishes, and deserts - an adventure in otherwise ordinary meals. There are ornamental uses for the shells, such as in jewellery.
The wood of nut trees is the most prized wood of temperate regions for cabinetry (Black Walnut), shipbuilding (the Oaks), in tools (the Hickories), and interior finishes such as veneer, just to name a few of the more common uses. In fact, for many of the nut species the whole tree is valuable, from the roots to the tops. Root wood and burls are prized by carvers and wood turners. These species should not be just cut down in harvesting, but should also be dug up to recover the majority of the roots system.
As ornamentals, they are superior shade trees with unique foliage, form and fruit which attract birds and animals for food and shelter. Root systems are deep, compact and generally non-invasive, good for preventing soil erosion. The living trees themselves are applied to streetscapes (the pollution resistant Gingko), in landscaping (the hazel shrub or beech in hedges, or the oaks and walnuts as shade trees), and so on.”
ECSONG Nut Grower’s Electronic Manual

Gellatly Nut Farm Information

Tools, Information and Nut Growing Resources

Society of Ontario Nut Growers

Eastern Chapter of Ontario Nut Growers

Thursday, April 5, 2007

Okanagan Mountain Park Fire

This article appeared as a feature in BC Business magazine.

Hell on Earth

Rebuilding in the wake of Canada’s worst interface fire

Most house fires burn at a temperature somewhere between 1200 and 1500 degrees Celsius. In the Okanagan Mountain Park firestorm of last August, temperatures peaked at about 2500 degrees. Under those conditions, the fire is so intense, the heat so all-consuming, a house fire is more of a cremation. All that’s left is a fine white dust and non-combustibles like metal or brick. With all the moisture driven out, even the cement foundation is destroyed.
The Okanagan Mountain Park fire wreaked devastation such as this all along the length of Okaview Road in Kelowna’s Mission Hills sub-division. It was so total that the fire department had to count driveways to figure out how many houses had burned. At the end of each driveway, beyond the yellow police tape, remained the stumps of fire-blackened foundations. Items like the refrigerators, stoves, kitchen sinks, washer/dryers from the upper floors, all ended up in the basements, directly below the rooms where they used to sit. Even the inground septic tanks burned.
This is what Canada’s worst interface fire did when it blasted out of the bone dry Okanagan hills on August 23, and razed home after home to the dirt on Okaview Road. For the residents of Okaview Road, their street was to suffer the direct and unbridled wrath of the firestorm and would become the most devastated of any of the streets in Kelowna. Ultimately, 41 homes would be lost on Okaview Road. This story is about what it takes to rebuild a neighborhood and how the families of Okaview have begun to recover their lives.

The Conflagration
Okaview Road winds its way along the edge of Kelowna’s upscale Mission Hills on the southern edge of town. With an average summer ‘03 price of $321,000, the area is home to a mix of working professionals and the moderately well to do. It has always been a pleasant street with large well-kept homes, shaded by large Ponderosa pine trees and bordered in places by working vineyards. Because the land drops off sharply on the north side of the street, Okaview offers a commanding view of Okanagan Lake, stretching from the floating bridge to south of Peachland.
Like many residents of Okaview Road, Tannis Bottomley was on vacation when she learned that a forest fire was threatening Kelowna. When the mother of three and a Fine Arts student at Okanagan University College heard that authorities had evacuated nearby neighborhoods, she and her family promptly returned home from Vancouver Island. Back in Kelowna they began emptying their home of furniture and personal belongings, and clearing the yard of pine needles and other combustibles. She says they were pretty confident that both of their houses – their home and a nearby rental - would be fine. But then Tannis says, “We looked up behind Kettle Valley and the fire was running down the hill towards us just like water.” They jumped in their car and got the hell out.
Also away at 414 Okaview was nearby neighbour Barb McKarl, a registered massage therapist who worked out of her home. She phoned a friend to go into her house and take out a few treasured valuables, and the physiotherapist she works with grabbed the patient records and receipt book, but everything else they left in their home. She says neither she nor her husband was overly concerned. “Neither one of us thought that there was the remotest chance that the fire would reach our house. Like I said, it would have to go through 20 houses before it reached our house.”
Such nonchalance was shared by their next door neighbour Dale Hennen of 412 Okaview, a retired Vancouver firefighter. “We were sitting on the balcony the week before we got evacuated and I said, “There’s no way that fire is going to come down here. The guys will have it knocked down before it comes anywhere near us.” he says.
Rick Baker, president and owner of the local Reimax Realty franchise, had also let his guard down. The Okaview Road resident had been on evacuation alert for a few days and had packed valuable keepsakes into his wife’s car. Because they were renovating their kitchen they decided to go out for supper. The evacuation order came while they ate and the neighbourhood was sealed down tight. “I did everything but turn cartwheels to get these guys to let me up, just to get the other vehicle out, “ he says, but to no avail.
With an evacuation order in effect, the residents fled on Thursday, August 21st as the firefighters moved in. On Friday one of those Kelowna firefighters was Chris Zimmerman. Son of Kelowna fire chief Gerry Zimmerman and a five-year veteran, Zimmerman was on Okaview Road as the winds picked up and the flames came roaring down the street. He tells an incredible tale of survival, fighting the firestorm on Okaview Road Friday night. He says, “The fire basically came in and surrounded us. It was like a vacuum in there. It was hard to breathe. Flames were all around and it was completely black over top, and there was almost like a suction in there. It was sealed off and it was kind of convulsing. It would suck the smoke down and then blow it back up. It would like inhale and then exhale and shit would go flying through the air, like big stumps, going overhead a good 200 feet in the air. They’d start houses on fire behind us. It was pretty nuts.”
As the shower of burning debris rained on rooftops, along with gusts of superheated air, the houses erupted into fire. With the wind blowing hard, Zimmerman reports the houses practically turned to ash in front of them. He says, “ Some went up so fast we didn’t have a chance. They’d be burning in a matter of seconds and there was nothing we could do but do hose down the ones beside them to try to save them. We saw some of them go in a minute, the flames would just eat it, like a tidal wave.”
Finally, besieged by blasts of heat and billows of blowing sparks Zimmerman and the other firefighters had to bug out, hunkering down in a dirt field just off Okaview. “We had no fuel in the truck, we had no water, they couldn’t get the fuel trucks up to us. The power went down and the fire went around us so basically we just had to pull into the field and say this is where we sit till the guys below us could get into us,” he says. Below them, Okaview Road lay a smoking, burning wasteland.

The Aftermath
Evacuated residents of Okaview fanned out across the city, registering with the evacuation centre and finding shelter with friends, hotels or the stadium downtown. Says Dale Hennen, “After we got evacuated we went to the other side of the lake and had the pleasure of watching the fire destroy all the homes in this area.”
A week later, the Kelowna Fire Department held a tense meeting at the Trinity Baptist church where residents learned if their houses were still standing or not. Counsellors stood by to help with the trauma. Okaview residents were gripped by tension and uncertainty. Forty-one homes were destroyed on Okaview including the McKarl’s and the Hennen’s. Tannis Bottomley and her husband lost both their home and rental house.
Al Wahal and his wife, a retired couple from 415 Okaview, also attended the meeting. Al says he prepared his wife for the bad news. But the fire had capriciously spared their home while destroying their neighbours. “The worst thing for us was going to Trinity Church where we found out whose house was standing and whose wasn’t, and to see our neighbours totally devastated.” he says compassionately.
Similarly fortunate was Reimax president Rick Baker. “Everything to the south and to the west of us was just gone,” he says.
Janet Berg, an employee at Okanagan University College, also lost her home at 467 Okaview Road. Recollecting the hardship the fire brought down on her family in those first days, she says, “The displacement or feeling of homelessness was very stressful. Accommodations were hard to find and within the first two weeks we moved four times.” Her young son Keenan cried for his the old home and his toys she says.
While finding houses to rent (and learning that rental rates had jumped substantially), the burned out Okaview residents contacted their insurance companies to begin the long process of filing and collecting their claims. The first half of the claim process consisted of detailing the house and its construction. With the building plans from city hall, claimants sat down with an assessor or computer spreadsheet to record their home’s construction, from countertops and floor coverings, to room and window sizes. A current value to replace the home was calculated.
The second and far more arduous process was making the claim for personal goods. Insurance companies require that every item –every article of clothing, every kitchen appliance, every book and CD, every pen or pencil, - be noted for its original cost and date and place of purchase. It’s a slow and detailed process that takes weeks as claimants recollect their possessions, filling out dozens of pages recording their possessions.
Concurs massage therapist Barb McKarl, “The worst thing about it was listing the contents. You don’t sleep at night, you wake up in the middle of the night and think, “Did I remember to put that in there? Did I remember to put this in there? So other than the loss of the house itself, that is probably the worst aspect of it.” Tannis Bottomley says, “I’d be at a friend’s house and I’d say, “Can I look in your kitchen drawers.”
Says Jane of the complicated process, “I spent days walking through The Bay, writing down exact prices. The kicker is, even though you have replacement value insurance for your contents, initially it’s depreciated by up to as much as 50%. Our overall amount was depreciated by 38%, based on industry standards. A pair of shoes might be depreciated 40% but a blouse 20% So initially you receive a cash settlement. If we go out and purchase and actually replace that pair of shoes and send them the receipt that says this pair of shoes replaces the pair of shoes that listed on page 67 item 42, and this pair of shoes costs more than you advanced to me, then they will pay you the difference.”
It was in claiming for personal goods that most fire victims found themselves far short of sufficient coverage. Their actual cost of goods far exceeded their personal limit, generally in the neighbourhood of $150,000 to $200,000. Barb McKarl says, “Once you sit down and start listing every single thing you have, right down to staple removers, my cost was about double what my content coverage was.” She says, “Once you start listing everything, suddenly you realize you’re $150,000 over what you’re covered for. And you forget a bunch of stuff because it’s just impossible to list everything.”
Cautions Janet Berg, “My advice to everyone is to be prepared and take inventory of your belongings because you never know.” She says that she had to obtain two written quotes for any item over $500. “Believe me there are a lot of items over $500,” she says.

In the months following the fire, as the rest of the city returned to normalcy, Okaview Road residents found themselves struggling daily with the consequences of losing their homes. They faced the reality of not only being homeless but bereft of material belongings. Says Tannis Bottomley, “Yeah, it’s only possessions but you’ve worked your whole life for them. It’s part of your identity, it’s part of your comfort. You go to wrap a present, you don’t have tape. You go to cut something, you don’t have scissors.”
It was, the fire victims said, like waking up in somebody else’s life, in a different house with different stuff.
Pushing an overloaded shopping cart with replacement purchases through Kelowna’s Winners store, a woman remarked to Jane, “My, aren’t you having fun.” “I just growled at her, ‘This is way past the point of being fun,’” she says.
Finding a builder also proved tough in Kelowna’s overheated housing market. One builder told Bottomley he wouldn’t be able to start for at least a year and even then he couldn’t guarantee it. Barb McKarl had more luck: “Yes, we found a builder. We’ve always admired his homes. And boom. Here we are with an opportunity to have one of his homes.”
Many of the Okaview residents sought assistance from the Fire Recovery Centre, an agency created by the city to help residents deal with their many issues related to loss of their home. Through the Fire Recovery Centre, residents had access to some financial assistance and referral to helping agencies like the Red Cross or Salvation Army.
By April, Kelowna city hall had issued 28 building permits for Okaview Road. The street resounded with the sound of hammers. The fresh wooden houses rose upon their new foundations, gradually obscuring the fabulous view of lake. Homeowners who had their houses begun in the spring can hope to take possession sometime in the fall.
Insurance claims are slowly being finalized. Says retired firefighter Dale Hennen, “They like to take their time about doing things, but the numbers they came up with were pretty satisfactory.” The insurance company pays their builder directly. But a few Okaview residents who settled their insurance claims last fall and took a cash pay-out on the replacement cost of their home have been caught short by the price increase in building supplies such as rebar and OSB since then. Some are now in legal disputes with their insurance companies.
As always, builders had to submit their plans to the city for zoning and bylaw approval. Ron Matussi is the Director of Planning at Kelowna City Hall. One of his concerns for Okaview Road residents was the slope stability of their building lots. Many of the lots are situated on a break in slope, where the hill suddenly steepens to plunge down towards the lake.
Because the sites had been so extensively damaged, to the consternation of some homeowners, the city required geotechnical approval for new building plans on Okaview. Matussi says, “I know some people came back and said, “Well, I had a house there. Why are you making me spend the extra money. We do that for everyone, future owners as well. Because if we approve a building and it falls down 10 years from now, it’s still our problem.”
One of the builders putting up houses on Okaview is Shane Worman of Worman Homes, a well-known and respected local contractor. In the weeks after the fire Worman fielded dozens of calls from those who had lost their homes. He reluctantly turned some down. By November he was fully booked into the spring. “The issue with anyone who lost their house is that they want to start right away. We’re not willing to work outside of our normal trade pool so we won’t take on any extra work. We’d love to do whatever we can but there’s no point in doing a bad job,” he says.
Worman feels that ultimately in terms of house values Okaview residents may come out financially ahead because the replacement cost of the new houses far exceeds the owner’s original purchase price. The new homes should be worth several hundred thousand more he estimates.
But owning a new home that’s worth more is small comfort to the dozens of burned out Okaview Road families who lost all of their prized possessions. There’s not one that wouldn’t give up their new house to be back in their old home. Losing and rebuilding their homes has been an emotionally shattering exercise of just trying to get back to where they were. Janet Berg, who has now moved a total of eight times and anticipates one or two more, is looking forward to concluding this wrenching experience. She says. “I am so excited. I can’t wait to move in. I don’t think I will ever move again in my whole life.”

Tuesday, April 3, 2007

Pinkslipped: When Executives Get Fired

This is a cover story I wrote for BC Business magazine. The article appeared January 2004.
Executive ShapeShifters
Pinkslipped CEOs draw upon their skills to re-invent themselves

The print and broadcast media regularly feature stories of corporate downsizing with the CEO announcing so many hundreds to be cut from the payroll. But once in while the boss gets his or her walking papers as well. Once in a while the head honcho who grew the company from scratch into a thriving enterprise gets shown the door by the board. And, as anyone who has lost a treasured position knows, the loss can be personally devastating. BC Business wanted to know what it was like to be a high profile CEO who was fired. We called some of the bright lights in B.C. spanning politics, government corporation, high tech, health, sports and education to find out what happened to them, what they’re doing now and how they got back in the game. In many cases we found these executives have drawn upon their many skills and successfully launched themselves in a new direction. They spoke candidly on their career change, what is was like to leave their previous jobs and offered us their first hand advice on getting back to work.

Brian Burke
After six years as the Vancouver Canucks President and General Manager, Brian Burke lost his job this spring after the team failed to advance to the Stanley Cup Finals. Update TK.

What are you doing now?
Just doing what every unemployed executive says he’s doing: I’m consulting. I’ve been doing some public speaking and I did some media work for TSN at the draft.

Have you had any job offers?
I’ve been approached. It’s been flattering because I’ve been offered some opportunities on the pure business side where people have watched my performance, respected the business man in me and I’ve received some offers that way. I’ve received one offer to practice law but I’m trying to sort through those things.
If you want to become a G.M. you’ve got to wait. There are no vacancies. That part is easy. You wait. I don’t think anyone is going to hire a GM until they start playing again and no one knows when that’s going to be. So that one, you just got to wait it out.

Do you miss your old job?
I don’t miss the spotlight that comes with the job. It’s not something I ever craved. It’s part of the job and you have to handle it but that’s not why I got into this business. As I’ve told other people, at the start of each year, if they said you’ve got to be anonymous and invisible so your team can win the championship, I’d be “O.K. Where can I sign up?” So that part I don’t miss.
People have been wonderful in Vancouver. People have been so kind. People you meet on the street: “Geez. We’re sorry to hear the news and we wish you luck,” and, you know, “This is wrong.” So people have been great.

What’s next?
I’m just trying to sort out what’s next. It’ll be some time before a GM job opens up, and then you hope you’re the top candidate. A lot of people want to be a GM
In the meantime I’ve been approached about doing some media work. I did some work for TSN - which I enjoyed – and by some other media outlets in Canada as well. So I’m trying to sort through that. I might do something in the media between jobs.

Was it a surprise to be fired?
It was no surprise to Jennifer, my wife, and I. We feel the decision was made back in October. So despite what anyone at Orca says to the contrary, we believe that this decision was made a long time ago and we expected this.
But it doesn’t matter how prepared you are, it’s still a kick in the ass. I’d never been fired before. Well, technically, I still haven’t been fired. They just announced they weren’t renewing my contract. No matter how prepared you are, no matter how much you expect it, it’s still a big league kick in the ass, and it was for us too.

Burke’s Advice
The key is that you hope that what you accomplished in your prior life and your reputation will buy you another opportunity. That’s what you hope, and then you have to wait and see if that’s true.

Robert Bakshi,
Robert Bakshi was the founder and president of Surrey-based Silent Witness, a leading provider of video monitoring technology. The company was acquired by Honeywell International in November 2001 in a friendly takeover. Bakshi was dismissed shortly thereafter and is now pursuing a wrongful dismissal suit against Honeywell.

What are you up to now?
I’m doing real estate development in Calgary. That’s my new passion now. I want to learn a totally different industry, which is real estate development. So I’ve bought about 3 1/2 acres of commercial land and I intend to put in retail building over the next two or three years.

What happened at Silent Witness?
I started Silent Witness back in 1985. So when Honeywell bought it I was the president, CEO and one of the largest shareholders. They had offered me a position to run the global video business and of course after about a month, there was a change, whatever, they didn’t want me anymore and they sent me home.

How did you feel when Honeywell fired you?
You’re getting into a soft spot now. (My initial feeling) was disbelief. You feel that your trust has been betrayed. You know they promise one thing and they buy the company and they gave me a position and all of a sudden, of course, I don’t have a position. So you feel like you’ve been taken advantage of.

What’s the first thing you did?
I saw my lawyers and initiated a wrongful dismissal lawsuit, which is in process now.

I’m more concerned about my employees: 165 employees in three countries, and now they’re down to about 60 I think.

Bakshi’s Advice
The sun will shine the following morning as well. At first it seems like the end of the world. You are, of course, depressed and questioning yourself and questioning other people’s motives. But you get over that and find life is still good and worth living. New opportunities will come. For example, I’m involved in so many things now, and I didn’t think I would have the opportunity to do that if … still working 9 to 5.

Bruce Chambers
Former Vancouver Police Chief Bruce Chambers was fired by the police board in 1999 after two years into a three-year contract. Today, Chambers is the regional director for the British Columbia Ambulance Service out of Prince George.

What happened after you got fired?
After I left Vancouver, I retired. I was retired for four years. And it just happened one day, I was looking on a website and they were looking for someone, and I said that’s interesting. I sent in my resume and I ended up being successful.

Was finding a new job tough?
I guess the biggest challenge was just for me to convince the new employer was that my skills were transferable: “Okay, after many years in police service, how is that relevant to what we’re doing.” So that was the challenge for me.

I was (chief of police) on a contract. Part of my contract said that they had to let me know within a year of the end of the contract if they were going to renew, and they told me they weren’t going to renew so we parted ways.

It was disappointing (not to have my contract extended) because I thought there was work that wasn’t complete. It was disappointing.

Chambers’ Advice
I think probably I should have spoken to some professional in the consulting business. I didn’t get any of that (advice) when I left and I didn’t seek any. I think it might have helped me focus on how to address that issue of transferable skills. Because I think that many people have a perception of the police as a police officer and maybe not the fact that you were a general manager or CEO for those years.

Glen Clark
Glen Clark resigned as B.C. premier in August 1999, a day after the release of a court document alleging he used his influence to help a friend get a lucrative casino license. Clark is now president of Jim Pattison’s The News Group Canada, a magazine wholesaler.

How did you get your new job?
Mr. Pattison offered the job to me. You may recall he hired me initially as the British Columbia manager of the Pattison Sign Group, which makes illuminated signs. About a year and a half later I became vice-president of the Pattison Sign Group, responsible for western Canada.
And then a little more than a year after that, he asked me if I would move to another company, which was The News Group, and take on the presidency of that company. So I did that. So, I’ve been with Jimmy for about three years and this is, I guess, my third position.

Was it difficult to leave your job as premier?
In some ways, there’s similarities between all these positions (including the premiership of the province.) It might sound funny, but it’s all about teamwork, leadership and working with people and relationships.
The difference is of course, in the public sector and the government, you’re operating in a fish bowl with a very difficult media environment in British Columbia. People are looking through your garbage, you know, literally.
I had a very difficult year or so there so it wasn’t as hard to leave as it might have been otherwise. But each move you make, I won’t say difficult, but it comes with its own challenge. I’ve been very privileged to be able to move around between jobs.

I have to say each move for me personally has actually been wonderful because I’ve had the opportunity to learn a new position and you realize that each of these positions lets you grow as a person, develop and learn.

Did you face any particular challenges finding your new position as a former politician?
For an NDP politician, I think it’s harder. I think this is a problem for our province actually. This works just as strong, or equally stronger with the current government’s relationships with the trade union movement or environmental movement. Those solitudes are pretty real in British Columbia and I think a problem for it.
So, in the case of being an NDP Premier I think it’s more difficult to move into the business sector because you haven’t developed those business relationships. And there’s a certain amount of hostility, rightly or wrongly, built up, so I was extremely fortunate that Mr. Pattison chose to offer me a job.

Clark’s Advice
My only advice is that never forget that everybody that you come into contact with, could potentially be your employer. In other words, there’s no relationship you have in your current job that isn’t potentially important, so you’ve got to treat people well, and listen carefully to what they say. Work hard because at the end of the day, the world is moving very fast and positions move very fast, so there’s tremendous opportunity there. So you should remember that sometimes today’s competitor is your employer tomorrow.

Katy Bindon
UBC president Martha Piper announced in March, 2004 that the North Kelowna Campus of Okanagan University College was to become the new University of British Columbia (Okanagan). Despite her many successes of guiding OUC through a period of growth and positive change, the current OUC president Katy Bindon was summarily dismissed.

What are you doing now?
I am a tenured professor of history. So it’s a little different in the university sector because you usually have your academic position as well as your administrative position. I had administrative leave coming to me anyways so I’m working on a book now that I haven’t been able to work on for the eight years I’ve been here. So that’s good; it’s good for you mind and good for your head. And of course, OUC was 24/7 so I’m learning how to have a life again.

How do you go about getting a new job?
There are 3 or 4 headhunters in the university business and they connect with you and are interested to know that you’re there. Every so often they call you and ask you if you’re interested in this, that or the other thing. So that’s probably pretty standard, right? They’ve contacted me and I’ve let them know I’m no longer president here.

How tough was it when you first let go as head of an organization you had grown and shaped?
I’ve been most interested in speaking with a number of colleagues who’ve been through a similar thing and yeah, when you’re working at 150% and it all drops off, it’s quite shocking. I think it’s just a huge stress. But what you do is get on with other stuff.
It was very tough (to leave the institution). But the other thing is that a lot of the goals (of UBC Okanagan) are the goals that we had outlined as being necessary for (OUC) and the region. So, on the other hand, you look at this and say, ‘yeah, okay.” So there’s a number of ways that things can work.
I think one of the things in the university is that you gain a very deep and diverse experience as an administrator. On the other hand, I think it’s hard to cross sectors. A lot of the people don’t hold the universities in high regard in business terms these days.

What challenges do you think as a former university president does that present in your job search?
I think it’s fair to say that there’s an assumption that public institutions are not just as tightly managed as private sector. I don’t care who you are; if you don’t have the resources, you can’t sustain the programming.

Bindon’s Advice
It’s like anything in your life. You’ve got to look back at what you’ve accomplished and feel proud of those. I guess it’s a bit like that old aphorism, God grant me the wisdom…I think anyone who’s been in an intense institution-building capacity exercise, when it works as well as what we did here works, you’ve got to take the good stuff and say, ‘Wow. Look at what I’ve learned.”
And the other thing is that no one is immune from the fact that we all have many careers these days. There are things really exciting about that. And once you get on with it, it just ends being the next stage.

Elisabeth Riley
Elisabeth Riley lost her position as president of Children's & Women's Health Centre of British Columbia in 2002 in an organizational reshuffle. After 13 months between jobs she was hired last year as Dean of Health Sciences at the British Columbia Institute of Technology. She recently launched Navahealth, a company that helps patients navigate through the maze of their medical care.

How did you get your new job?
Actually it was through networking plus seeing the announcement in the paper and contacting the recruitment agency. And the recruitment agency for BCIT, I had previously interviewed with them and they had my C.V.

The way it works generally, at the executive level, is you approach the various search firms that are searching in your area of interest. I was using Providence. It was somebody I knew from before. She had come to me as a recruiter trying to sell her services to me when I was formerly CEO of Women’s. So, you know people and you contact them and let them know you’re in the job market.

Was it difficult for you to get another job?
When anyone in a senior position has lost their position for whatever reason – and although this was definitely not for cause, my position was eliminated – it makes it difficult to move around within the same business. It’s unlikely for you to get hired back into the same business where you’ve previously been let go at a senior level.
And I was told this by people in the business sector, not the public sector. But I think it’s the still rule of thumb in the public sector as well. If you’re in a senior position it’s difficult to get back with the same employer. Because they paid you severance, let’s face it. Because if they paid you to go away, it’s difficult for them to rehire you later.

What did you do in your year off?
I used it as a sabbatical, is the way that I would word it. I haven’t taken any time off in my thirty-year career except for normal absences. I’ve never been in between jobs before so I used it as a time to refresh myself and to regenerate and rejuvenate and then to begin my process of thinking about my career. And I invested heavily in the time it took to go through the services that were provided which involved really reflecting on your career, on what you enjoy doing and having you really identify what you would like to do next, and what you were good at. So I really enjoyed that process. It was very helpful and I felt very privileged to have it offered as part of the severance package.

What was it like to lose your previous job?
Frankly, with reflection, I don’t care how (the lay-off) is done, it’s going to be hard. It’s hard because it’s not something you choose. When you choose to move on, it’s a totally different thing: You’re in control, you’re in the driver’s seat. And what I did find, it’s extremely different. Because, I’ve been in the position, all my life, where every single job I applied for, I got.

So when you’re in the situation where you’re unemployed and you’re applying, it’s totally different. Then you saying, ‘I’d like to take a look at this job but I don’t know if I really want it or if I’m a fit, but I’d like to explore it.’ You’re coming at it from a very different angle.

Riley’s Advice
Take the time between jobs. Just about all of my colleagues including Murray Martin and Bob Smith and many others who have gone through it have all advised me: Take the time. And those who hadn’t, have kind of regretted it. It’s easy to say, I’ll just jump in and take the first thing that comes along. Take the time and let the trauma and the impact of the job change settle in before you make a major decision.

Barry Jinks
Barry Jinks was formerly head of Spectrum Signal Processing, a position he held for 10 years while he grew the company from $1 million to $40 million in annual sales. He says he and the board of Spectrum agreed to a parting of ways. Jinks is now CEO of Colligo Networks of Vancouver.

How did you come to leave your old job?
It became pretty obvious that I was better suited and personally enjoyed much more the small company in start-up phase than operational phase. It was pretty apparent as well that the company needed to get some new blood in there.

What’s the first thing you did after leaving Spectrum?
I went out and started a new company, Colligo Networks - back to the roots - and started building it up from there. What I did was, I had learned a lot about different technologies when I was at
Spectrum. We had lots of different customers in different markets. The one area that I thought was about to explode was wireless.

How did you start the business?
We raised venture capital from Growth Work Capital and the Business Development Bank of Canada and we had quite a few local relatively high profile angels involved like Paul Lee from Electronic Arts. Sierra Wireless made an investment in the company.

What advantage did your background provide?
Actually, one of the things we did at Spectrum, and was quite instrumental in the early success of the company, was we spent most of our effort landing customers and bringing in very little venture capital in the process so by the time the company was on its feet we had a really good understanding of what the market was looking for.
We did the same thing at Colligo. We actually built the company based on our relationship that we had established with Price Waterhouse Cooper and today every auditor at PWC in the top 20 countries of the world uses our software.

Jinks’ Advice
I think it depends on your skill set. Again the realization that I and the board had was that I was much more comfortable in a start-up role. That’s where my talents are. For me it made sense to go out and start another company.
Other guys may have different talents, They may be operationally focussed. Obviously what you want to do is assess yourself, decide on your strengths and weaknesses, and play to your strengths. Get in to a role where you can succeed and play to your strengths.

Nick Geer
The former president of ICBC was abruptly fired this past summer after just 2 ½ years at the helm. During his term, Geer finessed a financial turnaround at the government-owned insurance company, shaping ICBC into a leaner, more efficient company and putting it back into the black. But when he disagreed with his government bosses on the future direction of the company, he was shown the door.

What are doing now?
At the moment I’m on three or four boards, and I’m choosing my options. Various bits and pieces are coming up, and I’m taking it easy and seeing what I do next.

What do you like about what you’re doing now?
I’ve not yet gotten used to getting up at eight o’clock as opposed to six.

How did you come to leave your last job?
That’s a matter for the press. I’m not allowed to say anything by contract.

What was it like for you to lose your former position?
It was difficult. It came as a complete surprise. We’d turned the company right around. Gone from a loss of $200 million to a profit this year for the first six months of over $167 million. Taken about 1800 people out of the company. Everybody was up and things were going very well. So it came as a complete surprise.

Was it hard to tell your family?
Oh, no, no, no. My wife and I talk about everything. But when you’re involved in effectively what is a quasi-political situation, you expect surprises.

What did you do in the days following your job loss?
The word was dropped at the end of May. I left ICBC June 30th. So I got myself organized. I’m not troubled by cash. That isn’t an issue.

Tell me about your current job search?
I’m not on a job search. I’m coming up on 63, although that doesn’t mean anything. I’m on three boards, which I enjoy, I’m on two or three other charity boards, so those keep me partially busy.

And I’ve had a couple of offers already of running companies which I’ve turned down.

Did losing your job as a CEO carry any stigma to it.
No, not at all. Quite the opposite. Everybody I bump into on the street keeps telling me what a wonderful job I did. So there’s no stigma attached whatsoever.

What advice do you have for other displaced CEOs?
Never look back. What is, is. Understand what you’ve learned. Understand how you’ve grown through it. Because you grow through adversity, you don’t grow through constant success. Understand internally what pleased you and displeased you. Because you’re only ever good at what you enjoy doing, in my view.


How to get ‘em back to work

Companies that lay off personnel, especially at the executive level, routinely hire outplacement services, not to find a job for the displaced but to show them how to look for one. Knowing how to find a job is a skill many CEOs lack because they spend so little time in the job market, according to Angus McPherson, a consultant for CCD Corporate and Career Development of Vancouver. “They don’t know how to network so they have to learn how to do that. They’re very good in the business world when they’re employed but they don’t how to do it for themselves,” he says.
But first, says McPherson, the task at hand is to help the executive client overcome the psychological challenge of losing his or her job. He says, “There is a range of things that they go through. First is obviously shock, followed by anger, then more shock. Especially the higher the level, they’re completely amazed that they would actually be terminated.”
Accepting the loss of a treasured position is a grieving process but given enough time, the CEO’s mental state eases with time. Says McPherson, “At this point, they begin to get resignation. They’re resigned to the fact okay I’m out of this job.” With that acceptance comes a renewed sense of purpose and vitality.
Another Vancouver outplacement agency is Maragaret J. Livingstone and Associates. Livingstone says, “Our job is to teach the individual effective job search techniques and assist them in that process so it’s everything from career planning, figuring out where they’ve been and what they’ve done and what they like and what they don’t like and what they never want to do again.” After that, the agency teaches their clients the more practical aspects of finding a new job like how to access the hidden job market
Standard services at outplacement agencies include secretarial support and individual offices where the executives can get busy, working the phone and polishing their resumes. “We find people write terrible resumes. Executives write some of the worst, because they get involved in all the details,” says Angus McPherson.
Livingstone does not believe there is a particular stigma attached to executives looking for a new job. Quoting a newspaper article she says, ‘Any stigma about executive layoffs went away about 2000 lay-offs ago. I thought that was a very good remark and in fact one that I say to our own candidates who worry about the stigma that might be out there.”
But finding an equivalent job for former company presidents can prove a real challenge. Says McPherson “We have quite a few (executives) coming through here all the time. …The higher you are on the food chain, the longer between jobs. Definitely. Because you’re looking for that much higher paying job and there’s just not many of them out there.”