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.”

Monday, April 2, 2007

Profit magazine: Dynasty electric cars

The Rise and Fall and Rise Again of Dynasty Electric Cars

By Greg Fjetland
What happened to its distribution of GEM

When the U.S. government decided to allow low speed vehicles on the American highways in 1998, Barry Good of North Vancouver saw an opportunity to get in on the ground floor of a huge new market. With an extensive background in both sales and the automotive industries, Good foresaw a significant business for electric vehicles with gated retirement communities, university campuses, destination resorts, industrial complexes and short-haul commuters. Good launched a new company to design and build a multi-purpose electric vehicle that could be customized for customer’s needs, “There were no really viable alternative vehicles available,” he says. Good’s company, Dynasty Motorcar Corporation, was the bold result of his passionate vision. But overconfidence, a razor thin margin for error and lack of capital almost killed Good’s dream. Only through an innovative financing arrangement with another company was Dynasty to survive.
At first it seemed as if Good and his nascent company could do no wrong. Good had a clear grasp of what was required. First he hired experience: top people from Western Stars Trucks and Orion Buses. He chose Gerry McPharland as President, and Kelly Kennedy for VP of Sales and Financing. Then he assembled a team that would design and market this product. Paul Deutschmann, a designer out of Montreal, did the initial concept work for the vehicle in late 1999, before handing the project on to an industrial design team that included Bombardier on its client roster.
With the design well underway, a prototype in the works and increasing staff, Dynasty’s operating costs ramped up significantly. Good and his executive anticipated this and knew that they would need more money to bring their vehicle to market so they finessed the reverse takeover of a publicly traded company called Atwood Gold. Atwood had $2 million in ready cash which, along with a private placement of $1.0 million, provided the initial working capital for operations at Dynasty.
It wasn’t enough. Dynasty’s business plan called for start-up capital of $7.5 million. So in August 2000, with Raymond James as their underwriter, Good and company undertook a roadshow across Canada to raise investor interest in their nascent enterprise. Dynasty hoped to raise $10 million from the IPO.
Unfortunately, their timing couldn’t have been much worse. By then the passion for high tech IPOs was in full retreat. So, Raymond James reduced the IPO of March 2001 to $6.5 million. Outstanding warrants on the private placement could still bring in an additional $2 million, and that $8.5 million would put the company solidly in the ballpark of its capital requirements. Says Kelly Kennedy, “We were looking to establish a financial cushion for dealing with unexpected.” Depending on future financing that was not in place was to prove the company’s eventual undoing.
Adding to Kennedy’s fiscal uncertainty was that Dynasty was venturing into uncharted waters. “It’s always a challenge when you’re going into a brand new marketplace. There’s not a lot of empirical data to which you can look at and say, “A-ha!” Our concept was that we were going to take people of golf carts into our vehicles and out of automobile into our vehicles. So there wasn’t a lot of data because the market was new,” Kennedy says.
After considering US. locations including Tampa, Florida and Tucson, Arizona, the Dynasty executive chose Kelowna for the site of its new production facility. Operating out of Kelowna made a lot of sense, not just because of the favourable exchange rate but because of the local infrastructure. Kelowna was home to the now-defunct Western Star trucks, at the time a sizeable and growing heavy truck manufacturer. Plenty of auto suppliers had opened shop in town, saving Dynasty the expense and time of ordering parts from eastern Canada.
Dynasty’s manufacturing plant opened to plenty of local fanfare in August of 2000. Generating this excitement was the company’s flagship product: the IT (Innovative Transportation.) The IT was a nifty-looking car, able to travel 30 miles around town on a single overnight charge. A zero emission, electric low-speed vehicle, the IT’s trump card was its ability to be custom ordered in a variety of configurations. Dynasty promised to offer the IT in sedan, van, convertible, sport, utility and golf vehicle styles. Dozens of people were hired to build the car, with company payroll eventually topping out at 68 employees.
And so the bills poured in. Says Kelly Kennedy, “The bulk of the money was used very quickly because we were into tooling up for production of the car.” Going public also proved very expensive. “And then you’ve got all the legal costs of doing this which was quite horrendous. That’s a procedure to go through. But we got the IPO and built our first vehicle in April 2001,” says Kennedy. The final tally, from concept to production of the first car off the line, was to total $12 million.
Still, Kennedy and Good were unconcerned. Their business plan was coming together fairly well. With the plant now producing and selling cars, the company had real income. A dealership network of 15 dealers across Canada and the United States was growing, and the company had an order backlog of 150 vehicles at $18,000 each.
Ironically, it may have been this brush with early success and the executive’s considerable experience in the automotive industry that was to contribute to Dynasty’s impending date with disaster. The executive assumed they’d be able to deal with contingencies as they arose. But problems that compounded upon each other would soon prove overwhelming.
It began with unexpected problems with the window crank and seals. Sold units were being returned for repair. New units couldn’t be shipped until the problem was fixed. Every auto company has model recalls but Dynasty was caught on the horns of a financial dilemma. Says Kennedy “ The only way to generate cash was to ramp up our build rate.” But that couldn’t happen until those windows were fixed. And in anticipation of future sales, Good says that all of their capital was tied up in inventory.
By June 2001, the cash flow problems had become much more acute. The stock price, at one point at high as $3.00 drifted down below $2, the exercise price for the $2 million of warrants. Cash, which they had mistakenly assumed they’d have, was suddenly not available. Kennedy, by then president of Dynasty, –Gerry McPharland has stepped aside for health reasons - was out looking for additional venture funding. Waiting in the wings was a $1.5 million order with the good possibility of an additional $40 million order over the next two years.
Looking back, Kelly Kennedy says reflectively now, “Our inability to raise capital was the issue.” He says, “In hindsight I’d say we should have tried to have raised more money at the outset when the timing to raise the money would have been better. Instead of a small private placement we should have tried to do a much larger one. We should have tried to get more money sooner. Having the money is so important for a start-up in the business developing a new product.”
By the end of July, it was obvious no white knight was on the way. Like any CEO, it was with a heavy heart that Kennedy laid off the staff and shut the doors at the Kelowna plant. The problems that had lain dormant within the company since its inception - inadequate start-up capital, no contingency plan to cope with product delays - had brought the company to its knees. “When we saw we weren’t going to get any additional funding we just sort of mothballed the operation, cut way back and continued searching for new money,” says Kennedy.
After taking the time to examine all offers, Kennedy accepted a partnership with Dean MacKay, president of Commercial Body Builders Ltd. Commercial builds custom vehicles like armoured trucks, buses and utility trucks. Electric vehicles would become another product line. The deal breathed new life into Dynasty with news of the joint venture announced in August 2002.
The result is the Dynasty Electric Car Corporation, a joint venture equally owned by Commercial Body Builders and Dynasty Motorcars with MacKay as its president. Dynasty provided the design and assets worth about $3 million and Commercial provided facilities at their existing plant along with cash to the equivalence of about $3 million, receiving 500,000 shares in Dynasty Motorcars in exchange. Dynasty once again is shipping cars to its dealers. Dean MacKay says he’s excited about the prospects for the IT. He says emphatically, “I really really believe that this car will have a very significant place in the market.”
Comments Dean MacKay on Dynasty’s previous woes, “One of the mistakes Dynasty made was it tried to get too big too fast. One of the reasons (they did this) was because they ran out of cash. And when you run out of cash you rush to market with goods that aren’t completely developed. Cars were shipped that weren’t ready.” He says they’ve spent the last six months studying how to best build the car that is now “ten times better than it was before.”
With these hard lessons behind them, both Kennedy and MacKay view Dynasty’s future with confidence as a result of the JV. “Our cash costs are less because we’re in somebody’s else facility, and we’re ramping up production slowly,” says Kennedy. Adds Dean Mackay, “This car has huge sex appeal. When we show the car, everyone is very drawn to it.”