When I started my blog, as the name suggest, my plan was to build a chronology of my life experiences on how I got to be where I am in life. I don’t think my story is ‘special’ but I think it is worth telling. My plan was to start as far back as possible growing up in St Kitts and then my years in Canada. Once I got caught up I would then write about my daily experience and current affairs. Well that’s not the way it is going. I am not very organized so when I start I write about what’s on my mind at the moment.
It all started about eighteen months ago when I found myself sitting at my desk with nothing to do so I started posting my thoughts of FB. I was trying not to go senile.
Writing and having people read it was a humbling experience, although I was accustomed to writing business documents, mostly ‘cut and paste’. Once I got past that initial toe in the water thing, I stared expressing myself more and liking it. Then my kids started reading and I saw it as a way to talk to them and teach them about their heritage.
That’s when some folks started encouraging me to write a book, I can’t even get my mind there. I think to write a book I would have to return to St Kitts and reacquaint myself with the culture.
I like reflecting about my early days in St Kitts. I get emails from strangers who like to go along with me for the ride. I also get emails from others saying I am inspiring them to start writing. There is also a third group that says I inspire them in their career.
I call it food for the soul.
Last night I could not sleep, kept thinking about my past. Actually I kept waking up startled and would look around for the boogie man, nothing. I think my snoring was waking me up. Anyway while I was up I kept thinking about the way my dad ran his life.
I became aware of my dad in a business sense at around 5 years of age. His daily activities were pretty much the same. He got up and opened the shop on Cardin Ave around 7am. My mom would attend to us, getting us ready and sending us off to school. When she was finished she would take over in the shop and he would leave to travel to the country to trade. He would return in time for his afternoon siesta.
At around 4pm my dad would return to the shop and stay there until closing at 9pm. That was a normal day for him.
As I got older, I remember he built a two room house in the back of the property, moved us in there and upgraded the main house. I don’t recall him having a conversation with us. It just happened.
Then a couple years later, he upgraded the house on Millionaire Street, which he had bought earlier. I don’t recall when exactly, he then moved us in there for about a year, so he can upgrade the house on Cardin Avenue into its current state. It just happened.
He also bought the house across from the Millionaire Street house and rented it. It just happened. I didn’t even know he owned that house until years later.
You may get the impression that he was a quiet man, he was very stern, ran a tight ship, just very smoothly. I don’t know too many people who were not afraid of him.
As I got older he taught me to manage his paper business, I would process the imports, go to the customs and clear his goods, count his money, that was the best part. I was very quick with math. He would sometimes make a bet with his friends that I could add 3 or 4 six digits numbers in my head faster than they could do it on paper. He was right. Add, subtract, multiply, divide, I was the man. I know what you are thinking, ‘you must be a math major’, right? Wrong. Give me a problem like a train is travelling at 10 miles an hour, how long it will take to get to Sandy Point from Basseterre; I would go, ‘huh’.
At night after a long day my dad would let ‘his world’ know how his day went. He would be drinking, the entire village could hear him. Part of the mystery, I guess. He would talk about himself like he was talking about someone else. He had several names that he called that person, included C.O.C, his initials. He would repeat how he came to St Kitts and struggled to build a good business.
To me it was a like a fairy tale. I did not experience his struggles. I saw him calmly manage his affairs effortlessly.
He had dreams of his sons joining him and the Carters becoming the biggest grocer on the Island. I can only speak for myself, I am sure my siblings all have their reason for leaving home, but what I saw was very long hours of serving at a counter. I saw the other store keepers in the City, the big stores, where the owners did the same thing, they were always present. I would walk by Astaphan or Coury or Kawaja store and the owners were always managing things. That’s the nature of retail (cash) business.
Wish I knew about franchising back then.
My reason for recapping that is to give you an idea of the environment I grew up in. We inherit some our parent’s habits, good and bad. As I said, my dad was Mr Cool in his management style and my mom worked like a dog. I inherited a lot of my dad demeanour. Some habits I avoided but others are just embedded into my gene and run my life.
One of my life’s drivers is the dream to own my own business. There was never a time in my life that I have not wanted that, still do. In was not until the mid 80’s that I did something about it.
Let me bring you up to date where I was from my last ‘journey’ blog. I had just gotten a job with an IBM business partner close to where we lived. Do you know anything about astrology or numerology? Well I don’t really but when I went for the interview that was what came to mind. Check out these coincidences.
The manager’s name was Hamilton that was my grandmother maiden name. He was from Ottawa; she lived there when she was a teenager, back in the very early 1900’s. We had the interview on the Caribana Saturday, our last three kids were born 9 months after Caribana weekend all in the same week. See, I just had to get that job. Little bit of Tony humour.
You are probably wondering how I knew all these facts about my boss. My interview style is to interview the interviewer. I take control.
The company sold a Logistic and Financial software package to small and medium size companies. My initial job was to ‘Canadianize’ the software. Canadian businesses that had US customers had to deal in two currencies and had to deal with a different tax system. When I took the job, I was thinking piece of cake. The task proved to be quite a challenge, for example the order entry program was 185 pages long.
One of my responsibilities included meeting new prospects and demonstrating the functions of the applications. I enjoyed that part. When we did get some customers, I had to modify the software to ‘fit’ the client’s unique requirements and then train the users. We were quite small at the time.
As time went on and we got more sales I would supervise the programmers and trainers. I worked there for six years and even had tenure as the controller.
I think most people would be quite pleased with a job like that. Not me. I wanted to be like my dad. Mr Cool, wanted my own business, seems so simple.
We stared a tax business, Jo and I, then a book keeping business. It was hard to do after ‘work’. You may remember Jo was home with the kids. When our last son went to school she went to work. I hired her.
My brother in law and I started a graphics and printing business. Again it was work after work. The IT manager at one of my customers had inherited a whole lot of money from his mom. He wanted to start a business. He thought I would be a good partner. We opened a shop in Niagara Falls selling T-shirts. My brother in law printed the designs on the shirts. We were the supplier and retailer. Again work after work for me. My new partner had quit his job and was managing the store during the day. I would drive from Toronto to Niagara Falls at night to help. A few times when I got there he was not there. We kept getting in trouble with the mall managers.
A little sidetrack; one night after we closed the store, we decided to cross the border into Buffalo to go drinking. This bar had a weekly 50c beer and wings night. We had done this before. This was back in the late 80’s when crossing the border was not a big deal. As I got to the US border guard, I realize I did not have my wallet, no ID.
Simple right? Just turn back.
I had no ID and I could not get back into Canada either. So I got arrested, alien. A few hours later, the guards changed and this lady came in to question me. The first question she asked was ‘what is the name of the airport I arrived at’. Trick question, is what I was thinking. The name of the airport is Pearson International. When I arrived from St Kitts it was called Toronto International. Only someone telling the truth would know that, she said. She let me go, getting home was another problem.
This Niagara Falls venture lasted a year or so and did not end on a good note. We also ended the printing business. Work after work is very difficult. I have 4 kids.
It was around year six with the Software Company that I lost my job. The big guy said I was not good at communicating. We had grown into quite a big company; I was getting swallowed up in the bureaucracy. We had developed a software package which I played a major role in. The software was sold to very large companies.
I just was unable to go there, mentally. My biggest asset is my ability to create business software. I understand business processes and able to translate that into automated solutions. I was lousy at internal politics.
During my last year I was writing a monthly newsletter (I had an editor) which we distributed to Owners, CEO and CFO in the corporate community. I would write about a paradigm shift in the way companies gather data, new ways to manage sales force and mobile computing; this was in the early 1990’s. My readers would actually come to the company showcase events to see this ‘new way’.
But I wanted to own my own business.
I was armed with a lot of experience, took some consulting positions while trying to figure out what to do. Then I met this guy, finally someone who understood what I was talking about, I had some unique ideas and he had the programming skills to make it happen. We met often and chatted about my ideas. We were on the same wave length.
We registered a corporation. Developed a prototype; just enough to be able to communicate my idea to prospective clients and before he quit his job, I went knocking on doors. Remember that newsletter? When I called the people I was sending the newsletter to, they recognize me. Life could not be any easier.
The only Kittitian Couch Potato in Calgary.