The roaring nineties

The roaring nineties

Coming into the 1990s, I had quite the situation on my hands. No job, a failed business opportunity and a tightening labor market. But ever resilient I kept on going.

On the home front, I had little help. Everyone has their own baggage and I remember my partner being an anchor. We make many choices in life, well it’s not the time and place to discuss this one. I’ll add one more point here that the reader might think about. Your life is like a four legged stool, if more than one of them is out of whack it’s impossible to balance it. Too much going on. I’ll leave it at that.

Stupid and more stupid

One of the things that I thought that I would try was a self-employment option by providing risk management services. But I was what you might call a “plain vanilla” risk management originator. Nothing terribly fancy. So holding myself out as someone who was able to provide risk management solutions was a stretch. As I have mentioned many times before, I hated this work. But I was stuck (at least that’s what I believed. It wasn’t really the case). Money was the primary motivation, I had to keep going down the same rabbit hole. The problem was that I was the rabbit!

So I tried to hook up with a guy who was building a mortgage financing business. He ended up being pretty successful at it years later. He offered me a “sweetheart” deal as the basis for working together. He would give me his corporate name modified for my line of business, a desk, a stack of business cards and share fifty percent of the profits! What a deal! And I being the wide-eyed dumb guy said sure, that’s a great deal! No support, no salary, just a split. That was the way he did business. And it worked for him, it made him pretty wealthy.

So I started doing some business development. I can’t remember how I hooked up with what was then First City Trust. First City Trust was controlled by the Belzberg family. There’s a whole other story here around the Belzberg’s. First City Trust was an aggressive real estate lender and equipment financing financial institution which was set up as a trust company. Trust companies were unique financial institutions at the time (they have pretty much disappeared since then) that were used for pretty aggressive lending.

I was asked to prepare a business plan which involved looking at the possibility of the trust company offering its clients interest rate swaps as a risk management tool. Remember that as a practical matter, I knew pretty much nothing about this. But I was engaged to do the plan, and it’s recommendations were accepted. I was hired by First City Trust to set up this business under contract which would expire December 31, 1990.

I ditched my “lucrative” partnership with the mortgage originator/lender. Some loss! I felt bad about breaking up the partnership. Stupid. My “partner” who put nothing on the table never looked back. I now understand why his business became so successful.

So I was off and running at FCT trying to build a business I knew nothing about. It should have dawned on me at that time that I had a fundamental flaw in my career, I had not established a firm foundation of knowledge in anything in particular. I was just a pretty darn good at selling. Now there is nothing wrong with that, but I applied my skills in areas where I had not developed a core knowledge. I wasn’t an expert at anything in particular.

First City Trust solved this problem for me, it got into severe financial difficulties towards the end of my one-year contract. So there was no basis for looking for a contract extension. I was up against the wall again but I had hedged my position.

Career mismanagement

From a career mismanagement perspective, it was one more nail in the coffin. In looking back over the 1980s I am shocked at how much went on:

  1. Moved from Winnipeg to Toronto with Clarkson Gordon;
  2. Left Clarkson Gordon and joined Coopers & Lybrand;
  3. Hated tax throughout the period and limited my own career;
  4. Moved from Coopers & Lybrand to Citibank Canada;
  5. Missed an opportunity to join a real investment banking firm – McLeod Young Weir;
  6. Left Citibank Canada for a salary bump and joined Chemical Bank of Canada;
  7. Chemical Bank of Canada folded and I jumped ship to the Bank of Nova Scotia;
  8. Was terminated at the Bank of Nova Scotia;
  9. Failed to execute my derivatives shop business plan because of financial duress.

It’s possible to look at all this and say what a disaster it was. And it was a disaster. But the flip side shows that I was a pretty aggressive, creative deal structurer whose skills were wasted. I was able to sell concepts and sell myself. And I managed to do it repeatedly in both good and bad economic environments. I was unable to execute when I arrived and each of my destinations. But in retrospect, I missed the point. I was one heck of a door opener, which leads me to believe that I would have been one darn successful investment banker. My targeted career was the perfect one for me, I just managed to miss it by a mile. What a waste!

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