The grand essentials to happiness in this life are something to do, something to love, and something to hope for.
- Joseph Addison
In The Beginning
1956 was a big year for me. I joined the accounting department of Sherritt in Fort Saskatchewan. The biggest change for me came on October 6, 1956-the day Pat and I were married. Pat had a good job with the government, so we lived in Edmonton and I commuted to Sherritt.
At that time, Sherritt was mainly a nickel refinery. They used a chemical process to extract nickel from nickel concentrate, rather than using the more common smelter. This required NH3. One by-product of this process was ammonium sulphate (21-0-0-24) fertilizer. The nickel was sold to the metal industry around the world in the form of powder or briquettes (about half the size of a BBQ briquette) or rolled on a coil about six inches wide and 1/16 of an inch thick. The coils were put through an annealing process, then pressure-rolled to the thickness required, then fed into a punch machine that spit out the blanks that the Canadian Mint made into our five-cent coin. Sherritt also made currency for many other countries.
Sherritt's focus was on metallurgy. They offered a program for employees who took the course on basic metallurgy. Once completed, you would receive a $25 raise per month. All winter I went three times a week from Fort Saskatchewan to NAIT to take this course, only to fail the final test (i.e., no raise).
So the following winter I took the course again and passed. Unbeknownst to me, the $25-raise program ended and was only available the previous year (oh, rats!). I could see I needed a better idea for making extra money. In the meantime, Sherritt increased NH3 production, built a urea and phosphate plant, and became a major player in the fertilizer business.
In the early 1960s, Sherritt decided to set up a fertilizer marketing group with offices in Edmonton. The general manager was Joe Fraser, a very wise self-made millionaire. There was also Bob Walford, assistant; Jack Nichols, Saskatchewan manager; George Gould, Alberta manager; George Comrie, Manitoba manager; Cliff McLeod, office manager; and Peggie Kuzik, secretary. Larry Brabbins, Jack Latham, and Cliff Wolf were area reps, and Dr. Wilf Janke was the head agronomist.
In 1961, Pat and I moved to Fort Saskatchewan. Doug was born in 1962 and Ron in 1963. Heather came later, in 1969. My day job was with Sherritt, first in process accounting then later in charge of a nickel-powder testing lab. After work was a whole different world. I rented grain and pasture land.
We had 75 cows and about 100 pigs and did custom baling. My dad also had a Rambler dealership, so I sold new and used cars from 1958 to 1966. At Sherritt, there were about 30 parking stalls inside the gate where all the top department managers parked. By 1966, I had the majority of those parking spots filled with an AMC product.
My dad's main sales office was at the Blue Bird Corner in Innisfail. We had a friendly competition to see who could sell the most new cars each year. He only won once and by just one car. Is it any wonder Pat claimed I was never home?
In the spring of 1967, my testing lab was put under a different department. Dr. Meddings was the manager. When I got a new boss, it was customary for me to make an appointment to see him. The objective was to make him aware of how important our lab's work was and to indicate that a raise would be appropriate.
Dr. Meddings's response was, "Do you want to know what! think?"
"Oh, yes," I said. "Well, first of all, I think you are already overpaid. Secondly, you are wasting your time and talents in that job. That job should be done by an older employee who's coasting to the finish line."
I was devastated.
Then he said, "Now, I will tell you what you should be doing. Did you know that Sherritt has their own fertilizer marketing group in Edmonton? You should be selling fertilizer for Sherritt." My first thought was "fat chance."
There were 38 applicants, most of whom had agriculture degrees. I had Grade 12. They sent me to a company that did two days of aptitude and personality tests. I was asked to go to lunch with Joe Fraser, Bob Walford, and Jack Nichols. Joe was interested in my business philosophies and strength and experiences in farming. (I custom seeded his farmland.)
Jack wanted to know how much money I expected to make. I didn't give him an answer. In our third meeting, Jack asked again what I expected to get paid, so I thought I'd better give him an answer this time. I said I was not concerned about what they paid; I only wanted a chance to that I could do a good job.
Jack was impressed. He told me later that all the agriculture grads wanted to know what the pay was, what kind of car they'd get to drive, and how many weeks' holidays they'd get. In other words, "What's in it for me?" not " What could I do for Sherritt?" Needless to say, getting that job was a career highlight for me. It led us down a road that has benefited our whole family far beyond our wildest dreams.
A few years ago, I got thinking about Dr. Meddings and that day in his office. So I tracked him down and found him living in Vancouver. I wrote him a letter to thank him for being honest with me. He taught me a lesson-to be honest with my employees and help them find suitable employment when they do not fit in with what we need to be done.
Dr. Meddings called me to say he remembered that day in his office and told me that, after I left, he called Joe Fraser and told him about me and said I should be selling fertilizer for I Sherritt. He also said how much he appreciated the letter.
A LITTLE HUMOUR
It was hard times in Ireland. No money. No Jobs. So a man jumps off a bridge into the river. Another man seeing him jumps in a boat and rows out to him. The drowning man says "I don't want to be saved, leave me alone." The man in the boat says "I'm not here to save you. Where are you working?"
To get a rep position, you need an agriculture degree. I left his office very discouraged. Nevertheless, I called Larry Brabbins, who was working in marketing and asked him to let me know if there was ever an opening.
Early that fall, Larry called and said one of the reps, Cliff Wolf, was leaving to go back to the University of Alberta to continue his education. I applied for the job.