My Canada part 3

Writer: Belaluddin Category: আত্মজীবনী (Memoir) Edition: Dhaboman - Fall 2018

By October 1983 I was out of a job again. I decided to go back to accountancy and actively began my job search in that field – but there was nothing there, not for me anyway. So, very negative and frustrated – after a two-and-a-half-year struggle my confidence in Canada plummeted to 50 below zero and in November 1983 I decided to quit on Canada. I sold whatever possessions I had, bought a one-way plane ticket for Dhaka, Bangladesh and left the country never to return. Bangladesh was a growing economy which certainly needed a professional with my education and experience! My parents were overjoyed at having me in their midst on a full time basis as I had left Bangladesh in 1973 and had only visited them on a couple of short breaks in over a decade. They thought that I should get married and actively started searching for a bride for me, I went along for the ride and as things turned out, found myself married to a pretty young maiden within three months. I had no job, no money and saw no future. My parents and my new bride on the other hand, saw the opposite - outside Bangladesh - in Canada! So they conspired and I found myself back in Calgary in August 1984, with a still new wife, no job, no money and no future. Unlike my 1st arrival almost 3 ½ years earlier, this time there was no money to check into a hotel. So I checked in with my old flat mate Yaser Khan.


I started my job search, again with no luck. We had no money. When we went into the supermarket, my wife wanted to buy chicken - but I couldn’t even afford that, so I would steer her towards the giblets and told her I enjoyed them a lot more than chicken. For money I hawked tools from my car for a few weeks then bought and sold a few old cars until one day my not so new bride, just as a passing comment said “I was told you are an accountant – is Calgary the only city in Canada?” It shook me up as I realized the truth and honesty in that simple question! For someone who had already lived in three continents, was Calgary the only city? So we agreed on trying our luck in Toronto. We packed our battered old yellow 2 door Chevette scooter, hitched a small trailer to it and left for Toronto. We arrived in Toronto on the cool Wednesday afternoon of October 24, 1984. We didn’t know anyone here, so as soon as we entered Toronto, I bought the Toronto Sun and looked up the cheapest motel room in the city which happened to be on Military Trail in Scarborough. Luckily, it came with a kitchen.

As soon as we checked in, I started scourging the newspaper for jobs. I found a “bookkeeper required - $10/hour” ad by a Toronto manufacturer, it even had a phone number! I called them right away and managed to get an interview for the next morning. At 9am on Thursday October 25, 1984 I met the owner of Harvard Industries, a 125-member electric motor manufacturing company Mr Tom Sanka who was also a designated engineer. The interview went well and I was hired as their new bookkeeper reporting to the accountant who reported to the controller who reported to Mr Sanka. I started on my new job on Monday, October 29. They were unaware of my educational background and experience. Between the 24th and the 29th, I had also applied for an accountant’s position at a large US based multinational company “Marian International” who were in the top ten of the Fortune 500 companies at that time. This job would be more in line with my education and training.

Within a few days at Harvard Industries I realized that the company was under constant cash flow problem. They were always short of cash. Short at payroll time, short for paying important suppliers to the point that they had acquired a bad rapport with most of their suppliers. I investigated the reasons and discovered several facts. They were taking 10-

12 months to collect receivables, they were losing money on their main electric motor product, they were locked in a 5-million-dollar contract with GE at below cost selling prices and that the company barely stayed afloat from the cash generated by the filler tubes they made in their machine shop for the beer companies as a side job to keep the machines busy. Strangely, no one seemed to have any idea about any of these facts. Everyone in the organization seemed to have accepted the fact that Harvard Industries was a cash poor company. Mr Sanka had even started a program where he was almost forcing the employees to buy company shares for cash.

On my own, I decided put my recently acquired sales skills into action. I found out the names and phone numbers of the key person in the payable departments of the main three customers. I then called each one up, introduced myself as the new bookkeeper of Harvard Industries, explained the cash flow problems and convinced all of them to have a cheque ready for the driver every time a delivery was made. Almost overnight the cash flow problem disappeared, temporarily. I then walked into Mr Sanka’s office and told him that I wanted to discuss something important with him. Quite rightly, he said I should discuss the issue with the accountant first who would speak with the controller who would in turn speak with him and then if he thought it was important enough, he would indulge. I asked him if the cash flow problem had eased up, he said it did. I informed him that the delivery drivers were picking up cheques, that payments were ready even before delivery was made - while before I joined, they were waiting 10 to 12 months to get paid. He seemed to soften up a little. I asked him “do you know that you are losing money on electric motors?” With a shocked look on his face he said “I don’t believe you” – I told him that I could prove it, he dropped what he was doing and said “go ahead” – I was in my element – I showed him what he was paying for the parts, showed him what it cost in labor and showed him the GE contract prices. By the time I was done, he just looked at me with wide eyes and asked “so, what are we going to do?” I realized that I had him in the palm of my hands and it was a good feeling. After relishing it for a minute or so, I replied “we’ll re-negotiate the GE contract”, he said “it is impossible”, I said, “just call them and arrange a meeting, I’ll do the rest” He said “okay”.

The following week two GE negotiators arrived in Toronto from the head office. In the meeting, it was just Mr Sanka and me representing Harvard Industries and on GE was represented by two negotiators and their company lawyer. They started playing hardball by throwing the contract at us. We kept calm and I went through our costs vs the contract prices, I concluded by saying that there was absolutely no way that we could honor the contract because we would have to go bankrupt long before the contract was over. Mr Sanka did a lot of talking as well. By the time the 4 hour meeting was over, we walked away with a 17.5% increase on the five million dollars and a commitment from GE for a cheque for one hundred and fifty thousand dollars to address our immediate cash flow problems. Soon after we returned, Harvard had a new controller! From a $10/hour bookkeeper to Controller within a couple of weeks, not bad eh?

Within three months of joining Harvard, I was contacted by Marian International for a job interview. They hired me right away with more pay than I was getting at Harvard. It was hard for me to break the news to Mr Sanka because he had made more progress in three months than he had done in the previous decade. He didn’t want me to leave, he offered me more money and a job for my wife. But I still wanted to leave - only because Marian International was a top level hi tech manufacturing company and offered tremendous career potential for me. I offered to stay back and hire my replacement. Mr Sanka said that he needed me to train the new guy for a month and I agreed. I managed to get Marian International into waiting a few extra weeks for me. I placed an advertisement in the Toronto Star, the Globe & Mail, hired my replacement, trained him for almost a month and then said goodbye to Mr Sanka and Harvard Industries. Incidentally, a few years later, they made front page in the Toronto Star as the fastest growing company in Canada! Mr Sanka and I stayed in touch with each other for many years.

I joined Marian International in January 1985 as an accountant reporting to the Divisional Controller Mr Brian Straw who was from Britain. 

The company had 225 employees at that time of whom 64 were engineers. It was run by a CEO with 6 senior managers all of whom were 1st generation immigrants, mostly from UK. These managers were the cream of the crop, the best at their jobs. For example, if any of the US branches had any issues, these were the guys that would be flown out to resolve them. I was working with the best of the best. The information system was also phenomenally fast and detailed. The costing system was very highly evolved because their main business was with the American defense industry where many hi-tech companies competed to land multimillion dollar contracts. By the time I joined, Marian Industries had already had a good run for almost twenty years, overhead costs had become high and decision making was slow and lethargic. Besides, newer leaner companies were entering that market. Costing had become crucial for bidding for contracts. They needed a professional with good background in costing and they wanted me because I had GE, British Oxygen and J. Lyons & Co. under my belt. Over the following twelve months I learnt a lot at Marian International. As a matter of fact, my learning curve went through the ceiling and soon I started finding faults in one of the best systems in the world. I started studying Statistics and Quantitative Techniques just to keep up but soon progressed to the point that when Statistical Process Control (SPC) classes were offered to the engineers, I found them coming to me looking for solutions and explanations and my confidence skyrocketed. It was during that time that a well-respected senior scientist of Marian International approached me one evening and said “Belal, it’s no use”. I looked up surprised and asked, “what do you mean?” He replied, “all this effort you’re putting in, it won’t get you anywhere. I’ve been with this company for 25 years, I 

know the culture and I can tell you that you’ll never get to senior management”. I asked him why and he replied, “because of the color of your skin”.  I recalled my old friend Marvin from Robert Half of Calgary – but I told the scientist that I didn’t believe him. It took me another four years to realize how cruelly true his statement was.

By the 3rd year at Marian International, I started noticing too many avoidable management problems. We had missed many milestone payments totaling several millions of dollars. We were bidding on large contracts at prices far too high when compared to lean companies like Litton. As a result, we were losing business and I thought by 1990, we would be struggling to survive. I started talking to the CEO and he informed me that Marian International was considering selling our division. I presented him with a 15-point plan outlining the changes required to make the division saleable. Over the next 6 months, he implemented every one of my points and then went under lot of pressure from the senior managers for dealing directly with me. Four of the six senior managers wanted to get rid of me on any pretext – and they used one of my own points to do exactly that. They announced that they were getting rid of about 50 employees because the division was being offered for sale – I was one of the employees being laid off.

My job involved dealing with all levels of management and it also required my presence on the shop floor – as a result, I had become quite close with most employees. Several of the employees being laid off came to me for advice. I told them to read the offers Marian International had made and to follow the instructions. Most of them wanted me to break it down more and I explained that the offers gave them the right to seek legal advice and they should do that. Some of them were considering doing that. Senior management didn’t like my role in any of this – so after 5 ½ years of dedicated service, one day two security guards showed up at my office door, I was asked to surrender my security clearance badge, empty my desk and then was escorted out of the building. It was all pre-planned! They had copied my hard drive the night before, in case I deleted costing data so crucial for contract bidding. I was required to always password protect ALL my files because the data I worked with was highly confidential. Senior Management was in such a hurry to fire me that no one asked me for the passwords.

I had just bought a home, had a 4-year-old daughter with my wife due for delivery of our 2nd child in five months. This couldn’t have come at a worse time for me financially as well as psychologically. My wife’s philosophy about work is you work, get paid and come home. That was all. So, when I arrived home and told her what had happened, without batting an eyelid she said “serves you right for taking work so seriously, you just had to go to work, get paid and come home. You couldn’t just to that, you had to do more!”. The only person I shared that with was my family physician Dr. Burns and for decades almost every time we met he’d say, “you just had to work, get paid and come home!” and we would both have a good laugh!

Throughout my term with Marian International, I was being approached by companies like Litton, Fleet, Garratt and Rockwell who were all interested in having me on board. So, the next morning when I called Rockwell, they wanted to interview me right away and offered me a job as the accounting supervisor with a starting salary higher than what I was getting at Marian International. I started my new job the following day. The President wanted to see me. I told him what had happened at Marian International. He told me that the senior management at Rockwell would like to welcome me with lunch at the local golf club the next day. So, the next day at noon I walked in to the golf club with the senior management including the president of Rockwell – only to find the senior management of Marian International having lunch there! They all were very disturbed by my entourage and walked out of the club without finishing their lunch – and we all had a good laugh. But when I returned to Rockwell, the Human Resources Manager called me and said that two police officers from the Halton Police Force were at her office waiting to arrest me! I was shocked! They told me that I was being arrested for “mischief to data”, that I had placed passwords on my files and had not provided them with the passwords when I left and as such, had allegedly committed a criminal offence! When I explained the situation to them the officers became quite sympathetic and one even apologized while dropping me back at Rockwell. As soon as I was back, the president called me into his office and said, “I want you to go after those bastards, it’s going to be 

hard, but in the end, you’ll come out smelling like roses”. Well, I did go after the bastards but found that while both the Human Rights Commission and the Ontario Labor Board are great against small companies they are useless against large corporations with lawyers – especially lawyers like John Tory. So, although the charges against me failed, no action was taken against Marian International. Soon after they sold the division. Within a year, Rockwell also sold the division I was working at to Alcatel who asked them to axe the staff by half. Rockwell decided to go by seniority and I was out of a job, again.

I immediately started sending out resumes and received a lot of feedback from good companies like Alcatel, Garratt, Fleet, etc. but strangely, after the 2nd interviews, they all backed out - after doing a reference check with Marian International - who never told them about all the great things I did for them – only that I had “left” without giving them passwords and that I had caused them a lot of grief. The vindictive “bastards” were out to destroy me. I didn’t get a job in six months and with two young kids and a large mortgage, life was becoming very difficult.


To read the first two parts of this series, please check previous issues of the magazine.