There used to be a disdnct seasonal rhythm to business activity. By mid-June, the pace usually slowed down, and by tacit agreement, big corporate decisions were deferred until cooler heads could prevail after Labour Day. But the relentless push for competitive advantage, as well as new technology, has made it desirable and possible for all parties to remain in constant contact despite vacation schedules. As a result, there has been a steady flow of business news over the past few months. For those lucky enough to lounge, the summer may have extra savour when you consider that there are now three especially tough jobs out there to which you do not have to return at the end of your holiday.
At the top of the list is the job of Bruce Hood, the recently appointed air travel complaints commissioner for the Canadian Transportation Agency. He has to serve as the official lightning rod for disgruntled airline passengers during one of the most turbulent periods in the industry. While Air Canada struggles to integrate the operations and the employees of Canadian Airlines, it’s also attempting to stave off7 a strike by its increasingly petulant pilots. In fact, as the domestic chartered banks begin reporting another round of record quarterly earnings, Canadians’ taste for bank-bashing seems a distant memory. Air Canada has become the preferred target for our wrath.
Not that Bruce Hood is perturbed by that reality. A veteran National Hockey League referee, at 64 he was in semiretirement from his successful Ontario travel business when he decided to offer his ear—and his e-mail address—to angry air travellers. Hood explains that when he heard about the position, he got in touch with fellow Liberal and former NHL referee Bob Kilger, who’s now chief government whip in the House of Commons. Kilger put him directly in touch with Transport Minister David Collenette, and the job was his.
Hood cheerfully admits he doesn’t have a lot of clout in his new role, except perhaps to “embarrass the airlines into improving their standards—especially how they treat people.” Although passenger complaints to the CTA almost tripled in the first half of this year, to 258, Hood is convinced the solution is relatively simple: airlines, in particular Air Canada, need to improve their attitude and their communications skills. “People just want to know what’s going on, to be kept in the loop,” he says. “It’s great that Air Canada is moving 100,000 passengers a day, but passengers only care about their own experience, they want to be treated as individuals.”
On the subject of collective versus individual interests, another job you wouldn’t want to hold right now belongs to Buzz Hargrove, head of the Canadian Auto Workers union. For months, he’s been feuding with the Canadian Labour
Congress over allegedly raiding the membership of another union. Eschewing the traditional creed, “Solidarity forever,” Hargrove has made it clear that the CAW will accept banishment from the CLC before it forsakes its expansion drive.
However, Hargrove is battling with solidarity in his own ranks. Earlier this summer, the administrative staff at CAW offices went on strike for six weeks demanding improved pension benefits. Then last week, a disruptive wildcat strike at car plants in Oshawa, Ont., raised questions about Hargrove’s credibility as head of the powerful union. After all, if Hargrove wants to preserve his clout at the bargaining table, he has to have management’s confidence that he can deliver on the terms of the collective agreement. Although he was openly critical of the unauthorized strike and its militant ringleaders, their actions still tarnished his leadership.
The other undesirable job that’s emerged in this summer’s business whirl has just gone to Derek J. Burney—at least on an interim basis. He’s the guy who has agreed to fill in for Corel Corp. founder Michael Cowpland, who abrupdy resigned from the software company he founded 15 years ago.
That news surprised the many observers who’ve watched Cowpland valiantly swim against the tide—and the harsh judgment of many skeptics—for years. After a sudden runup in share value earlier this year on the initial frenzy over the Linux operating system, Corel’s stock quickly lost its lustre.
As Cowpland faced charges of insider trading from the Ontario Securities Commission, a crucial deal to acquire California-based Inprise/Borland Corp. fell apart acrimoniously. That pushed the cash-strapped company, which repeatedly fell short of its own earnings forecasts, into a frantic restructuring mode. Several key executives left as workers were laid off and budgets slashed. Even an eleventh-hour cash infusion through a deal with Vancouver-based Canaccord Capital Corp. failed to restore investor confidence.
The daunting task facing Burney—who’s been with Corel since 1993, most recently as chief technology officer—is to restore the company’s image with a bitter and bruised investment community. At the same time as he must cut costs and make do without public capital, Burney has to move the company and its products forward in a rapidly changing, intensely competitive market.
So as you straggle crossly back to the office after your summer break, sifting though 278 stale e-mail messages and countless voice mails, bear this in mind: you could have to explain to stranded western air travellers why their luggage is in Moncton. You could have to face a few thousand irate autoworkers. Or you could have to clean up after Michael Cowpland. Things could be worse. Much worse.
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