Life's second act

February 26 2007

Life's second act

February 26 2007

Life's second act


Millions of us dream of making a radical shift at mid-life, but wonder if we’ll have the money, the energy and the will to follow through. It’s not easy to change directions so dramatically when most others are thinking about slowing down, but here are four Canadians who took the leap, with no regrets. * THE WEALTH REPORT


Goodbye to All That

Bernie Clement doesn’t look like your stereotypical prairie car dealer. He’s trim, and his haircut looks expensive. So does his dark suit, a corporate cut.

Until June 1, Clement was second-in-command at DaimlerChrysler Canada, vice-president of sales. He was a self-made man, who rode a dizzying series of executive promotions from his start as a clerk in Manitoba. Bilingual, enthusiastic, he was destined, it seemed, for the top job. But six months ago, Clement gave it all up to open a street-level dealership in his hometown. “This isn’t something that gets done very often,” Clement admits, in a wild understatement. “I knew it meant I gave up the chance to be president of the company one day.”

But the corporate life was taking a heavy toll on the 42-year-old. Clement boarded 232 flights last year and moved his family 15 times in 18 years. The revelation hit him as he was putting his kids in school in Dallas, after being made director of regional sales for the American southwest. “My wife [Joanne] was back in Canada. And I remember I walked them to the door, and I opened it, and that’s when it hit me: I’ve been doing this every 12 months. My kids [Madison, now 18, and Dallas, now 16] are going into a place where they know no one. We have no home. We were vagabonds.” It was time for a change.

Now Clement is standing inside his new Chrysler dealership on Winnipeg’s Pembina Highway, pointing out recent changes. He’s moved an enormous shed to the back lot, and cleared a row of trees, making the dealership visible from Osborne Street, behind. He has revamped the inside, too. His office is out front in the showroom, and the Chrysler brand is everywhere. He’s got a new logo, website and tag line: “It’s all here.”

Business is booming. Sales have increased by 27 per cent since he took over in June, and

annualized earnings are up 192 per cent. He calls the “new” Pembina Chrysler Dodge Jeep one of the fastest-growing dealerships in Western Canada, and has plans to open several more, building a little Chrysler empire on the prairie. Lingering doubts have been eclipsed by his business success in Winnipeg. But he admits this wasn’t always so. “The first couple nights,” Clement says, “there were times when you sit up there, and you think, ‘what did I just do?’ ”

Two weeks after he resigned, Stephen Landry, chairman of DaimlerChrysler Canada, and Chrysler’s No.l in Canada, was promoted, leaving a vacancy at the top. Had he not resigned, industry insiders say Clement would have succeeded Landry. The Globe and Mail and Toronto Star tracked Clement to Winnipeg, looking for a tortured quote. They got nothing. “The title didn’t mean anything to me anymore.”—Nancy Macdonald

Family—Take Two

As a retired head of a multinational corporation, you’d think Arnold Park would be enjoying a leisurely descent in the shade of his golden parachute. Instead, the 62-year-old former CEO of McCain Foods (Canada) has taken on a task that at least rivals the challenge of steering the Canadian arm of the world’s largest purveyor of french fries. Over the past 10 years, he and his wife Sandy have adopted three babies from China’s notorious orphanages—thereby dramatically altering their lives, as well as those of their “new” children, for the better.

Sarah, 9, is a precocious and analytical student with a knack for basketball. Her adopted sister Molly, 7, is more artistic and laid-back. The youngest, Lily, 3, came to the Parks in 2004“She was born the Year of the Monkey and it shows,” a breathless Park says from his home in New Minas, N.S. “She is a good child, but mischievous? My God.”

There are certainly quirks in the couple’s newfound domestic bliss, and in their redesigned family tree. They have already run the parental gauntlet several times, having raised four of their own children while Park worked his way up to the top of McCain. They have eight grandchildren, five of whom are older than their adopted aunts.

The mere thought of running around behind a gaggle of rambunctious kids is enough to exhaust the energy and patience of most sixtysomethings, but the Parks shudder to think what might have happened to their children had they remained in Chinese orphanages. The three girls were victims of what is known as “institutional abandonment,” whereby mothers desert their young children for fear of not being able to provide for them. Under China’s one-baby-per-family law, designed to curb the country’s exploding population growth, a second child usually means a hefty and unaffordable fine for poor families. The system also favours boys, who are considered better providers for their relatives. “These orphanages are 20-to-one girls,” Park says. “Sarah had a fairly serious eye problem that wouldn’t have been diagnosed. Molly has a short-term memory problem that would have been a significant learning disability. Here, we got her a psychologist, testing and a tutor. There, she would have had nothing.”

The abandoned infants spend their young

lives in orphanages and, if not adopted, are sent back to their villages at the age of 14 to fend for themselves. Not surprisingly, China is the world’s go-to spot for potential adoptive parents. According to Children’s Bridge, an average of 12,000 children are adopted from the country every year—including some 1,600 by Canadian families. To its credit, China has one of the most efficient foreign adoption systems in the world, according to child welfare advocates.

Park is now president of the board of the Children’s Bridge Foundation, the Canadian agency that organized all three of the Parks’ adoptions, a job that requires him to hit up the myriad business leaders he knows for donations. It’s also meant being knee-deep in diapers at a time when most people his age are worrying about their golf swing. But a second shot at parenthood isn’t nearly as fraught as some might think. “It’s actually much more relaxed,” he says. “Younger couples work just to make ends meet, but now we don’t have that pressure. When you’re young you want everything. By this age, its ‘been there, done that.’ You really don’t want anything else.”—Martin Patriquin

A Hidden Harvest

A few years ago, Wayne Dunn approached Joe Clark about buried treasure in Ghana: hardwood trees, worth millions, submerged in Lake Volta. “I promised Joe my plan wouldn’t involve he and I in snorkels and flippers, carrying chainsaws into the water,” laughs Dunn, a B.C.-based businessman.

At the time, the former prime minister was still in the Flouse of Commons. But after trying in vain to resuscitate the Progressive Conservative party and watching it merge with the Canadian Alliance over his objections, he was ready to leave politics for good in 2004After stepping down, he became heavily involved in election observation work in Africa and then, in October 2005, at age 66, he founded Clark Sustainable Resource Developments, with Dunn as president and CEO.

By last spring, after five visits with local officials, Clark had hammered out a deal with Ghana’s government and the Volta River Authority, which controls the man-made lake that spans 8,515 sq. km. And now, having secured some start-up cash from Goldman Sachs and several other large investors last

week, Clark and Co. plan to start cutting and dragging trees to shore later this year. The Mill Bay, B.C.-based company is having equipment from the oil and gas industry adapted to harvest the 80 tree species in Lake Volta’s underwater forest—including mahogany, odum and ebony—some as tall as 100 feet and 10 feet in circumference, rooted 170 feet below the surface. After 40 years underwater, all that hardwood has been preserved from the deteriorating effects of air and insects.

Aside from the potentially massive cash windfall, the African government also wants the trees removed for safety since Lake Volta is a high-traffic transport route and dozens die every year when their boats hit trees just below the surface. (If CSRD is successful in Ghana, similar opportunities await in South America, Asia and other parts of Africa.)

When asked how much his company can expect to profit in Ghana, Clark sidesteps, instead sharing a story about what the World Bank said when asked how much Lake Volta’s underwater forest is worth. “They said zero, because you can’t get them out,” says Clark, with a laugh. “Whatever the value is, it is several times more than zero P—John Intini

Rider in the Storms

Lynne Gauld used to joke that she would never let her bike-crazed husband, Lindsay, spend his days aimlessly biking around Winnipeg. Since selling his business empire in 2006, the 58-year-old has spent most days riding—he pedalled 29,000 km last year alone—but every ride has a destination, and a cargo.

Last year Gauld sold Olympia Cycle & Ski, a Winnipeg-based clothing and apparel store with franchises across the city, as well as in B.C. and Ontario, to become a bike courier for a local company, Sierra Courier Service. Wiry and intense, Gauld was once part of the national speed skating team. He started cycling as a way to train during the off-season. Instead, he fell in love with biking, switched sports, and eventually represented Canada at the 1972 Olympics in Munich.

In 1979, he opened the Olympia flagship on Portage Avenue, in Winnipeg. By the late 1990s, he had built a small empire of highend ski and bike shops. For the past year, however, Gauld the business owner has given way to Lindsay the bike courier.

The idea for a career change came to him on a bike race from San Francisco to Portland three years ago. “Not that I was anxious to get out, but as a business owner you’re always thinking about an exit strategy.” Gauld had an interested buyer, and wanted to sell Olympia while he was “young enough to do something else.” For six months of the year, this means braving extreme elements—this

is Winnipeg, after all. Gauld wears long underwear and tights beneath a pair of baggy cycling shorts. He needs all those shorts pockets for his cellphone, radio, notebook and pencil (pens freeze up outside). Unlike a lot of his fellow couriers, Gauld wears a helmet—atop a balaclava, a thin toque and a neck warmer he can pull over his face ‘when the wind is really screaming.” But it’s

not just cold he’s braving. As a courier, he’s racked up his share of bumps and bruises. That’s nothing new to Gauld, who has broken his collarbone five times and once broke his back. In fact, on the night he was inducted into the Manitoba Sports Hall of Fame, in 1997, he was wearing a body brace.

Nevertheless, Gauld sets out at 8, every morning, on a single-speed Surly Karate Monkey he won for placing first in a Wisconsin bike race last year. He makes his last delivery around 5 p.m., averaging 135 km over the day. In between, he barely has time to scarf down a muffin. He is at the whim of the dispatcher, who barks out instructions in radio code. He works on commission, taking home two-thirds of every fare, around $80 or $100 by the end of the day. “I’m not doing it for the money,” Gauld says. “I’m out there doing what I love.”—Nancy Macdonald M