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Begin with the end in mind

There is a reason I’m able to spend some of my time pontificating on the absurdity of Canadian and provincial politics in these pages while overseeing four or five businesses. I don’t do much of the work.
Michael R. Atkins

There is a reason I’m able to spend some of my time pontificating on the absurdity of Canadian and provincial politics in these pages while overseeing four or five businesses. I don’t do much of the work.

I’ve been fortunate enough to find or inherit outstanding partners in my businesses over the years and therefore have been able to limit my activities to values, strategy, banking, fires, new stuff and occasionally what we call agonizing reappraisal, which means that moment in time when we realize that notwithstanding the time, the pain, the anguish and the passion and the money, this baby ain’t gonna fly. This is usually where I earn my money either on the way in or on the way out of an adventure.

This is the life of an entrepreneur. The key is to stay close enough to the business to make use of your experience and far enough away to allow it to flourish without suffocating from your experience. Eighteen months ago something happened I wasn’t prepared for. My partner in my business to business information technology media house in Toronto (ITWorldCanada Inc) took sick. It was liver cancer.

At the time, Andy and I had been partners for more than 18 years growing our pathetic little computer magazine that went virtually unnoticed in the market at the time to the dominant B-to-B digital media house in the country. We had long ago beat out or bought out magazines from much larger companies like Maclean Hunter, Transcontinental and others and we were feeling pretty good about ourselves. 

What a difference a CAT scan can make. From that point forward Andy’s first job was to look after his health and mine was to go back to work and run the business day to day. It wasn’t without its hilarities.

Andy had been reporting to me for nearly 20 years. With this turn of events I started reporting to him on our day-to-day operations and it was now up to me to explain to him how we missed a budget or screwed up a sale. It turned out that he actually did work hard although he had made it look pretty easy for years. Worse still, he was smarter and quicker than I was on the job. I haven’t reported to anyone but a bank for more than 30 years, so it took a little adjusting to my psyche which Andy enjoyed immensely.

I kept explaining to him about the recession, the cutbacks in advertising, etc. He reminded me of my “tough love” during the recession of 1989-91 and the dot-com crash of the early 2000s. This was humbling.

With the exception of having it happen to you, there is nothing worse than watching a man in the prime of his life begin to lose the battle for life. It sucks your energy, your vitality and vital force and there is nothing you can do about it.

Last week we buried Andy after a heroic 18-month battle. It was a beautiful ceremony without pomp and circumstance. Andy ordered that there be no church service. With his last breath he said to me “I do not want a priest who doesn’t know me saying nice things about me.” I pointed out to him that left him in the precarious position of having people who actually knew him talking about him. He laughed and said he’d take the chance.

Being in business with someone for many years is not unlike a marriage. You must learn to risk together, trust together, reason together, compromise together, drink together, and respect one another. Generally, it is a marathon to build a business and not a sprint. There is nothing more exciting than having the freedom to win or lose or draw in the world of free enterprise. Frequently, you do all three, and if you can do all of that without losing the respect of the other, well, it is very special.

Andy was ambitious, loving, impatient, bright, thoughtful, competitive, responsible, funny and always with that irresistible twinkle in his eyes.

Andy loved to have fun. He wasn't everybody's cup of tea. But if he was your cup of tea you would do anything for him. The most remarkable thing about Andy is that he grew every year I knew him.

He was an extraordinary man and his courage in the face of adversity was breathtaking.

He died before his time, but he had a wonderful life and found true love late in life which transformed him. He had no regrets. It doesn’t get better than that.

He will be terribly missed and never forgotten.

Michael Atkins
Laurentian Media Group