JUNE 29, 1995
It has been over two years since I vacated the corner office on the seventh floor. As with most leading edge companies there has been so much change that I expect most Cantel staff will be asking “Who is this guy?”. Just for the record, I had the fun of being variously the Chairman, President and/or CEO of Cantel from about 1983 through the Spring of 1993. So, my 10th anniversary with the Company actually came a little earlier.
However, July 1, 1985 was the big day. This was when we turned on the system and were instantly Canada’s largest cellular Company – a position which we have maintained to this day.
I was asked to give a brief history of how we got to be where we are. Fortunately, the organizers of today’s event only allowed me four minutes.
Now, as you all know, every entrepreneurial company started from very humble beginnings. However, do not believe those stories about it being started in a little log cabin with the wolves howling outside the doors. In fact, when I was asked by the three founding companies to lead the team to get the national cellular licenses, I recall our first meeting was held around the pool at the Four Seasons in Yorkville. I remember this well because this is where Marc Belzberg always stayed. I also remember it because Chuck Dalfen, of Ottawa, who was the Secretary of the Company, stayed there as well. He had had a swim before the meeting and found that someone had stolen his wallet which was in the changing room. I particularly remember that because he had to borrow enough money to get his car out of the parking lot (which I believe he never repaid now that I think of it).
In any case, this started our tradition of borrowing money which we have now developed into an art form!
However, as this celebration is about the start of operations rather than the start of the Company, I should remind you that our motto at that time was “Coming Alive In ’85”.
No one took us seriously in those days – most of all the Telco’s. However, when we launched on July 1st. and had not only outsold Bell but had out engineered them, they were horrified. I will only remind you of a couple of the reasons why we were so successful:-
• We set up a distribution system with Cantel Service Centres which was really aggressive. I know our CSC’s must have been aggressive because most of them ending up suing us a few years later!
Then we had great engineering. Somehow we had a network up and operational. It was a little embarrassing at the opening in Montreal when Philippe de Gaspe Beaubien asked Nick how to operate the phone he was going to use for the initial call. Nick acknowledged that he had never made a cellular telephone call even though he had built the network!
Fortunately, we maintained the initiative we had gained on that first day through some brilliant advertising campaigns. Some of you may recall the Dragon campaign. This was one of Kathy McLaughlin’s blockbusters. It pictured cartoons of me in a Viking helmet (a testimony to Ericsson?) fending off the dragon of competition using a cellular aerial as a spear. I have to confess that this promotion was not quite as successful as Amigo.
We then proceeded to roll out the system across the country. This was a province-by-province process. Saskatchewan was the last bastion to fall. I remember calling on the Minister of Communications to try to negotiate an interconnect agreement. He told me that I had nothing to worry about because he had already arranged for an Order-in-Council setting out the rules for our entry into the Province. I protested that we had had no opportunity to negotiate this. He said, “Well, if you don’t like it you can appeal to the Minister of Finance”. But you are the Minister of Finance, I said. He just looked at me and smiled and said, “Now you get the picture.”. This was pretty typical of the early days.
Anyway looking back at all this, it was a lot of fun but very relevant. What has come out of all this is a Company that still has that leading edge spirit.
• Under the new management team, we have been:-
• First with digital across the country.
• First with voice activation on the network.
• The North American Marketing Leaders with the Amigo program.
What has always made the difference at Cantel is people. Our staff has always been innovative and customer driven. Perhaps, just as important, we have always enjoyed the challenge and even had some fun while building this incredible business. And incredible it is. From a standing start in 1985, we now have over a million paging and cellular subscribers. This is truly one of Canada’s greatest success stories.
We had some help along the way from our many suppliers, including Ericsson and CBIS, amongst others. In fact, in the early days, these suppliers actually ended up helping to finance the Company. This was not intentional on their part. We just did not have the money to pay our bills!
But enough of the past. If we thought the last ten years were exciting, just think of what will happen in the next ten years. The world wide potential for wireless communications is limitless. To give you an idea of the challenge over half the people in the world today have never made or received a phone call. Most of these, if they are going to be served in the near future, will not receive service over hardwires. Rather they will look to wireless as the answer.
So today, we can take a few moments rest, pat ourselves on the back for a job well done and then start planning to meet this huge challenge in the next decade.
Thank you for everything you have done for the Company to get it where it is today. You have a great new management team and are in one of the greatest industries in the world.
Have fun and have a great next decade!