What I learned from Ed Holder's brochure (hint: not much) #LdnOnt @LdnOnt_2018 @cityofLdnOnt #mayoral #municipalelection

Here’s a news flash: Ed Holder, one of the leading contenders in London’s four-way mayoral race, is in favour of job growth. Holy cow, that’s a stunner.

Have I got your attention because here’s another bombshell: He’s in favour of synchronized traffic signals. Has any politician anywhere ever argued against synchronized traffic signals? They’re to the transportation system what waste and inefficiencies are to budget deficits. Oh, and London council approved a synchronization project last year.

Council also approved the Adelaide Street underpass recently to keep trains and cars apart at that busy intersection. Holder has boldly thrown his support behind that project too.

Look, I don’t know if Ed Holder would be a good mayor or not. I do know he’d be a lot better than Paul Cheng whose next specific policy proposal will be his first. I don’t know whom to support for mayor, so when Ed Holder’s brochure arrived in my mailbox today, I read it. Twice. And I’m still looking for anything resembling a specific idea.

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Holder has five top priorities, each one a collection of empty words or no-duh pronouncements. The only specific item is his opposition to the Bus Rapid Transit plan. Fair enough. I can’t decide if that’s a good idea or not. But having said he’s opposed, his ideas to move people around the city more efficiently boil down to the Adelaide underpass, already approved, more efficient bus service to retail centres and a better mobile app for London Transit users. And, of course, synchronized stop lights.

Beyond that short list of easy-to-endorse ideas, he offers nothing specific among his five priorities. If you think I’m exaggerating, I’m sorry to say I’m not. There is nothing specific anywhere else in his five-priority action plan.

He boldly supports job growth but says nothing about how he might help create jobs. He’s in favour of collaborative leadership. Awesome. He reminds us he was a federal cabinet minister and claims that experience will help secure provincial and federal funding for infrastructure projects in London. Which projects? How much money? Don’t sweat it; he knows a guy.

His last priority, to “help London’s most vulnerable,” will be accomplished by “continuing to work closely with many stakeholders including other levels of government, social services and the not-for-profit sector.”

That’s it. That’s his platform as described in his brochure. The rest of the brochure lays out his resume, which I acknowledge is impressive. But come on Ed, give us some specific ideas, not just the highlights from your LinkedIn account.

Synchronized traffic signals? Seriously?

More on my @LdnIncMag Oct. cover story about @MyVoyago #LdnOnt

Here’s a little game I’ve been playing, often against my will, for the last few weeks. Be warned, if you live in the London area and read this, you might find yourself playing the game too.

Ever since I wrote about the transformation of Voyageur Transportation Services to Voyago, (this month’s London Inc. cover story) I’ve seen Voyago vans and buses all over the place, every single day. I guess they were there all along – after all, the company made the switch several months ago. But I did not notice a single Voyago vehicle until the middle of last month after meeting with company president Theresa Matthews and COO Corey Jarvis.


They made the switch for many reasons, but primarily to take the company and its dispatch system into the new age of Uber apps and on-demand transportation. The Voyago team has big plans to expand its school bus service across Ontario and into other parts of Canada. Same for its patient transfer service, now called Voyago Health.

It continues to operate Checker Limo in London. It was a testing ground for the company’s new technology and now runs with all the efficiency and customer service of Uber itself.

When you’re driving around London in the coming days, count the number of Voyago vehicles you see. It won’t take long to rack up a handful of sightings, I guarantee it.


More on my Sept @LdnIncMag cover story on @LondonMusicHall #LdnOnt

When Mike Manuel has a big idea, the consequences spread in concentric circles, as though he dropped a pebble in a pond.

A series of big ideas – and big bucks – over more than a decade have combined to create the London Music Hall, a music venue with a national reputation among artists, promoters and fans. Since he began by creating by Rum Runners in 2004, he has added amenities, features and technology to make the Music Hall something special, home to about 250 shows and events annually.

The consequences of his big ideas include a growing local concert scene, new music festivals, a local music hall of fame, and weekly opportunities for students to interact with musicians in the former Nash Jewellers building, now part of the Music Hall.

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Further down the list of consequences is a note I get every two years from London Inc. editor Gord Delamont, asking me to write about Manuel’s latest adventure. My cover story in this month’s London Inc. is the fourth story I’ve written about Manuel, always keyed by his latest big idea.

This time it’s the installation of more than 200 bar stools in the main room, in a sloped configuration behind the standing-room main floor. The project will be done later this fall, giving fans a new way to enjoy concerts, without turning the venue into a theatre with padded, folding seats – anathema to Manuel’s vision for the Hall.

A revamped Rum Runners will reopen around the same time, and the latest iteration of the Music Hall will forge ahead, bringing in bands from across the country and beyond. Meanwhile, Manuel will be dreaming up his next project. I look forward to hearing all about it in two years or so.

More on my July @LdnIncMag cover story about @SoleScience #LdnOnt

             You have to assume Colin Dombroski enjoys a good pun. The pedorthist named his foot treatment practice SoleScience when he started in 2002. It’s a clever name that hints at the more official description of what he does: provider of custom orthoses and pedorthic services.

              Simply put, he and his growing team assess people’s foot pain and figure out how to treat it. He has a PhD in health and rehabilitation services, but he’s not a doctor in the sense that he would fix a broken toe, for example. However, most people who come looking for relief from foot pain have already eliminated broken bones as the cause. They need to understand why their foot hurts and what will make it stop.

              The Dombroski team is comprised of 13 people, operating 18 clinics in 15 cities. London is home base. Among the 13 are Dombroski’s parents, his brother and his brother-in-law. His parents moved from Barrie to join the operation.

As you can read about in my London Inc. July cover story, the business recently moved into the refurbished Ironworks building on Maitland Street. There, SoleScience makes its own orthotics, ensuring speedy, personal service for its patients.

The large space is also home to Dombroski’s first serious foray into retail. He purchased J. Seigel Footwear when its third-generation owner, Jeff Seigel, decided to retire. Seigels by SoleScience occupies the front portion of the new location and offers a variety of shoes designed for people with foot pain.

Thousands of people had come to rely on Seigel for the shoes they needed to battle foot issues. Dombroski knew how important it was after referring patients there for years and seeing the emotional reaction of many to the news it would be closing.

So, he bought the company and the name and rolled it into his new one-stop-shop for foot pain assessment and treatment. It’s an impressive operation, combining the latest in technology with the ongoing personal touch for which SoleScience is known.

More on my June @LdnIncMag cover story on @NashJewellers #Ldnont

           When I was 15 I went to West Germany (as it was then) with my high school concert band. We spent two weeks playing concerts and billeting with German families.

            Leafing through some of the Oshawa Chamber of Commerce schlock we had given our host families, the father in the house where I was staying noted a reference to one of the city’s oldest buildings.

            “How old?” he asked in rudimentary English.

            Not knowing, I took a guess at something around 100 years.

            The look of disappointment on his face transcended any language barrier. In Europe, 100 years qualifies as fledgling. We didn’t talk about old buildings anymore, focusing instead on our common love of ping pong and ice cream.

            It’s safe to assume that German father would not be impressed with the milestone Nash Jewellers is celebrating this year. But for most people in London, Ontario, running a family-owned business for 100 years is indeed noteworthy.

            And that’s why I’m glad my story about Nash Jewellers at 100 is running this month in London Inc. magazine and not in the Wangen Weekly Business Journal. On this side of the ocean, it’s kind of a big deal.

            The official celebration is in November. That’s when the company will release a coffee table book about its history. Working with an archivist, John C. Nash has been researching his family’s past and putting the book together for months.

            He’s the third generation to run the business, following his father, John B. and his grandfather, John A. The pattern ended with the fourth generation. Colin, one of six John C. sons, bought the business in 2010 and moved it to its stylish new home on Wonderland Road North six years later.

            With 18 employees, Nash Jewellers offers a surprising array of services. It’s the exclusive home for brands like Rolex, Mikimoto, Gucci and John Hardy. Its talented designers create unique pieces. And its technicians repair jewellry and also fix glasses.

            Happy Anniversary Nash Jewellers. The Germans may not care, but lots of families in this part of the world have been relying on you for decades.


More on my May @LdnIncMag cover story @arcanebrand @start.ca #zucora

              The first time I interviewed Eric Vardon, he was a 26-year-old wannabe fashion magnate who had just co-founded a clothing company called AllMaple. That was in the summer of 2003.

              Three years later, the company was small but growing, and Vardon’s attention was focused on the chest of Pamela Anderson. Or that’s how I portrayed a particular moment in the second story I wrote about Vardon’s entrepreneurial exploits.

              Anderson was hosting the 2006 Juno Awards in Halifax. For the second consecutive year, AllMaple had supplied merch for the celebrity gift bags. Vardon and his co-founder Marco DiCarlo watched the show intently, hoping Anderson would change into an AllMaple shirt at some point in the broadcast. It wasn’t to be.

              More important than anything Anderson did that night was something about Vardon I glossed over at the time. AllMaple was one of at least three companies he was running at the time. It was an offshoot of an Internet arts magazine, which itself was an offshoot of the central business, Velocity Studio.

              Velocity was early in the website design business. In 2011, Vardon and a new partner, John D’Orsay, founded Arcane, which took the website design concept and blew it out to include marketing of all kinds, but particularly social media, search engine optimization and custom software solutions.

              I wrote a few stories about Arcane through the years, in particular when it moved to its sleek new home on Talbot Street – the Cube.

              I was there again last month, writing yet another story about Vardon and his latest career move. The cover story in the May issue of London Inc. magazine is about that move, a step back. He and D’Orsay are giving up some of the day-to-day responsibility at Arcane but continuing as two of the four owners.

              As ever, Vardon gives away little about what’s he planning for the next month or year or beyond. As capable as the company’s new CEO and COO are – and they’ve been working at the company, learning the ropes, for more than two years – it would be foolish to think Vardon is going to simply walk away.

              But it would be equally foolish to suggest he’s going to hibernate in his funky corner office and rest on his digital laurels. This summer, he and his wife will have their second child, so presumably that’s where some of his energies will go. However, you read it here first: Within two years, my bet is he’ll launch a new venture. And there’s a pretty good chance I’ll be there to write about it.

More on my Feb. @LdnIncMag cover story on pot producer @IndivaInc #LdnOnt

Difficult as it is to believe, it was the last-gasp, get-off-my-lawn Harper government that started the process leading to the legalization of recreational pot this July across Canada.

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That might not have been the Conservative government’s intention, but the changes it made to the country’s medical marijuana regulations five years ago paved the way for Justin Trudeau to promise legalization during the last election campaign. Once Health Canada started handing out licenses to grow and sell medical grade pot, it was only a matter of time until the recreational market opened up as well.

Estimates of the market fluctuate wildly, but they’re all in the billions of dollars. And that’s why more than 80 companies have applied to become licensed producers of marijuana in Canada. It’s not just the medical market but the promise of the larger recreational market that draws investors and dreamers. Beyond that is the even more lucrative possibility of exporting high-quality marijuana to Europe and other jurisdictions that embrace, or at least allow, its distribution and use.

My cover story in this month’s London Inc. magazine profiles Indiva, a London-based company with millions of dollars of investment and plans to start selling medical marijuana this summer. Its high-tech, growing facility is more like a medical lab than a greenhouse. It grows two strains of pot and is hopeful federal regulations will allow it to branch out into selling oils, creams and edibles in the coming years.

Meanwhile, it is relying heavily on master grower Pete Young, who has been a pot advocate for decades. He is in charge of making sure Indiva grows a sustainable, high quality crop. Company co-founder Niel Marotta has already expanded the London facility once to increase production to 3-million grams of medical marijuana per year. But plans call for much more expansion, 10 or 20 times as big, to compete in what he believes will be a robust and competitive market in Canada and worldwide.

If you’ve read this far, you’re probably wondering where all the pot puns are. Is it possible – legal? – to write about pot and not include puns? I don’t want to take any chances, so let’s end with this: Indiva is on a roll, aiming high, and proving where there’s smoke there’s fire.

More on my Sept @LdnIncMag cover story on @DavisMartindale #LdnOnt

            When I met Paul Panabaker in 1999, it was as the father of three young kids at the school where my daughter Emily had just started kindergarten. I had no idea that four years earlier he had merged his small accounting firm with a slightly less small accounting firm called Davis Martindale.

            As our kids went from JK to grade six at Brick Street public school – RIP – we became friends. Our kids played together on the weekends. We all went to the family fun nights at the school. We golfed on occasion, and Davis Martindale became the sponsor of the kids’ soccer team.

            Davis Martindale was growing and getting ready to move into its shiny new office on Commissioners, the site of a former Big V pharmacy. I wrote a story about the move for a local business rag, and learned a little more about what was going on at the firm.

            But let’s be honest, the goings-on at an accounting firm are not usually the stuff of Christopher Nolan movies. Aaron Sorkin maybe, but he has yet to give it a go. The absence of any Aaron Sorkin moments is something I mention in my London Inc. cover story this month, celebrating the 50th anniversary of the firm.

            Recognizing accounting is not seen as the most exciting of professional pursuits, Davis Martindale long ago branded itself the Accountants With Personality. And those personalities have relied on that slogan to define their corporate culture ever since. Yes, they have experts in every conceivable tax and business planning niche, and yes they’re members of an international association, giving them global reach. But it’s the personality and focus on being human that has helped the firm grow to be the largest independent firm, by a lot, in Southwestern Ontario.

            When I met Paul, I had no idea the firm would reach its current heights. I’m not sure he did. But it’s an accomplishment worth noting and celebrating. Congratulations to the accountants with personality.


#JayThomas will always be a #Christmas tradition #TheLoneRanger RIP

            If you watched Jay Thomas’ annual appearance on the Letterman Christmas show – and by watch I mean absorb and study – you noticed a few details that might have evaded a more casual viewer.


            I’m thinking about the story and Thomas’ annual guest spot earlier than usual this year because he died yesterday at age 69. He had a wonderful career playing comedic parts in TV and film, but for me and millions of Letterman fans, Jay Thomas was synonymous with Christmas above all else.

            The trademark Lone Ranger story could expand and contract from year to year, but always included a few central facts and phrases that somehow were as much of a holiday tradition as mistletoe, holly and egg nog.

            We had to wait; Thomas was always the second guest, often following some boring star who seemed to have no idea he was the lead-in to a series of beloved Christmas traditions.

            After some small talk, Letterman would ask him to tell “the greatest talk show story ever told.” Our delight was not just in hearing the story year after year but in watching how thrilled Letterman was to hear it annually. As so many of Letterman’s guests said and demonstrated, the bar was very high when you sat in the guest chair. If you came with funny or interesting stories, Letterman engaged and the appearance was a success – likely leading to many more. If you came with nothing more than a smile and the date of your movie opening, he could eviscerate you. (The latter often was more entertaining, particularly in the early days.)

            The Jay Thomas story was set in Charlotte in the 70s, when Thomas was working as a radio DJ, making personal appearances at car dealerships and other glamorous locations. He always mentioned his white man’s afro, his friend Mike Martin, his 10-year-old Volvo, the Red Roof Inn where the Lone Ranger was staying, and the moment when he and Mike went behind a dumpster to get “herbed up.”

            It would be a disservice to tell the entire story here. Watch it here to get the full effect. Of course, the story was just the beginning of the fun. From there, the two men would move on to the Holiday Quarterback Challenge, wherein they would take turns throwing footballs, attempting to knock a giant meatball from the top of the giant Christmas tree on stage.

            Years before, Letterman had stopped explaining why there was a meatball on top of the Christmas tree, but faithful viewers knew it went back to the early days on CBS, when local merchants were part of the show. To finish decorating the tree one year, a parade of locals came in, climbed a ladder and added: a pizza, a replica of the Empire State Building and then a meatball on top of the whole thing – the perfect symbol of the show’s ongoing irreverence and disdain for traditional talk show norms.

            In 1998, Thomas had bested then-NFL quarterback Vinny Testaverde and knocked the meatball off with a perfectly thrown spiral. That was the last time Testaverde appeared on the show, but every year Thomas returned and took turns with Letterman heaving footballs at the meatball. One of them usually hit it within the first 10 throws.

            With the meatball dislodged, Thomas exited quickly, often doubling back to grab the jacket he had removed so he could throw freely. That was followed by a slightly more traditional Christmas moment – Darlene Love singing Baby Please Come Home with a cast of thousands, all led by a joyous Paul Shaffer. (Watch the sound check from 2014 here; it’s great.)

            In 2013, Thomas was recovering from neck surgery and couldn’t do the show. Letterman had John McEnroe substitute and tell the same story. It was clear to careful observers he had studied the Thomas appearance from the year before because he delivered the story with the same beats and one-off details as Thomas did that year.

            In 2014, Thomas was back to wrap up the tradition on the final Christmas show before Letterman retired the following spring. We continue to watch that episode every Christmas at our house, just as we watch the Grinch and Charlie Brown.

            I wonder if Jay Thomas ever understood what an integral part of Christmas he was for so many people. For that as much as anything else he did, we will remember him. As the Lone Ranger himself might have said, “Rest in Peace, citizen.”

More on @LdnIncMag cover story, @Mobials, a #LdnOnt tech innovator

           Every time I have work done on my car at friendly, competent Leavens Volkswagen, I am pushed, poked and prodded to fill out a survey about my experience there. I am asked to answer a series of questions on a scale of 1 to 10.

            Fine and dandy, I know how that works. But wait, the survey comes with a note – a rather desperate note – letting me know that a score of 9 or less is considered a fail.

            “The scoring system is unusual,” reads a follow-up email the next day. “The unusual thing is 10 is a pass and 9 is a fail. If for any reason we did not pass, please let me know before filling out the survey so we can discuss the issues, make things right and improve our level of service. I hope we can count on you for those 10s!”

            So to sum up: It’s essentially a pass/fail survey, and before I even think about checking the fail box, I should touch base with the service department and see just how badly they really want to pass.

I don’t blame Leavens; that’s how Volkswagen has set things up. The company is not looking for honest feedback. It’s looking for data points that can be converted into awards that can be used to market dealerships.

            So how valuable are the results of such a survey? Wait, before you answer, remember, anything less than 10 is a fail. So go ahead and answer. Wait, before you click anything other than 10, please contact me so I can convince you to click 10. OK, go ahead. Just remember, we’re all counting on you to do the right thing.

            Is it any wonder that every car dealership, restaurant, supermarket, real estate agent, pet groomer and birthday party clown is “award-winning?” If you’re in business doing anything and you haven’t won an award, you might be dead. On a scale of 1 to 10, how alive do you feel? Remember, anything below 10 is dead.

            This nutty system tells us two things: Businesses recognize the power of good reviews and ratings, and they’re not shy about putting a corporate thumb on the scale to achieve them.

            Into this world enters Mobials Inc., the growing tech company I wrote about for the cover in this month’s London Inc. magazine. Mobials allows consumers to provide real reviews of car dealerships and lots of other businesses on sites like Kijiji and AutoTrader.ca. Because they are given freely, without any pressure to give all 10s, they are more valuable. And because they attract the attention of people actively searching for a new car, they are particularly valuable to dealerships in the business of selling cars to those very people.

            That Mobials product is called Reviewsii and is just the surface of what the company has in store in the next year or two. It plans to double or triple its current workforce of 21 and double its office space on Dundas Street in downtown London.

             It will push its review/referral model into all kinds of new sectors, and will probably end up doing something it hasn’t yet considered. Its founders take pride in the freewheeling nature of the workplace, and encourage blue-sky thinking and innovation. That’s difficult to quantify on a phony baloney 1-to-10 scale, so they don’t even try.