The Entrepreneur Podcast
The Entrepreneur Podcast

Episode · 2 years ago

20. The Hundred Year Flood


Each year, a third of all HBA2 students get to hear Dave Simpson’s Top Ten, a collection of personal business stories that speak to how even the best laid plans can come apart through foreseen circumstances.

As the coronavirus continues to impact businesses across the globe, many of Dave’s former students have reconnected to share their frustrations of opportunities lost, and how they have been reminded of one of the stories from Dave’s Top Ten, The Hundred Year Flood.

In this episode, Ivey alum, lecturer and serial entrepreneur Dave Simpson, MBA ’89 shares the story of The Hundred Year Flood, hoping to remind entrepreneurs the importance of staying calm and carrying on, because entrepreneurs more than anyone understand that existential crises happen all the time.

You're listening to the Ivy Entrepreneur podcast by the Pierre El Morris at Institute for Entrepreneurship at the Ivy Business School. In this series I'd be entrepreneur and factory member Dave Simpson, will anchor the session. Hi there, Dave Simpson here. Maye of you remember from my classes we do a Dave's top ten list, which is a bunch of stories about business opportunities that were planned really well, executed really well, but something happens in the world and things that you can't plan for make the project inevitably fail or, as I like to say, from an entrepreneur's point of view, give you another learning experience. I had a few past students called me in the past week as they were working on projects that were about to come to fruition and this nasty virus sort of inserted itself into the process and they were reminded of my story the hundred year flood. So I thought I'd tell that story today on a little podcast to remind folks that staying calm and carrying on, of course, is something that we always preach, but entrepreneurs more than anyone, understand that existential crisis happen all the time. So this is a story the hundred year flood. Number of years ago, some partners and I owned a company called Canadian enter tennis, which is a fun project. We had two tennis clubs in Toronto and the essential ingredients were that the tennis courts were built by the public. They were owned by municipalities. In the s they built a lot of tennis courts when tennis was really popular, but of course, budgets being what they were at the time, these courts weren't exactly kept out. So the value proposition we had was we go to the municipality and say we will maintain the tennis courts for you, resurface them, paint them, that kind of thing, but we're going to put an inflatable tennis dome over top of them and we...

...get them for the winter. This was really well received by municipalities because normally they sit under snow anyway and they could keep the community using a great asset and we take the bubble down in the summer when the the city normally has them for just a public park playing tennis. So it was a win win for all. They pushed us a little harder and ask for some rent in addition to just resurfacing the courts, but essentially a really positive deal for us. We would set up a program where you have a membership fee, so that's at the start of the year, and then you pay court fees based on how often you play. Court fees generally covered the expenses of staff and the inflation equipment and heating. That kept things going, which meant you essentially had your profit at the start of the project. So the membership money was really the profit. It was a nice little cash flow business. Over time, though, I got tired of driving to Toronto, where two clubs were, where there was always the problem in a cash business that somebody might slide some money into their own pocket not right down on the court sheet that their friends had played, and over time I just got a little frustrate. So I was looking around for some other places to do this and I looked in our own backyard here at the university Western Ontario. Western had nine tennis courts that were really in bad shape. In fact they had grooves in the court where grass was growing. Most of the students are obviously able to use that in early September, but by October you basically can't use the courts for the entire winter, which is when most of the constituents are here. And I looked at the potential where we missed out in Toronto were, you know, later at night, in middle of the afternoon. Those are the open spots and I thought, but we'd probably have the same demand here for morning leagues...

...and around the Supper Time Leagues, but if we could fill the afternoons and late evenings with students, it would be an excellent place to do it. So I was convinced it was the way to go. so I approached the university with a deal and said look, I'll build you a nice clubhouse, I'll put the tennis bubbles up. We settled on six courts, arts and but I get them from October first April thirty, and then the university would get the use of a nice refined court in the summer. Everything was going well. The university really like this idea. In fact, you know, they shouldn't be spending money on capital projects that were not core to their school system. And so they were all set to go when I was going for one final meeting to put the agreement together and I was in the physical plant office and the director at Physical Plant said to me as I walked in day, we have a problem, we can't do this. Now, most of you know, entrepreneurs don't hear the word can't, because we've already mentally made the jump that we are doing this. And I said to him what do you mean? And he said, well, we have a problem here, that the tennis courts are below the hundred year floodline, and he showed this map on the wall to me. And so what's the hundred dear floodline? And as it happens, London in the early s had a terrible flood. The Thames River came up over its banks. Most of the downtown area got flooded. Homes in the Warncliffe Road area Le About Park, if you know the city, were really, really devastated and as a result the city tried to come up with new ways to manage the water and they created lake fanshaw, which is really just a Thames River held back by a damn out in the the northeast side of the city. So what that allowed them to do is manage the control of water. They could fill the lake up bigger and let it go down the river and slower fashion during these spring run us.

The problem is that nineteen thirty one floodline created what's called the hundred year flood, the worst flood you can have. And notwithstanding that, they've fixed the problem and we're not going to have that again, it's still a hundred years. Goes to twenty thirty one. So the line was on the property around the tennis courts because they're near the river there. I looked at this and I say, well, there's got to be a way around this, and in fact I indeed thought it was a bit of a political line because, as I looked at it, the line kind of made its way around the edges of university hospital and around some of the dormitories that have been built by Western. So it looked to me that it was a bit of a political line as well. But I was determined to do this, as most entrepreneurs are, and I said, you know, give me all your by law books and let me know what I can read up on this. So they passed me all their books because I said I am doing this and I will find a way. And as I looked at it, what they were talking about essentially was permanent structures couldn't be built on floodplane and the idea there is that if you build something permanent on a floodplaine and the water is coming up, you are in fact make in the water rise faster and it gets higher as it goes further downstream. And so I started to think, okay, how can I ensure that I meet all the criteria here? So I came up with the idea that I would present this as entirely portable. Now, as we know, the the bubbles themselves we would be taking down anyway. With a switch turning off the electricity, the bubbles would come down naturally. So all I had to worry about was trying to figure out the clubhouse. So I decided that I would buy a trailer. So I went and got as big a trailer as I could find. Got a proposal to have them sort of bow out the steel on the edges to make a bit of a rounded curves. I get a little more real estate out of it. I...

...talked to union gas and London Hydro and got quick disconnect couplets so that I was able to present that in the event of the hundred year flood, which of course, is never going to happen, we could in fact move the club us out of there. You just need a crane to hook up the end of it. It's a trailer and we pull it out, we disconnect the electricity so that the bubbles come down, lay flat and the water rides over it. After some interesting debates with the university officials, they agreed that I had actually complied with everything and we went ahead and got things done. So the club house. In fact, most people don't know that that clubhouse is actually a trailer because we put a skirt over the wheels and you can't see it. I think some people often wondered why it was as small as it was, but that's all we could get out of it and the club became very, very popular and in fact I met all my objectives. Now, as it would happen, when January day, as as often happens in London now, we get a lot of snow in late December early January, but we also typically get those warm days in January. And one day in January it began to rain after a lot of snow and it rained and rained and rained and Lo and behold late at night, but one in the morning I get telephone call at home. Now nothing good comes from a telephone call at Onze am. Nobody calls you to say hey, your kids have been really well behaved tonight. You know it's bad news. And turned out it was a campus police officer calling me and I was on his list because it said hey, dave, we got a call from the Upper Times Conservation Authority. The river's going to cress tonight at historic highs. Come and take on the bubble. Well, taking down the bubble wasn't exactly in the cards, but I had given all the officials contact information and fact we had a little... binder that was the emergency flood procedures. That was always there for the employee is knowing that the hundred your floods never going to come again. But now I had to walk the talk. So I got a bed, went up to the university and I took a look at where things were and I remember distinctly I was sitting under the bridge that goes across from the dormitories across the river into the main campus of the university, ants right beside the parking lot for the tennis bubbles, and I remember sitting under that bridge and I would mark little lines where the water was mark the time down. I don't know if they're still there now, but I would write it down just to see how the water was coming and I remember thinking no professor at the Ivy Business School ever taught me that small business was about sitting in the woods in the middle of the night protecting your asset and doing what you were supposed to do. So I found it ironic that I get to tell these stories now about practical experiences, because it's pointed to remember. The problem I was going to have was that if I pressed the button to deflate the bubbles without taking all the lights down inside the tennis court, the fabric of the bubbles is going to get caught in all the lights and wreck everything, holes in the bubble etc. The second issue was but if I took the light standards down and I was only by myself, there's no way I could hold them as they start to tip when you pull the pin out. In fact, I used to get the Mustang football team to help put them up because they're quite heavy. So the problem of taking the bubble down meant I was going to do a long term damage. And the second issue was no crane company was going to come in the middle of the night to pull the trailer out of...

...the tennis courts, because if it really was a hundred your flood, there are much more problems and downtown London. So as I sat there contemplating what to do, I thought the important thing was I had to show that I was committed. So I did stay there all night to protect this asset. I realized that campus police, you know, really didn't care. What they were doing. was following their checklist. They got a note from the Upper Thames. Here are all the people they have to call and someone can say yes, I called that. So I stood there in order to honor my pledge the entire night. The water came up over the parking lot. It came up to the edge of the bubble and was lapping against the bubble. The air pressure of the domes themselves kept all the water out and I stayed there the entire night so that I could answer any question if someone came by, yes, saying yes, or I'm getting ready to take these down. But as it happened, the water just surrounded us and kept flowing down the river and over the course of time it started to recede by later the next night when we got a little reprieve from the rain. So as I think this through as a lesson for entrepreneurs, I'm mindful of a couple things. At the business school we do case studies where our students are really good at analyzing what can go wrong. You know they'll say, in the long run, this isn't sustainable. In the long run, you know your competitor will do this. In the long run someone will adjust. And as an entrepreneur you have to remember well, in the long run you're debt. So it's relatively easy to pick apart any particular deal. But stuff is going to happen no matter what you do. So as long as you go into a project knowing that you know the the lifespan of the project may in fact be impeded by some of life's strange happenings, you go ahead and do it, because otherwise you wouldn't do anything. So entrepreneurship is about doing, to undertake,... do, and I always felt that you can be prudent in your decisionmaking, but if you start analyzing too many things that can go wrong, you would never ever try anything. That tennis bubble has now been up there. I built that in one thousand nine hundred and ninety, so it's been there a lot longer than I ever thought it would. It's had it's few days of water lapping up against it, but generally speaking I remind people that the hundred year flood is the metaphor that once in a lifetime events are going to happen to you. It's going to happen in your lifetime, whether statistically that's probable or not. We're living through some times right now that, you know, people really don't know how to deal with it. But if you're of my vintage and you have so many more yesterdays than tomorrow's, you know you've seen this a few times, whether it's crashes of eighty seven, whether it's September eleventh, whether it's two thousand and one meltdowns, two thousand and eight meltdowns, you see a lot of these things, and the entrepreneurs are the ones that are prepared for that. They're not always prepared financially, but they're prepared attitudinally, meaning that they know this stuff's going to happen and they will always be an opportunity to be optimistic about tomorrow, so let's keep our chins up. The hundred year flood will happen to you, and it's happy to all of us right now, but let's keep our chins up and look for a better tomorrow, because there's always something good coming. You've been listening to the Ivy Entrepreneur podcast. To ensure that you never miss an episode, subscribe to the show in your favorite podcast player or visit Iv dot c a forwards lash entrepreneurship. Thank you so much for listening. Until next time,.

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