The Entrepreneur Podcast
The Entrepreneur Podcast

Episode · 1 year 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 are listening to the Adiotinorfodcast by the Pierre elmors TAT institute, prompt to Vernership hat theIvy Business School. In this series I beononher and fatmy member Dave SimpsonWoll anchor the session hi there Dave Simpson here, Maye, youremember from my classes we do a Dave's top ten list, which is a bunch ofstories about business opportunities that were planned, really well executed.Really well, but something happens in the world and things that you can'tplan for make the project inevitably fail or, as I like to say from anNTREPRENEUR's point of view, give you another learning experience. I had afew past students called me in the past week as they were working on projects.They were about to come to Freitian and this nasty virus sort of inserteditself into the process, and they were reminded of my story the hundred yearflood. So I thought I'd tell that story today on a a little podcast to remindfolks that staying calm and carrying on, of course,is something that we always preach, but auntpreneurs more than anyoneunderstand that exedential crisis happen all the time. So this is a story.The hundred year flood a number of years ago, some partners, an I owned, acompany called Canadian Winter Tennis, which is a fun project. We HAV twotennis clubs in Toronto and the essential ingredients were that thetennis courts were built by the public. They were owned by municipalities inthe Seventies. They built a lot of tennis courts when tennis was reallypopular but of course, budgets being what they were at the time these courtsweren't exactly kept up, so the value proposition we had was we go tominicpality and say we will maintain the tennis courts for you, resurfacethem paint t and that kind of thing,...

...but we're going to put an inflatabletennis dobe over top of them, and we get them for the winter. This was h really well received by Miss Pally's,because normally they sit in ther snow anyway, and they could keep thecommunity using a great asset and we take the bubble down in the summer whenthe city normally has them for just a public park playing tennis. So it was awind wind for all. They pushed us a little harder and askfor some rent, inaddition to just resurfacing the courts, but essentially really positive dealfor us. We would set up a program where you have a membership fee, so that's atthe start of the year, and then you pay court fees basin. How often you playcourtfees generally covered the expenses of staff and the inflationequipment and heeting that kept things going, which meant you essentially hadyour profit at the start of the project. So the membership money was really theprofit. It was a nice little cashfoa business. Over time, though, I gottired of driving do Toronto, where our two clubs were where there was alwaysthe problem in a cash business that somebody might slide some money intotheir own pocket, not right down on the court sheet that their friends had played and overtime.I just got a little frustrated, so I was looking around for some otherplaces to do this, and I looked in our own backyard here at the University ofWest Nontario Western had nine tennis courts that were really in bad shape. In fact, they hadgrooves in the court where grass was growing. Most of the students are obviously ableto use that in early September, but by October youbasically can't use the courds for the entire winter, which is when most ofthe constituents are here, and I looked at the potential where we missed out inToronto, where you know later at night in e middle of the afternoon. Thosewere the open spots and I thought, but we'd probably have the same demand herefor morning leagues and around the...

Supper Time Leagues. But if we couldfill the afternoons and late evenings with students, it would be an excellentplace to do it. So I was convinced it was the way to go. So I approaced theuniversity with a deal and said I'll build you. A Nice Club hose I'll put the tennis balls up. We we settledon six courts, and but I get them from October first April, thirtieth and t enthe university would get the use of a a nice refined court in the summer.Everything was going well the university really liked this idea. Infact, you know they shouldn't be spending money on capital projects thatwere not core to their school h system, and so they were all set to go, and Iwas going for one final meeting to put the agreement together and I was in thePhysical Plant Office and the director at Physical Plant said to me. As I walked in day. We havea problem. We can't do this now, most of you now entrreneurs, don't hear theword. Can't 'cause, we've already mentally made the jump that we aredoing this and I said to him. What do you mean- and he said Wllwe have aproblem here- that the tennis courts are below the hundred year floodlineand he showed this map on the wall to me, and so, what's the hundred yearfloodline and as it happens, London in the early nineteen thirties had aterrible flood. The Thames River I came up over its banks. Most of the downtownarea got flooded homes in the warkliff road area, Labat Park. If you know thecity were really really devastated and as a result, the city tried to come upwith new ways to manage the water and they created lake fanchaw, which isreally just a Thames River, held back by a dam out in the the north east side of the city. Sowhat that allowed them to do was manage the control of water. They could fillthe lake up, bigger and let it go down the river and slower fashion duringthese spring run off.

The problem is that nineteen thirty onefloodline created, what's called the hundred year of flood, the worst floodyou can have and notwithstanding that they've fixed the problem and we're notgoing to have that again, it's still a hundred years goes to O twousentathirty one. So the line was on the property round. The tennis courts'cause they're near the river there. I looked at this and I said well,there's gotto be a way around this and in fact I indeed thought it was a bitof a political line because, as I looked at it, the line kind of made itsway around the edges of university hospital and around some of thedormitories that had been built by Western. So it looked to me that it wasa bit of a political line as well, but I was determined to do this as mostantpeors are- and I said you know give me all your byla books and letme knowwhat I can read up on this. So they pass me all their books ecause. I saidI am doing this. I will find a way and as I lookd at it, what they weretalking about essentially was permanent structures couldn't be built on floodplan and the idea there is that if you build something permanent on a floodplane and the water is coming up, you are in fact making the water risefaster and it gets higher as it goes further downstream, and so I started tothink okay. How can I ensure that I meet all the criteriaa here, so I cameup with the idea that I would present this as entirely portable. Now, as weknow the the bubbles themselves we would be taking down anyway, with a aswitch turning off the electricity, the bubbles would come down naturally. Soall I had to worry about was trying to figure out the club house, so I decidedthat I would buy a trailer, so I went and got a as big a trailer as I couldfind got a proposal to have them sort of bow outthe steel on the edges to to make a bit of a rounded curve. I get a little morereal estate out of it. I talk to union...

...gas and London Hydro and got quickdisconnect couplets, so that I was able to present that in the event of thehundred year flood, which of course is never going to happen, we could in fact move the clubos out ofthere. You just need a crane to hook up the end of it. It's trailer and we pullit out. We disconnect the electricity so that the bubbles come down lay flatand the water rides over it. After some interesting debates with the university officials, they agreed thatI had actually complied with everything and we went ahead and got things doneso the club house, in fact most people, don't know that that cluphouse isactually a trailer 'cause. We put a skirt over the wheels and you can't seeit. I think some people often wondered why it was as small as it was, butthat's all we could get out of it and the club became very, very popular and,in fact, met all my objectives now, as it would happen when January day, as asoften happens in London. Now we get a lot of snow in late December earlyJanuary, but we also typically get those warm days in January and one dayin January, it began to rain after a lot of snow and it rained and rainedand rained and low behold late at night, but one in the morning I get atelephone called home. Now nothing good comes from a telephonecall at one. AM nobody calls you to say: Hey. Your kids have been really wellbehaved tonight. You know its bad news and turned out. It was a campus policeofficer calling me- and I was on his list 'cause. It said: Hey Dav. We got acall from the upper temes conservation authority, the river's going to crasttonight historic highs come and take on the bebble. Well taking down the bubble,wasn't exactly in the cards, but I had...

...given all the officials contactinformation in fact e a little red binder that with the emergency floodprocedures, that was always there for the employees, knowing that the huntedear flood's never going to come again, but now I had to walk to talk so I gotout of bed went up to the university and I took a look at where things wereand I rememberd distinctly. I was sitting under the bridge that goes H,crossing the dormitories across the river into the main campus of theuniversity ans right beside the parking lot for the tennis bubbles- and Iremember sitting under that bridge and I would mark little lies where thewater was mark. The time down, I don't know if they're still there now, but Iwould write it down just to see how the water was coming- and I rememberthinking no professor at the Ivy Business School ever taught me thatsmall 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 I foundit 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 thebubbles without taking all the lights down inside the tennis court, thefabric of the bubbles is going to get caught in all the lights and wreckeverything holes in the bubble, et CETERA. The second issue was, but if Itook the light standards down- and I was only by myself- There's no way- Icould hold them as they start to tip when you pulled the pin out. Infact, I used to get the Mustang football team to help put them up,'cause, they're, quite heavy, so the problem of taking the bubble down meantI 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 ofthe tennis courts ECAUSE. If it really...

...was a hundred year flood. There aremuch more problems on downtown London, So, as I sat there contemplating whatto 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 thatcampus police, you know, really didn't care. What they were doing wasfollowing their checklist. They got a note from the upper temes. Here are allthe people they have to call, and someone can say. Yes, I called that so I stood there in order to honor mypledge the entire night. The water came up over the parking lot. It came up tothe edge of the bubble and was lapping against the bubble. The air pressure ofthe domes themselves kept all the water out and I stayed there the entire nightso that I could answer any question if someone came by Ye has saying yes, sir:I'm getting ready to take these down, but as it happened, the water justsurrounded us and kept flowing down the river and over the course of time itstarted to recede by later the next night, when we got a little reprievedfrom the rain. So as I think this, through as a lesson for enfreneurs, I'mmindful of a couple of things at the Business School, we do k studies whereour students are really good at analyzing. What can go wrong? You knowthey'll say in the long run this isn't sustainable in the long run. You knowyour competitor will do this in the long run someone will adjust and as anAR, you have to remember well in the long run, you're dead. So it'srelatively easy to pick apart any particular deal. But stuff is going tohappen, no matter what you do so as long as you go into a project, knowingthat you know the the lifespan of the project may in fact be impeded by someof life's strange happenings. You go ahead and do it, because otherwise youwouldn't do anything so entrenership is...

...about doing to undertake to do, and Ialways felt that you can be prudent in your decision making. But if you startanalyzing too many things that can go wrong, you would never ever tryanything that tennis bubble has now been up there. I built that in nineteenninety, so it's been there a lot longer than I ever thought it would it's hadit's few days of water lapghing up against it? U, generally speaking, Iremind people that the hundred year flood is the metaphor that, once in alifetime, events are going to happen to you it's going to happen in yourlifetime, whether statistically, that's probable or not- we're living through some times. Rightnow that you know, people really don't know how to deal with it, but if you'reof my vintage- and you have so many more yesterdays than tomorrow's, youknow 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 melt Douans,two thousand and eight male downs. You see a lot of these things and theerncepreneurs are the ones that are prepared for that: They're notalways prepared financially, but they're prepared, attitudnally, meaningthat they know this taff's goingto happen and there will always be anopportunity to be optimistic about tomorrow. So let's keep our chins upthe hundred year. Flood will happen to you and it's happy to all of us rightnow, but let's keep our chins up and look for it better tomorrow, 'causethere's always something good. Coming. You've been listening to the IBIONGHMENor potcast to ensure that you never miss an episode subscribe to the showin your favorite podcast player or visit IV dot ca forward, slashentrmrenorship! Thank you so much for listening until next time.

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