I’m trying to do a bit of organizing and purging (you know, in the 20 minutes a day you have when naps are happening, after you have showered, done laundry, and eaten), and came across a wonderful bio of my Dad, Rich (Wilbert) Richardson. Words can’t describe what my Dad meant to me and to my family, and for those who never met him, this is a fantastic ‘overview’ of the man he was. The biography was written by Maria Goldblatt, and to this day I thank her for using my Dad as the topic for her Global Entrepreneurial Management assignment, as it allowed his journey to be documented.
It is a long read, but one hell of a good story. I’ve broken it up into manageable parts. Enjoy.
Rich Richardson – Entrepreneur Extraordinaire by Maria Goldblatt
Don spoke of a deal that he was working on in Mexico. “Gold, zinc, onyx mines. I have an in with a Senator and he is the next to be President. When he gets the Presidency, we’ll get the deal. I think you should come in on it with me. With the Senator at the helm, and his right hand guy, we can get these mines. They are loaded and labor is cheap. Mexican inflation is lower than ever, gross national product is running at a good clip, like 6%, and they are cleaning up the cities.” Rich paused for a moment then extended his hand to shake Don’s. “I’m in.” he told his friend. The two continued their stroll laying out different scenarios for financing and marketing.
The Senator became President in 1964 and opened wide the doors of Mexico for them and their investment. They first met the President of Mexico at the Presidential Palace in Cozumel. Casa de Onyx was conceived. Rich was given VIP passes to fly Aeronovas de Mexico and Mexicana Airlines and shuttled between Toronto and Mexico. Backing the deal with his earnings from Wayne Distributors, Rich and Don set up the business. Revenue came fast. Profits were great. They ploughed virtually everything back in expanding the operation. As they invested more of the profits, the business continued to grow. It was unstoppable until that day in 1968.
Rich was at the desk in his hotel room shuffling through some papers when the phone rang. He immediately heard the alarm in Don’s voice, “Did you read the paper? Did you see about Echeverria and the mines?” Rich pushed papers out of the way and grabbed the EI Universal, “You know I have to read the thing with my Spanish dictionary. I didn’t get to it yet today.” Rich heard the paper rustle as Don read from the article, “Luis Echeverria Alvarez, Ordaz’s interior minister and designated successor has made the decree to take back $3.6 million owed to Mexican mine workers. These funds were misappropriated by foreign investors.” “Did you get that? Misappropriated?? Echeverria – what crap!”. “Onyx mining will be centralized under government control immediately with foreign accounts to be frozen and monies controlled.” “Are you getting the point here?” added Don. “Getting the point”, Rich snorted, “I am getting the first plane out of here.” And he did. He left the mine and the offices and $400,000 cash in the bank account.
In the car to the airport, he waved the driver, Juan, past the gates for Aeronovas de MExico and Mexicana Airlines. This driver had taken him tot he airport many times and looked at him quizzically. “?Senor, dodge quire ir?” “Where do I want to go?”, asked Rich, “I am flying Canadian Airlines today.” Juan’s face gave nothing away, but Rich noticed that he sped up and changed lanes to reach the gate as quickly as he could. Juan pulled the suitcases from the trunk and placed them on the curb with a nod. “Suerte, amigo.” Rich responded, “Y a ti – luck to you too, amigo” handing Juan a wad of Mexican bills. It was a tip ten times the usual but somehow fitting for this last good-bye.
Flying back to Toronto for the last time, Rich tallied his losses. “Damn if I didn’t lose $1 million on Casa”. He pondered scenarios to get it back but knew it simply wasn’t worth it. “Peach of mind, peace of mind. It has no price. I don’t care to take on Mexico.: He knew enough of what can happen there from the years in business and decided to just walk away. Reflecting on the operation, the investment and the loss, he could hear the voice of his father: “Nothing is guaranteed. Never put your money in a risk position.” And he knew that he would never again gamble so much for so little. From then on, he would use other people’s money to split the risk. Distributing shares for a venture and staying small enough to handle it oneself were added to his existing business principles.
These were the principles that guided him in a series of ventures outside of his main business. He followed it in buying a farm with 4 friends that they held for 20 years before selling for significant return. HE cashed in on the potential of Canadian City TV with a group of 10 investors. His $100,00 investment soared to $680,00 in just 4 years. And there was the chain of appliance stores that he leveraged for more than money, but here were getting ahead of our story by a few years. We really must focus on Wayne Distributors & Advertising first. Trouble is coming on like a tornado.
The end of Casa de Onyx gave Rich substantially more time to focus on Wayne Distributors & Advertising. His schedule of travelling 80% would be cut dramatically. This focus was certainly needed. Newspapers, you see, had come up with an innovation of their own – freestanding inserts. Advertisers could now have their flyers inserted into the daily newspaper at a fraction of the cost of door-to-door delivery. Their messages were in home on the very day that they needed. Rich watched his competitive advantage vanish and revenues atrophy. In 1969, Wayne Distributors & Advertisers earned $18 million. This plummeted to $3 million in just 14 months. By 1971, it was obvious that the company was not going to survive as it was. Rich worked tirelessly to plan and execute drastic steps to change disaster into something that could work.
There were 14 offices at this time. Rich created a pseudo-franchising agreement with formerly centralized operations. For all 13 offices outside of Toronto, he knighted each Manager as President, signed over the trucks, the business contacts and contracts. He basically walked away from all but the headquarter office. The divestiture allowed him to concentrate on a metamorphosis to create a new business angle, make money again and get back peace of mind.
Rich plotted his new twist on business. With little fanfare, he turned it over in his mind and consulted with his network of friends and associates. This was true to his philosophy. “Look weak and people will underestimate you then you really have the upper hand.” He knew what he needed and he needed a hard-core salesman. His friend, Roger Godbeer – International Advertising Manage for Colgate, turned Rich on to the fateful connection that he needed to launch his new business gem.
Roger told him to call Bill Dodd. Bill worked at Herbert A. Watts, Inc. and he could sell. Herbert A. Watts was a co-operative mailing company in which advertisers piggybacked their advertising messages in a single envelope delivered right to the consumers’ homes. There were 8 such businesses in Canada at the time but Rich figured he could do it better by pinpointing consumers to target audiences and by leveraging the experience, connections and distribution channels established by Wayne D & A. Rich called Bill to offer him a piece of the new business. It was 1973.
“Dodd and Richardson”, “What do you think?” Rich paused. “I have the infrastructure and business contacts all over Canada from the Wayne D&A days but we need to pull it together and to sell aggressively – that is where I need you. I know it will work. I know this market.” “Join me and I will double your salary.” Rich finished his pitch.
Bill snorted at the apparent audacity and paused before announcing his annual salary, as if anticipating the shock he was sure would register.
Without hesitation, Rich responded, “You know what. Forget doubling. I will triple it. Join me and your salary will be triple it is now and I commit to 3 years.” All rich heard on the other line was breathing; he waited. Finally Bill spoke, “I can agree to that offer. Dod and Richardson. I would like to speak more on the details tomorrow. I have a meeting to attend right now. I will have my lawyer give your fellow a call as well straightaway.”
“Good enough. Good enough. Glad to have you on board. Tomorrow is to talk, let’s say 10:00. Good you mentioned the lawyers; we’ll include a shot-gun clause.” Rich answered then hung up the phone muttering, “Arrogant Brit, this Dodd, but sometimes you need to put up with things.”
Business at Dodd and Richardson rocketed. After just 18 months in business, they had captured so much of the market that only one of the eight competitors was still in business, and that company was scrambling to survive. Selectively of households and targeting ad messages was the unique differentiator that fueled this climb. The business was extremely lucrative with a fleet of BMW’s for the salesforce to prove it. After 4 years in business, they were so successful that word had crossed the border into the USA and investors from Newark, New Jersey came courting.
The courting of Dodd and Richardson by suitors from New Jersey was not the only romance in Rich’s life at this time. Much was evolving.
His marriage with Amy was over. The relationship had been done for years but finally Rich had physically left; picked up the suitcase he kept packed at the ready for business, placed a photo of the kids on top of his neatly folded clothes and left. The constant travel and the business changing yet again simply finalized it all. The kids, hopefully, would understand. No one was surprised when he and Amy separated – just not meant to be.
And now, he was on his way to Niagara Falls with Prudence. Prue. They stopped off at one of his appliance stores to pick up a TV for her roommate and he had convinced her to see the Falls. It was not fair away, after all. He couldn’t believe his luck when she had agreed to go. This was the first time that she had spoken to him. The first time that she had even acknowledged him. Maybe it was because he was black and it was just too different? He had always tried to chat with her at the farm, but she was leery.
As he drove, he listened to her lilting Australian accent. Musical. She was talking a bit more now, not quiet as the first let of the ride. She told of the walk-about that landed her in Canada in the first place. It is an Australian thing, the walk-about, hailing back to the Maoris. She had left the family sheep station – thousands of acres and as many sheep – and set out to see more of the world. She told how she had met her now roommate and how she had landed the job at the Farm. The Farm that Rich and his friends owned. The warm wind from her open window tossed wisps of red hair around her face. She was pressed solidly against the passenger door but was easing her grip on the door handle a bit, her wiry 4’11 self so small on the car’s bench seat but so filled with vitality and energy. A pretty special person, this Prue. Rich thought that perhaps he was falling in love?
Rich was 45 years old and Prue 21. Rich was black and Prue white. Rich was from America, then Canada and Prue on a walk-about from Australia. Rich was separated and had 4 children; Prue was not and did not. Rich was strong, kind and generous and so was Prue. Rich had a real zest for life and so did Prue. Rich loved to travel and entertain and Prue did too. They fell in love, married, and cherished one another. The other bits just didn’t matter. And after a few years, babies Amber and Derek came along and they were a family.
The romance with Prue had worked out famously. The courting of Dodd and Richardson by the outfit from New Jersey was, however, quite sour. It turns out that Bill Dodd was a double-crossing snake. He was working a side deal with the suitors in New Jersey and covering it up back at the office. The plan was to use the NJ financing to force Rich out. What Dodd didn’t know is that Rich had never forgotten the lessons gained in the Navy so long ago. Clues started adding up and Rich dug up the details on all that was going on. He had a date. He knew which salespeople were in cahoots. And he had the exact price that Bill was going to offer. Rich set about gathering financing and planning a counter offer – all undercover.