On the outskirts of the city a new development was taking shape. A large steel-framed building was emerging from the ground and with it hope to many in the community looking for work, myself among them. I did some research and found that it was to be a large 24-hour truck-stop. A massive 15,000 sf, two-story building, built on several acres, complete with a large retail fuel operation and a large commercial fuel operation, with parking for at least 100 18-wheelers.
Inside there was a 100-seat restaurant, a large C-store, and a quick-service food area, along with a 2,000 sf space to be developed. Most of the first floor would have close to 30 foot ceilings, with the second floor taking up only half of the first floor space. The second floor held a lounge for the truckers, showers, meeting space and the main offices. It was new, modern, and innovative. To me, it was the best opportunity to come along in several months and I wanted the job.
Specifically, I found in my research that they wanted a general manager for the place. Someone local, as they were overseas investors and developers and were unfamiliar with the local area. I saw an opportunity to shine and I got that moment in mid-December of that year. It had been a year at this point of job surfing. Just over a year ago I had unceremoniously left my corporate job in this same valley city, after having worked with them for several years – but having that relationship come to a bitter end I sought greener pasture with another corporate chain in the neighboring province. As I tell the story now, I ‘wintered’ there before returning back to this place, to our home, to regroup and figure out what we were going to do with our lives.
I then found some employment at another restaurant in this valley city but ended up in the middle of a disintegrating marriage. That ended with my being fired a day before the probation period was up and I would become a partner in the business. This was four months earlier and for the last four months I had knocked on most every door in this city looking for whatever work I could find.
When these investors responded to my email inquiry and granted me an interview we were to meet at a local pub to talk about my qualifications. They had asked me to prepare a business synopsis and outlook for their new business as part of the interview process. So I researched traffic flow patterns that the Ministry of Transportation had available and I put together marketing research to come up with expected traffic flows and potential sales projections for the various elements of the truck stop. When we finally met, I took them through all of my findings and projections.
They were encouraged with what I had presented them with and offered me the job. There were some caveats though. I was now hired as their general manager and I would represent the owners whenever they were not in the city, however the construction of the truck stop was behind schedule and they could not begin to pay me until they got caught up. But, they said, I would receive a base salary, and depending on how well the business did I could bonus up to double my salary in the first year. That was a good thing because the salary they were offering was almost half of what I was receiving at the restaurant in the golden city of the prairies. And this new job meant managing four separate businesses, not just a restaurant.
However, I was desperate for a job and there were none available so I accepted the caveats and began working – for free. My first task was to get on site and work with the various trades to figure out why they were running so far behind. What I found was trades fighting with each other, scheduling conflicts, and general confusion. I was in over my head, never having done this before, but was quickly learning how to read blueprints and began to set the schedule’s straight so we could get the project back on track so I could get paid. It ended up being another four months before I received my first paycheck, and that only came after I had accessed a federal work grant that paid half my salary. I had created a job for myself and figured out a way to have it funded all within weeks of having my unemployment benefits expire.
It was right around the same time as receiving my first paycheck that it also became clear to me that the business synopsis that I had developed for them back in December as part of my interview was now serving as the framework for their business plan. It also became clear that although they had the money to build this huge complex they did not have a plan in place in how to open up the multiple businesses, let alone set up the accounts with the more than 50 vendors that I ended up dealing with, or how to hire the more than 50 full-time staff that we would need or even how to support them with payroll and other HR needs. This, too, was suddenly added to my plate and needed to be put in place before we could open.
I had only met the second investor that one time and he did not speak English but sat back in the pub chair, in the shadows, like you would expect a mob father to in a smoke-filled Italian restaurant. The other investor was the one I would deal with whenever he would roll into town. He would make sure the bills were paid, when he wanted to pay them, and sometimes with much prompting on my part. When I would ask him questions about himself and the other investor I was given elusive answers and misdirection at best. Upon one occasion when I had met with this investor on site and was touring the building with him I asked him more about this project and his involvement.
“It almost killed me”, he said in a moment of transparency.
“The stress of the project?” I replied inquisitively.
“No”, he replied, leaving it up to my imagination to fill in the blanks.