Tag Archives: Community

The Journey from Angry Recycler to Socially Responsible Investing

Raising four teenagers in a blended family can be challenging.  In fact, if memory serves me correctly, if you lose your sense of humor teens can be impossible to be around.

In our kitchen in our waterfront home (well, more like a rambling near-shack) we had a pantry cupboard that I had removed the shelves from.  It wasn’t much different than all cupboards in the kitchen, for years missing the hardware.

I wanted to paint all of the old 1960’s plywood fronted and varnished wood a nice clean flat white.  I got so far as to bust the shine and prime part of one shelf on one cupboard before I had to abandon my best of intentions to deal with other things.  9 years later when we sold the house it still had that one shelf half-painted, but along the way the cupboard and drawer hardware had reappeared.

Don’t get me wrong, it’s not that I don’t finish what I start, or that I’m not a good handyman.  It’s just that having a two-story eight-bedroom, two-thirds of an acre home required more work than I could reasonably handle, even with a lot of willing help.

In fact, Linda called it the money pit.  That’s not quite fair; it had good bones and a decent layout.  It had never been finished well by the original owner and while linoleum floors and cheap carpeting might have been embarrassing, our four teens and their assemblage of friends didn’t care.  In fact, by dint of location and who the teens were, I’m sure there are few people from Sudbury between the ages of 30 and 35 who haven’t partied at the house.

Getting Back to that Pantry 

Unlike the garbage which sat next to the fridge, the pantry had a big plastic garbage can lined with recycling bags.  Big recycling bags.  Into it went all the empty cans, bottles and cardboard that a bunch of teens could generate.

I watched on many occasions one of the four opening the door just wide enough to pitch an empty onto the pile.  Opening the door fully meant confronting the fact that there would be a flood of recyclables rushing out.  I kid you not, I watched all of them sneak around, being environmentally conscious, but avoiding Linda.  Mama O didn’t brook attitude; if she saw it she would deal with it, which meant whomever was closest would be stooping over, picking up the rush that Linda caused and hauling the bags outside.

As a man, I appreciated teen avoidance behavior.  As an adult, if I opened the door and found disaster within, I was going to have to deal with it, which inevitably included fitting all the debris into two bags in a pantry with a one bag limit.  I worked on a more elegant version of avoidance; I just wouldn’t recycle.

I wouldn’t recycle, that is, until my oldest daughter Cara called me out.  Rather than sheepishly admit that I was doing the dad-version of sneaking a pitch, I went on some self-righteous rant.  Digging out my recyclables from the garbage, I yanked the door open in anger, dropped an f-bomb, and waited for the flow of cans, bottles and cardboard to come to an end.  Too embarrassed to do much more than pick it all up and haul it out, I never fully reconciled our kids’ environmental stewardship with their unwillingness to do much more than a sneaky pitch.

Our household never came to understand why, in early 2003, the great recycling drama would come to an end.  Rather than deal with the inevitably tension-filled back and forth, I would check the pantry a couple of times a week when I woke up early, and if it was nearing overflowing, quietly stuff the bags before carrying my morning coffee and the recycling out.

Today Rob and James proudly point out that they only generate one little garbage bag a week because of their recycling and composting efforts.  I quite frankly want to use the verbal equivalent of throttling them:  you know, something sarcastic about what an effort that may take.

Environmental Concern Should Inform our Investing

Environmental consciousness comes easily to me.  When I was ten, growing up on the South Shore, I would troop down to the STOP (Society to Overcome Pollution) depot with the week’s haul of newsprint and spend a couple of hours volunteering.  This was driven more by a 1960’s “hippy” philosophy than it was the economics of filling up landfills.

Now that I work out of the CSI co-work space, I am even more acutely aware of the effort necessary to be responsible stewards of the environment.  I carry around orange and banana peels to make sure they get into the compost pail.  I separate out my garbage and am aware of what ends up in my pail that I am trying hard not to empty more than once a month.  And that community influence extends to home.

For a while now Linda and I have been trying to divert most of our wet waste at the condo to the compost chute.  We’ve also questioned whether using non-compostable bags makes sense or if we’re just making things worse.  We now have a 1-gallon wet waste pail lined with small compostable liners – my bio-bomb in the making (so called because wet waste makes a satisfying splat when falling down an 11-story chute).

Because of where we are, Linda and I are starting to pay closer attention to socially responsible investing.  More than avoiding “bad” companies we’re starting to look at them through the B Corporation lens.

In an ideal world, I would have a plethora of B Corp certified publicly traded companies to chose from (as far as well can tell there is only one in Canada, Dirtt Environmental Solutions).  But sometimes leadership means taking a little extra time and focusing on quietly carrying out the recycling.

David Chellew and Linda Odnokon have been life partners and in business together for almost 19 years. During that time, they have mellowed into their respective roles and enjoy working with individual investment clients. Dave is a Portfolio Manager and Linda is an Investment Advisor with iAS and work out of the co-work space CSI (Centre for Social Innovation) in downtown Toronto.

 

Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund (CIPF) and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada (IIROC). iA Securities is a trademark and business name under which Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. operates.

 

This information has been prepared by David Chellew, Portfolio Manager for Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (IAS) and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of IAS. The opinions expressed are based on an analysis and interpretation dating from the type of publication and are subject to change. Furthermore, they do not constitute an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any the securities mentioned. For more information about IAS, please consult the official website at www.iasecurities.ca. David Chellew can open accounts only in the provinces where he is registered.

Big Business: how bigger can ruin a good thing.

Why is it that large pools of capital can see a good thing and overwhelm it, throttling the nuance that made the good thing good?

Linda, Rob and I are in the middle of deciding how we are going to house the “business” for the next couple of years.  Our dilemma is finding a way to provide office space for our practice, keeping it affordable while maintaining an attachment to a community.

I went on a riff over the last two days about large capital pools buying out co-work spaces, jacking up rents and costs to the point that they are becoming non-competitive.  We’ve looked at the options and we are arriving at the conclusion that it’s a lot cheaper to rent a traditional office space, furnish it and pay the ancillary costs than it is to stay in a “community” space.  In my opinion “all in” it’s about 30% cheaper.

A couple of months ago Linda observed with some degree of comfort “the floor is getting older”.  It took me a fair amount of time to digest that, only to quip months later that “yeah, that’s because the people we wanted to be around can’t afford to be here.”

There is a truism that in our society that capital is attracted to trends because of their excess profits and opportunity. Co-work spaces are supposed to be all about community and a single “all in” price that makes plugging in easy and convenient.  When that single price becomes prohibitive to the community, the very essence of the community is destroyed.

Having to parse the way I make a living and examine it in minute detail has left me questioning many of the foundations that it was built on.  And I increasingly look through issues with the help of my millennial children’s’ eyes.  Those eyes don’t see the world on my continuum, but rather in a completely new way.  And most often, that fresh look is the better one.

I accept that change and the deployment of capital are inevitable in a growing community.  What you give up in human scale and pressure on infrastructure and public services, you gain in a greater vibrancy and diversity.  That doesn’t mean I can’t spot when aspects of that change stops being additive, that it starts to subtract.

At some point in the deployment of capital, prices to consumers rise rapidly so that excess profits can be retained.  Price is a great leveler and as competition continues to raise prices, a point of in-elasticity is reached.  I would suggest to you that the world of co-work spaces is rapidly reaching that point.

As we move towards making an office decision, my dilemma, our dilemma, is figuring out how to remain part of a community that gives us fresh eyes and challenges us to be different.

David Chellew and Linda Odnokon have been life partners and in business together for almost 19 years. During that time, they have mellowed into their respective roles and enjoy working with individual investment clients. Dave is a Portfolio Manager and Linda is an Investment Advisor with iAS and work out of the co-work space Brightlane on King West in downtown Toronto.

 Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (iAS) is a member of the Canadian Investor Protection Fund and the Investment Industry Regulatory Organization of Canada. iA Securities is a trademark and business name under which Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. operates.

This information has been prepared by David Chellew, Portfolio Manager for Industrial Alliance Securities Inc. (iAS) and does not necessarily reflect the opinion of iAS. The opinions expressed are based on an analysis and interpretation dating from the type of publication and are subject to change. Furthermore, they do not constitute an offer or solicitation to buy or sell any the securities mentioned. For more information about iAS, please consult the official website at www.iasecurities.ca. David Chellew can open accounts only in the provinces where he is registered.

Building a Business Village One Engagement at a Time

old-toronto

I’ve often thought about business framed around the idea of the village – a grouping of individuals bound by a commonality. I suppose if you go back far enough in time you’ll find those bonds were one of obligation to one’s master but when I think of village I think of the parish church, local pub, general store and the family doctor.

As parochial and quaint, as pastoral and seemingly unchanging those societies are, in my opinion they continue to exist in part because of an intransigence to the new. Try to be an outsider or agent of change. They are fundamentally designed to keep norms, and norms are safe. And those norms are master to all.

I recently watched a community coalesce around conflict. The condo I live in was dealing with a potential threat to our way of life. A developer on an adjacent lot wanted to convert part of our drive into a lane way to allow deliveries and garbage service – I should add that our drive is private property. Both the management company and the boards of the various constituent condos supported the developer. A number of individuals stepped up and had the measure defeated soundly.

In the threat to the community at large, support in opposition coalesced around a few key leaders. Sans conflict, we revert into intransigence, enjoying the benefits of having most of our needs taken care of by the invisible hand of the condo. As the threat recedes, our complacent norms reassert themselves.

That brings me full circle to the idea of community in business.

If I think back over the years of management education and organizational experience I’m struck by the emphasis on the elemental impersonality of it all. Think of it this way – most businesses see themselves like an advertisement. They choose to be perceived by the way they present themselves in the hope that they offer sufficient appeal to the buying public to meet their needs – to sell a product or service. The public aren’t part of their community.

In the process of self-discovery over the past year and a substantial effort at rebranding our emphasis a key part was on boiling down the essence of what we stood for, who we are presented in an honest and forthright manner.

What my business partner and I, and our marketing guy, seem to be struggling with right now is how to build the business out going forward encouraging engagement. Linda is successful in attracting people who want to be part of her circle, to be part of something larger. I am affable and intense at the same time and rely on my intellect to guide through what can be a pretty confusing landscape. Rob is just finding his feet as a social marketer applying skills he’s acquired going through the process of building a startup.

Where we have failed is not acknowledging that we three form a community that’s part of a larger one. I can talk about target market and business proposition until I’m blue in the face but it doesn’t change the fact that to be successful going forward I, we, have to be conscious of how business has to be operate going forward.

It is easy to galvanize a group and provide leadership in the face of crisis. I can fall back on the very elements that has in the past built successful business practices – fear, greed and envy, as a peer and mentor once hammered at me, but a community can’t be grow unless the process is built on something more sustainable. Living and working in a state of perpetual crisis, or conflict, is inherently unhealthy; creating both dependencies and fear are mere manifestations of that.

So what is it then to try to build a successful business around the sense of a larger community? I don’t know but I’m willing to find out. And I’ll be finding out one engagement at a time.