The four people who have had the most influence on my career are, in chronological order, Mabel O’Brien, Randy Manning, Don Beach, and Ed Marchant.
My formal schooling consisted of eight years in a little red (honest to God), three-room schoolhouse in Morell, PEI. It’s now a small apartment building and, as of last summer, was still red. Throughout those eight years Mabel O’Brien was the principal; she was also my teacher (all subjects) for Grades 8, 9 and 10.
As a teacher, she not just made you want to learn, she made you want to learn more, with the result that homework was actually a pleasure and going to school the next day something to look forward to. As a principal she was tough but fair. Here’s an example.
In Grade VII we had been assigned topics on which we had to write a brief essay. I don’t recall my topic, but I remember working hard on it. We passed in our papers during a week when we had a substitute teacher – an arrogant ass from Charlottetown who clearly resented being sent out to what he considered the boondocks to teach a bunch of, in his eyes, second class students.
A couple of days later, after having marked them, he was handing them back by calling out our names and having us walk up to his desk. When my turn came he decided to make an editorial comment, saying, “This was a pretty good paper, Lyman. Who wrote it for you?” I replied, “I’m glad you liked it. Who read it to you?” It was the first standing ovation I ever got.
At recess he marched me into Mabel’s room and asked that I be expelled for impudence and a few other high crimes. Mabel asked what happened. He told her. All she said was, “Well, you asked for that rebuke, didn’t you?” And the matter was closed.
Mabel took an interest in me right from my first day in school when she told me to remember that I was just as good as any other kid in the school. For eight years she encouraged me, punished me when necessary, continually challenged me and gave me hell when I slacked off. On my last day of school, she called me aside and told me that my future success, or lack thereof, would depend a lot more on what I thought about myself than on what others thought about me. And her influence didn’t end there. She continued to offer valuable advice over the years, both in person, when I was home on vacation, and in letters that she occasionally wrote to me.
The most important advice she gave me was when I was eighteen years old and home in PEI on vacation. She urged me to take the Dale Carnegie Course. Following that piece of advice was as important to my career as was obtaining my designation as a chartered accountant. My Dale Carnegie experience will be dealt with next week.
Randy Manning had, by far, the greatest impact on my career, because without his support I would never have become a chartered accountant. His influence was such that a few out-of-context paragraphs cannot do it justice. His role will be fully described in a future column.
If you’ve read my last two columns you’ve already met Don Beach. His major influence on me was convincing me to get back into public accounting by joining him at MacDonald Currie (now PriceWatergouseCoopers) in 1968. As mentioned in an earlier column, he was instrumental in Anne Murray becoming my client. In addition, throughout our years together as partners he continually offered sage counsel and constant support.
Don Beach (here he is again; see what I mean about influence?) introduced me to Ed Marchant the first day I worked at MacDonald Currie. Don told me he thought Ed and I had a lot in common, and he was right.
Ed and I had both played senior hockey in the Maritimes (Ed for the Sydney Millionaires and I for the Charlottetown Royals), although Ed played there ten years before I did. We both obtained our CA designations without the benefit of a university education. I was doing work for Glenn Hall, while Bobby and Dennis Hull were clients of Ed’s, although he immediately turned them over to me when he found out that I had Glenn as a client and that I knew Bobby. Even though Ed was a keen hockey fan, I think he was quite relieved to get rid of Bobby and Dennis as clients because he, like Don, was more interested in corporate work.
Ed and I hit it off immediately and he took me under his wing, offering sound advice whether I wanted it or not. Although his hatred of meetings was legendary, he showed me how to effectively chair and participate in them. He taught me most of what I know about negotiation, a skill that constantly came in handy throughout my career. It was Ed who pointed out to me that in any new set of circumstances the first thing you need to decide is who you can trust.
Ed’s mentoring, just as Don Beach’s, had a profound effect on how I conducted my career.