Itchy Feet

I was back in Aylmer and working for Amtelecom once again. Things were good. We were back close to friends and family and I was happy with my new role.

Geoff was born around 11PM on Oct 8, 1985.

I had been on a 2 week course in Toronto with Ron Mervis and had to rush home to be there in time for the delivery, which occurred around 11PM that evening. In the waiting room, the Kansas City Royals were breaking my heart, with a wind blown triple in the 6th inning to steal the American League pennant from the Blue Jays. But the sadness was quickly replaced by the birth of my second son, Geoffrey Michael – who coincidentally enough grew up loving the game of baseball!

Amtelecom was looking to expand further, and I was hoping for a management position. As with all young ambitious people, I was sure I deserved it – but looking back, perhaps I had not yet earned it. I was getting itchy feet again.

Despite asking my boss several times if I would be in the running, he was non committal. I took that as a signal that if I wanted to improve my standing, I would need to take things into my own hands.

Back to Bell Again

So I reached out to my Bell contacts once again. I wrote what I thought was a compelling resume and sent it via snail mail to Doug Kinchen, a former boss, asking if there was an opportunity for me back at Bell. After some haggling with the union, Doug got back to me with an offer.

If I wanted to come back into the union, I would have to start outside of London. He created a job for me as a travelling switch technician (see I did have them fooled!) working out of Blenheim, Dresden and Wallaceburg – small communities roughly 75 minutes to the west. I would have to drive back and forth every day, but Bell would provide a car and per diem for me.

Once again, I never missed a day of work, resigning from Amtelecom on a Friday and starting the following Monday with Bell.

My new journey was about to begin.

In Blenheim I met Mark Jack, a local technician about my age and soon to be friend. He was a Detroit Tigers fan, and I a Blue Jays fan. There was a heated rivalry that autumn as Detroit once again broke the hearts of Blue Jays fans with a final day of the season, 1-0 win on the way to the pennant. Mark needled me endlessly about the Jays’ late season collapse.

I travelled back and forth every day to Blenheim throughout that fall and winter. Doug Kinchen kept in touch with me throughout, looking for an opening to bring me back to London. Finally an opportunity arose, and to my delight I would be returning to the NOC.

Life was good. Lauren Jenica was born on May 30, 1989, completing our family. Now 35 years later, I could not be prouder to be the father of these three wonderful and successful human beings – and now a stepson Ryan, that I am just as proud of.

The technology was rapidly changing from electro-magnetic to digital multiplex System (DMS). I was asked to continue to be an analyst, but to move my focus to the DMS. I had never directly work with DMS, but the data it produced still amounted to watching for patterns and I seemed to have a knack for it.

Upward Mobility

Around this time, the Bell/Saudi relationship was ending and many people were returning home. Dave Wilson became my new boss, after returning from a three year stretch in Riyadh.

Dave was in my opinion, a visionary. Perhaps this came from his time abroad, and having the opportunity to work with the latest in technology. Regardless, he had lots of ideas on how to improve our service indicators and realized he had a willing participant in myself. He would come up with new ideas and I would do my best to implement them. I soon learned that part of his drive, was to make a name for himself and move up the corporate ladder, and out of London.

Along the way, he guided me and gave me opportunities to grow, take risks and make myself visible as a potential management candidate. In early April 1993, he took me aside and told me that I was about to be promoted to management. A couple of days later, my father had a massive stroke, from which he would not recover – succumbing a few days later on April 23. I never got the chance to tell him that I was to become a manager at Bell Canada.

My new role would change my life going forward. I was tasked to assist other teams across Bell to maximize the data being provided via the new technology being rolled out. Old technology was being replaced rapidly throughout Bell territory (Ontario and Quebec).

I was soon travelling almost weekly to Toronto, Ottawa, Montreal or Quebec City, meeting with other managers, analysts, and NOC personnel, providing input to their teams, sharing ideas and training operations teams in Network Operations Centres in Toronto, Montreal, Thunder Bay and Ottawa.

It seems like a long time ago, but in the ’80s you were expected to wear a suit and tie when you were management. This picture is a few years later.

It was fascinating to me. But being on the road had its challenges. There seemed to be no end of meetings to attend. There was no ZOOM or TEAMS. Conference calls were often arranged in advance via a Bell operator. I was coaching hockey at the same time and things suffered at home. Even when I was home, I wasn’t as present as I should have been.

I recall flying home from Ottawa early one Friday afternoon, to be home in time to coach Trevor’s AAA game in Windsor. If my boss had known, I may not have had the same glowing references! It was a tough balance.

The upside is that I met some friends that became integral to my career. Dave Thompson lived in Kitchener and worked with a Bell subsidiary called Sygma (later CGI). Introspective, with a cutting sense of humour, and willingness to call a spade a spade – he was able to give me perspective when I needed it most. Though we were working for different companies, we were trying to achieve the same goal and soon became friends, confidants and travel companions.

Sharon Carson was another. Sharon was a young wife and mother from Ottawa, with 3 young daughters. She was asked to come to London and train with me on our support systems and bring that knowledge back to Ottawa to implement. We resonated from the start, and soon she was assigned directly to my team.

Sharon continued to work out of Ottawa but ended up travelling extensively with myself and Dave Thompson. She followed me to Nortel along with Dave where we were tasked with travelling all over the United States, identifying companies that would be targeted for takeover by Nortel. Dave would often joke that we were a 7/24 team. I was an early bird, he was a nighthawk, and Sharon was the glue that held us together.

But I digress.

The Information Highway

One Bell management role led to another, and soon I was in charge of rolling out an IT help desk throughout the corporation across Ontario and Quebec, providing a central location to reach out to for technical support when systems were not responding.

More travel. More meetings.

This was a time when technology was new and scary for many people. We were learning what hardware and software was, what an app meant and how it worked. There was a lot of push back from long time employees – afraid of the technology, afraid of looking silly and terrified of losing their jobs to this unknown new beast termed IT.

I took a brief stab at learning programming, with the help of Bruce Nichol, one of our best young talents at the time, in the area of software development. I tried my hand at FoxPro and Unix, but soon learned I didn’t have the long term concentration or aptitude for it.

The information highway was the buzzword of the day and everything began with “www”. Cellphones were in their infancy. Computer screens were black with a blinking green cursor. Fax machines were all the rage. Dialup phone internet connection was measured in “baud rate”.

Our first DMS dialup electronics ran at 300 baud, then 600, then 1200, then 2400………you could make a sandwich while waiting to connect. I was tethered to a pager – someone pages you with a number to call and you find the nearest phone or payphone to call back.

Smartphones were little more than a Jetson’s creation (look it up). What do you mean you can see the other person??? That TV show was decades ahead of it’s time.

God help you if someone tried to use the landline while you were in the middle of something important.

Not long after, Elaine Royds became my boss. She was a terrific lady, very organized and much to my liking, primarily hands off. I recall telling her in my first meeting that she would not hear from me unless I needed something. Otherwise, she could rest assured that I was doing my job. She looked at me and chuckled, saying “I have never had anyone say that to me before. I think I will like working with you”.

Soon I was promoted to a “Section Manager’ and asked to become a Project Manager, leading a project team based in Montreal, with staff in Ottawa, Quebec City and London.

At one point, I was in Montreal for 16 weeks straight. It was too much and I was learning about the pervasiveness of politics in the workplace – and in particular how different things were in the 2 provinces. I soon learned that while Bell was one company, there were 2 distinct cultures and 2 very different agendas and ways of doing business.

Welcome to Politics

It seemed to me that most people were afraid to make a decision, without having to run it by their boss first. And there were many layers of management at Bell. I always felt that if you were a manager, you were paid to make decisions!

We had come to a point in our project that required the addition of a Business Analyst. The project had already spent several million dollars at this point, but without a BA, we could not go further. There was a large risk that we would have to cancel the project and I laid out all the options to my boss in Montreal.

He was unwilling to make a decision, without going to his boss, the Vice President. In my view, this was a no brainer. Either get me a BA, or put the project on hold until much later – putting a lot of investment at risk.

On Feb 14th – Valentines Day – I was summoned to Montreal to have a meeting with my General Manager, my finance person on the project, the VP and his executive assistant. Sitting around a huge mahogany boardroom table, they would be calling the President of our organization to get direction. He was on vacation in his chalet in the Laurentian mountains – and was not a happy man to be interrupted.

The call took less than 10 minutes. After weeks of delay and thousands of dollars in downtime, he simply said “Mr Wolfe is correct. Get him a BA, and don’t bother me with something so frivolous again!” My upper management had been dressed down, and they were not happy with me.

Happy Valentines Day indeed.

It was soon apparent that I was going to be in a hostile environment going forward. I learned I could do politics, but I hated it. More than that, I hated that my bosses did not have enough courage to make a decision, without being concerned for their own ass. I was way to honest to be in this line of work.

I lasted over the summer, but by September I was laying the groundwork to leave Bell Canada. On December 5th 1999, I told Rosalee Kovelsky (my finance guru on the project) that I was thinking of leaving Bell. She begged me not to go, saying it would be a big mistake. She had almost talked me out of it, but on the drive home, I reaffirmed how unhappy I was in this role and decided to tender my resignation. By December 10th, I had resigned.

I didn’t tell my wife until I got home from work that day. For the first time in my career, I didn’t have a plan. She was terrified – maybe I had not thought this through? But true to form, I was spontaneous to the end – and again, was about to land on my feet.

Once again, I had itchy feet.

Dave Thompson came to my rescue.

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