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Ignorance is Bliss – the Pekarsky & Co. Newsletter, May 2015

May 1, 2015

Dear Friends and Colleagues,

Recently, I found myself sitting on the Deerfoot after another long day at work pitching our wares to a weary, wary city. Not wary of us, I’m quite certain, but of the uncertain world in which we live and transact.  My patient wife listened patiently as I vented my frustration, not only about the parking lot that the Deerfoot had turned into, but about the general woe of my world on that particular afternoon.

Our clients are understandably cautious, all but admitting their hiring needs will likely explode when things improve, just not now. We are working with them on fees; sticking by our long-time suppliers and we’re not afraid, either, to make changes, internally and externally, where they are needed. “It’s like playing golf in the wind,” I analogized, “except it’s into my face on every freakin’ hole. When will the wind be at my back?” I asked, rather pitifully. Please don’t misunderstand; no one is throwing us a telethon.  We have dozens of active searches on our books right now and a pipeline that’s looking up.  “We’re hitting the ball well,” I continued, “we’re just not scoring.”  “It’ll get better,” she said, patiently.

Then an amazing thing happened. We were on Deerfoot Trail that particular afternoon because we were on route to an EO/YPO event. EO (Entrepreneurs Organization) is my entrepreneurial support group of sorts; a local chapter of like-minded self-starters who meet occasionally to share ideas, best practices and, on this occasion, listen to the greatest speaker I have ever heard: Nando Parado. For those not familiar, Nando is one of the sixteen Uruguayan survivors of the Uruguayan Air Force Flight 571, which crashed in the Andes mountains on October 13, 1972. He was portrayed by Ethan Hawke in the 1993 feature film Alive: Miracle in The Andes.

Now we’ve all had those perspective-putter-inner moments, usually at a funeral or some such somber event, where we take stock of our situation, whatever it may be, and conclude it’s not all that bad. So, when Nando described his entirely unthinking decision to sit in row 9 only to have everyone sitting in row 10 and back, including his mother and sister, whom he brought with him for the weekend, instantly killed when the plane first smashed into the mountain-side, I squirmed in my chair wondering who else I may have complained to about something relatively inconsequential during the pre-speech cocktail reception. He described listening on a transistor radio retrieved from the cockpit 10 days after the crash, huddled around the small device with his fellow survivors in the middle of a vast glacier 11000 feet up, as they heard the news that the search had been officially called off and all passengers onboard declared dead. He described the avalanche on night 15 that buried the fuselage in over 9 feet of snow, killing 8 more of his friends and nearly himself. He described the surviving group’s heart-wrenching decision to eat the dead so they could live. (And to think my ‘bad day’ had included a sub-par dining experience at a posh downtown restaurant earlier that day).

There were times, though he has given this talk thousands of times (you can watch an abridged TED version here) where it seemed as though he was literally transported back to that day, on that glacier 42 years ago.  Like when he showed us the photo from a 2006 National Geographic re-creation of the 10 day trek he and fellow survivor Roberto Canessa made after deciding that was their only hope of survival. Thinking the nearest town was 11km away (based on a flight plan they found on the cockpit floor), they hiked up and over an 18,000 foot saddleback, with temperatures dropping to -30 at night, with no hiking equipment and no clue. They arrived at the summit expecting to see the valley floor below, red roofs, smoke billowing from chimneys and signs of life only to be greeted by an endless and hungry vista of angry mountain peaks.  They were 140km away, not 11, having grossly misread the map.

And on it went.

He concluded by sharing the story of his conversation with the leader of the 2006 expedition. “The only possible explanation for your survival” said the certified mountain guide, replete with oxygen, climbing gear and rations not made from humans, “is your sheer ignorance.” Had he known what actually lay ahead when he started out he never would have done it and most certainly would have succumbed to paralyzing fear and certain death.

Don’t worry, I’m not about to draw some parallel between that observation and the current economic times we find ourselves navigating. After all, we have all the tools we could ever need at our disposal and we know exactly what we are heading into because we’ve seen it before (have I mentioned I started my career as a commissioned recruiter on September 11, 2001?). No. Attempting to in any way compare Nando’s trials to our own would be a grossly self-unaware, entirely false and credibility-crushing metaphor. Okay, indulge me, just a bit. Perhaps like Nando, we are further from our destination than we realize. But even he knew that eventually, by heading west long enough, he’d hit the ocean. And when that happens, when the tide does turn, it will happen quickly and jarringly.  Why?  Because we’re all going to start to feel better at about the same time and when that happens, delayed hires will be back on track; battle-weary senior executives will conclude that was their last roller coaster ride and stripped-down organizations will ramp back up in an over-heated hiring market. And you know what else? Our clients in Vancouver, Saskatchewan, Edmonton and even those outside the six square blocks of downtown corporate Calgary, aren’t near as fussed about boe/d. In fact, much of our new business in recent weeks has come from organizations not living and dying on the price of oil. I will say this: the drive back down the Deerfoot on the way home after Nando’s talk was considerably more upbeat.

It was also very interesting to me, as a guy on the sell side of the table, to be a buyer recently. If you’ve been paying attention, you’ll have picked up our clues that exciting change is afoot here at the firm. Though we’re not quite ready for the big reveal just yet, we took a very important step in that direction when we ran our own version of an RFP process and interviewed four marketing firms recently with a view to awarding one of them the contract for all of our ongoing branding, logo design, printing and party-planning-and-throwing work (can’t let a little downturn prevent us from throwing the best rooftop Stampede party in Calgary, now, can we?).

It was interesting being sold to for a change. Lessons about how to pitch for work is clearly the subject of another blog post but for now I would just say this: when you’re the seller, it’s not about you. To paraphrase from the lead presenter of the fourth place finisher, “enough about you; let’s talk about me for a while” or was it “I’ve talked about me for long enough; why don’t you talk about me now.” Here’s what the winning bidders did:  they listened, they came prepared, they responded succinctly to the exact directions provided to them in our brief, they priced honestly and they brought cookies. So, way to go Orange Door. We can’t wait to show the world what you’ve come up with in time for our June newsletter…okay, maybe July. No pressure, Vivian.


Finally, just a few words about our community. Our Edmonton office enjoyed an evening at the Glenrose Rehabilitation Hospital Foundation Courage Gala. Rick Vogel has been on the Glenrose Board for 4 years and is currently the Chair of the Community Relations & Fund Development Committee. He and the team, and their significant others, spent a wonderful evening celebrating and admiring the courageous journey of rehabilitation. Inspiring stories were shared with 750 friends, family, sponsors, donors and supporters in an evening of inspiration, entertainment, dancing and community bonding. The evening generated more than $650,000 in revenues and we are proud to have played our part.


In Calgary, the Pekarsky Stein Pro Bonos hockey team once again laced ‘em up at the Gordie Howe CARES Pro-Am Hockey Tournament. This was our fifth year supporting the five-year old event and with our $28,000 raised this year our running total is now $330,000 raised for Alzheimer’s. Suffice to say, with each passing year our support becomes a little more relevant. To all those who donated so generously, thank you!

So, next time I’m annoyed or feeling sorry for myself I’ll think of Nando. Or better yet, I’ll simply stay positive and realize that it ain’t really all that bad.



p.s.  Go Flames Go!

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