On the bicycle: The joys of unintended (business) success consequences

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Me, on the bike
Me, on the bike
The Merkley Supply Ltd. Ride the Rideau team
The Merkley Supply Ltd. Ride the Rideau team

Some businesses/clients and relationships leave memorable footprints that transcend the norm. Yesterday, as I flew in top gear on my bicycle along a major arterial road, returning home from the business office, I thought of the changes since Robert Merkley of Merkley Supply Ltd. “roped” me into participating in Ride The Rideau five years ago.

I’m 61. Some 25 years ago, Merkley purchased an advertisement in the first Ottawa Construction News issue in 1989. A couple of years later, I believe he had behind-the-scenes influence at the Greater Ottawa Home Builders Association (GOHBA) in the association’s decision to invite my business to publish its internal newsletter, the GOHBA Impact!

The Impact, notably, has become our longest-running continuous publication. (I sold most of my business to competitors for a few years in the mid-1990s, but they didn’t want the Impact so I continued that publication — and it provided a significant part of the base for restoring the business in 1996 when the competitors reneged on their agreement and I resumed my business. That matter ended up in the courts, thankfully with the judge ruling totally in my favour.)

Me, on the bike
Me, on the bike

Merkley took a leadership role in bringing the concept of an organized bicycle event to raise funds for cancer research to Ottawa after experiencing a similar ride in Toronto. He worked with The Ottawa Hospital Foundation to create a local initiative, where fund-raising and management costs would be curtailed and the monies raised truly would support locally based research initiatives. (Of course, the Ottawa researchers work at an international scale, sharing information, clinical trials and the like.)

Then, persistently, Merkley enlisted my support.

I offered free editorial and available-space advertising support in Ottawa Construction News and The Impact. Merkley wanted more, and so used his own resources to purchase advertising (note this is for the charitable cause, not his own business). Then he put on the sales pitch for me to get on a bicycle myself, and join his team.

Initially, I declined because the ride conflicted with the Jewish New Year, sending a $500 contribution to the hospital foundation instead.  The second year, I had no excuse.

I brought out my 30-year-old bike and started practicing. The experience combined fear and trepidation. In the end, I raised the $1,500 required to enter the ride with quite a bit of effort, and (as a cyclist) I came in near dead last. This isn’t a problem, of course, as the ride isn’t a race, but nonetheless, I certainly knew I could do better.

Two years ago, I returned with a new bike. This time, the show was rained out — organizers needed to cancel the event a few minutes after it started when a major thunder-storm blew through the region. This turned out to be a fortunate cancellation, as I could tell I was badly out of shape. I incorrectly had thought the new bike could replace real practice and work-outs in the months before.

Last year, things worked much better. Fund-raising had become easier — including a $500 contribution from a wealthy childhood neighbour who has been battling cancer himself.

I don’t know how well I will do this year, but certainly achieved the fund-raising targets with even less effort than before. In fact, I could ride without adding a cent of my own money (but I will make a direct contribution, nonetheless).

But the main benefit, I think, relates to my own physical conditioning. Like, wow, I have more muscle strength at 61 than I did at 35. I’m supposed to be pre-diabetic but my blood sugar, without medications, shows as normal.

Undoubtedly, I owe some debts of gratitude to Robert Merkley. But there are other lessons here. Generosity, public service and healthy physical exercise have nothing directly to do with business success, but the indirect effects have incredible value for your business. Get involved.

You can support the cancer research cause here. The hospital will instantly issue a Canadian tax receipt.

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