By Larry Leeder
My dad always wanted to start a small business, but with five mouths to feed, the risk was not one my parents were willing to take. Fast forward more than five decades and I’m living my dad’s dream as owner of two Global Pet Foods stores in Red Deer, Alta., helping to provide pets with natural and holistic food, treats and supplements.
My father’s footsteps
Red Deer is where I grew up, but I was born in Brockville, Ont. My father, John, worked for Alpha Dairy as a foreman and when I was only four months old, he got transferred out west to manage a new plant. That was in 1956 and canned milk for baby formula was just hitting the market.
Life was good in Red Deer. My siblings and I did the usual stuff as kids. We were a pretty close-knit family and our parents worked really hard to give us everything we needed. We weren’t rich and got by okay, but my dad thought a lot about owning a business. In those years, though, franchises weren’t what they are today. My mom, Fay, was pretty conservative and didn’t want to take the chance of things not turning out as planned. Dad never let go of that dream—I guess you could say he instilled a sense of adventure in me and two of my siblings to take the step toward owning a business. I’m very proud of my father and wouldn’t be where I am today if it weren’t for him. Even though he never made the jump himself, he encouraged us to not hold back and to go for something we believed in.
A man of many parts
School came quite easily to me and I was a pretty good student. My favourite subjects were math and science, which is probably why I did so well in them. I was also really good at automotive studies, as I loved taking things apart and putting them back together. That’s how I ended up trying to get into the heavy-duty mechanics trade when I graduated from high school in 1974.
I applied to the apprenticeship program through R. Angus Caterpillar for close to a year before accepting I was too small to do the job. When working in this field, you need someone who can really handle the weight of the equipment. I was disappointed, but the manager at R. Angus was encouraging; he saw something in me and suggested I apply to the parts program. Three years later, I graduated with a journeyman certificate as a partsman, a career involving logistics and warehousing. I really enjoyed what I was doing and stayed with R. Angus for four years before moving on to Kenworth Trucks after a new dealership opened in town.
This was a great opportunity for me, considering I was getting in on the ground floor. I worked with Kenworth for a couple of years in Red Deer before the company opened a dealership in Lethbridge, Alta., and I got transferred there. By then, I was a parts manager, which helped me with my next move.
After leaving R. Angus, I joined Canadian Fracmaster, working in the oil patch as a parts manager. My next stop, though, was Siberia, Russia, after the company set up an operation there and I was sent to help set up a parts department. In case you’re wondering, Siberia is no colder than Alberta, although that can be pretty cold. The difference is we still go to work in Alberta when it is -40 C outside. Not so in Siberia, as I would come to learn. When it’s that cold, they stay inside. I remember one morning when the temperature fell to -45 C with the wind chill and our Russian crew didn’t show up. We kept working, but when we got back to the dormitory, the boss was there and we got reprimanded. We became a bit of a legend that day among our Russian co-workers. “We call ourselves Russian bears, but you Canadians are polar bears,” my foreman said afterward.