By Scott Furlonger
When I bought my Padgett Business Services franchise in London, Ont., it was a way to follow up on my past accounting experience within the context of business ownership, rather than as an employee or independent consultant. There would be challenges to come, including a particularly serious one on my second day as a franchisee, but I knew I had the right aptitude for and interest in helping small-business customers, including other franchisees, at a personal level.
Finding my groove
I’ve lived in London my whole life, other than a stint at school in Windsor, Ont. I am the youngest of five children and all of my siblings still live nearby. My three brothers live in London and my sister lives about 30 minutes away in Woodstock, Ont.
As a child, I played sports that varied with the seasons, including hockey, baseball and tennis, plus wrestling when I was a teenager. At school, my best classes were physical education (phys ed) and the sciences. I liked to read and was okay at math, but not a whiz.
My post-secondary studies started in London at King’s University College, part of the University of Western Ontario, where I got my bachelor of arts (BA) undergraduate degree in political science (poli-sci) with a minor in economics.
At the time, I was considering journalism as a career. I also thought about becoming a commercial pilot of small planes. It was a passing fancy, but I applied to a training program at Seneca College in Toronto. As it turned out, I wouldn’t be able to get into it until the following year.
Instead, I went to the University of Windsor, where a friend suggested I should take a business and commerce honours program. I really got into accounting, which was stronger there than at Western, and hit my groove. I said to myself, “Yes, I’m really good at this, I should do it.”
A career in accounting
I did very well in Windsor and got hired by Touche Ross, a professional services firm (now Deloitte). I got my chartered accountant (CA) designation in two years and stuck around at the company for another year or so.
Then I moved on to Scott’s Hospitality, which owned and operated franchises, including a number of Holiday Inn hotels, Kentucky Fried Chicken (KFC) restaurants, Blacks Photography stores and a couple of school bus lines. I worked in an audit type of role, but it was almost management consulting and involved a lot of travel. We were always buying, selling or dealing with a problem.
My poli-sci background came in handy in the accounting field. It rounded me out; I wasn’t just a bean counter. And I liked getting to dive into all of the different businesses.
Scott’s eventually wanted me to move to Toronto, but I wasn’t interested. That very same day, Avco Financial Services—a subsidiary of Textron—approached me with a job offer. They were a big, public company and the shift would be major, but I was fortunate the president believed I could handle it.
I ended up working with Avco for 17 years in London in a number of roles, including comptroller and vice-president (VP) of business and client development. I travelled all around the world, especially to the U.S., U.K. and Australia.
We provided consumer financing, including small loans to individuals and retail financing. We worked with big clients like Leon’s and Future Shop, but I also spent a lot of time with smaller stores and other businesses. We found we could help them not only with their financing, but also with their marketing efforts, such as the “Ho, ho, hold the payments!” promotional campaign for Leon’s. It was a great way to get to understand the challenges small and large businesses faced. I learned a lot.
Avco was bought by Associates First Capital, which was then bought by Citigroup. And after about nine months, the new owners got rid of most of the management team.
I found myself out of a job and wondering what to do next. I knew the numbers side of accounting, but had also worked in senior management for many years and had built up my sales and business development skills.