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Learning the metrics of breakfast with Sunset Grill’s Bruce Melhuish

crop1By Bruce Melhuish
My finance background in the technology industry has turned out to be surprisingly handy as I manage my Sunset Grill all-day breakfast restaurant in the town of Blue Mountains, Ont. Food and labour costs are just some of the business metrics that can be accounted for and adjusted as needed to meet changing demands. This has been a major career change for me, but it’s been very much worth it.

From hockey to accounting
I was born in Edmonton and then lived in Winnipeg from Grade 2 to 11. My parents are from Ontario and keep a cottage there on Georgian Bay that has been in the family since 1905. We visited every summer.

In my teens, I was a rising hockey star. I moved to Toronto after Grade 11 with dreams of one day joining the National Hockey League (NHL). I continued my high school studies there at Jarvis Collegiate Institute, but didn’t make it onto the Toronto Marlies as I’d hoped. Instead, I played with the Markham Waxers, north of the city.

While I was a ‘hockey god’ in Winnipeg, in Toronto I was a nobody. I found I had to make the decision to quit hockey and get my marks up at school. Even when I went back to Winnipeg for two weeks at Christmas and was treated like a star at the arenas, I noticed in my draft year, the NHL was passing over almost everyone my age. I was 19, but they went with an underage draft, bringing in 18-year-olds.

After finishing Grade 13 at Jarvis, I worked that summer at a sheet metal business in Miami, Fla. My parents had gone to University of Toronto (U of T), but I decided to go to London, Ont., and get a bachelor of arts (BA) in administration and commercial studies at the University of Western Ontario (UWO). Basically, I was studying accounting.

After earning my degree in three years, I applied to various Master of Business Administration (MBA) programs and got in at U of T, where I studied finance and strategic planning. I was very fortunate and finished my MBA at 22. You’re supposed to have a four-year degree and work experience first.

7226_028Computers and cable
IBM Canada hired me to work in finance. When I was being interviewed for my job, the treasurer was one of the people who asked me questions, including where I wanted to work. On my first day, I got to the manufacturing plant and it turned out that treasurer had become the plant manager and just wanted me on their hockey team!

I worked at IBM for more than 14 years and it was the best training anyone could have. Everyone thought strategically, was treated the same and was encouraged to be a decision-maker. Business-wise, it made me who I am today. I continue to treat my employees like IBMers.

I had started at IBM in 1984 and went through about 15 different jobs there over the years, based in Toronto, Vancouver, Calgary and New York, N.Y. The peak was when I became director of operations for the Toronto software lab, but I also travelled a lot to labs across North America and Europe.

Unfortunately, toward the end, the company was downsizing thousands of people. And even if I managed to survive that, I would eventually be forced into retirement at 50. I had decided I would never let the company I worked for control my life or push me out. So, at the top of my game, even though I loved my job, I started looking around for another.

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