By Chris Kennedy
Seven months ago, I was diagnosed with Hodgkin’s lymphoma. My reason for saying this is not to talk about the outlook for recovery or how certain I am I will be in remission following treatment, but rather how owning a franchise—in my case, the Mister Transmission in Moncton, N.B.—has allowed me to focus on myself, instead of worrying about my business.
Our jingle—“Hey Mister, you’re a friend of mine”—has really rung true for me in the last while. Why’s that? We had our best month ever this past July and I wasn’t even in the shop. While I was focusing on my health, my business partner and two of our senior technicians—the latter whom I mentored out of high school—took the lead, caring for the business as I would. I couldn’t have asked for more support during this difficult time. Loyalty like this is pretty common in the Mister Transmission family and is one of the reasons I’m glad I joined this franchise system.
Wide open spaces
I’m a bit of a country boy, having spent my early years in Pefferlaw, Ont., which is a little over an hour north of Toronto. Our family moved to Longview, Alta., when I was about seven years old. Settling in there, my parents started a hobby horse farm, which they operated until I entered high school in 1987. My mom showed quarter horses and had even imported one from Germany. It was a nice side business, but they did it more for pleasure than anything else.
I loved living in that part of the country. The ranch lifestyle really appealed to me. My early jobs involved working for our neighbour, riding horses on their property to maintain it. If I noticed part of the fence was broken, for example, I would mend it. I had an awesome time.
When my parents separated, my mother and I moved back to Pefferlaw, where I finished high school. Their divorce hit me hard and I guess I wasn’t dealing with it so well, which is why I headed to northern British Columbia during the summer months. From the age of 14 to 18, I worked with Cassiar Stone Outfitters, a hunting-guiding outfit that offered big game hunts. When I wasn’t doing that, I was a wrangler. The time I spent there helped me deal with my parents’ divorce.
When I was 18, I fell in love with a girl from Pefferlaw. Heading to Cassiar, B.C., that summer, I knew she was ‘it’ for me. Halfway through my stay, I decided to come home and marry Kim. Today, we’re still happily married and have two sons, who are 10 and 13.
A slow start
At 21, I enrolled in an apprenticeship program at Durham College in Oshawa, Ont., and studied to become an auto technician. I was used to making very good money in B.C., but jobs in Ontario were pretty tight in the early 1990s. Kim and I wanted to buy a house, but I needed a steady job to do that. I was pretty good at fixing things, so the automotive world seemed a natural choice. Like every other mechanic, I dreamed of opening my own shop, but I had a long way to go before that could be possible.
Even though I was in an apprenticeship program, I didn’t have full-time employment. With every door I knocked on, I found myself confronting the doom-and-gloom attitude of the global recession we were experiencing at the time. Fortunately, I managed to land a full-time job in 1995 at a Chrysler dealership in Aurora, Ont.
I really enjoyed working at the dealership and appreciated them spending so much time and effort training me to be a good technician. Over the next 12 years, I honed my skills, making the one-hour drive every day from Beaverton, where my wife and I had built our home. The commute eventually got to be a little tiring, though. I also became disillusioned with working as an automotive technician—I saw my skill level going up, but my pay level going down, due to cutbacks at Chrysler.