Saturday, March 11, 2017

The shoemaker's children

If I had to do it over again, one of the career paths I would seriously consider would be shoemaker.

Shoemaker? Get the f@ck outta here you say...

Let me explain.

I never actually made any career decisions. I only got into welding because the welders at the GE plant where I was working at eighteen years of age made a couple of bucks an hour more than the rest of us. Seemed like an easy enough gig if you had basic hand-eye coordination and could read a blueprint. The fact that you'd be spending your working day inhaling toxic fumes wasn't discussed at the time. Most of my work-mates from that era are either dead or dragging around oxygen bottles wherever they go.

Becoming a shoemaker, on the other hand, would have entailed a wage reduction of a couple of dollars per hour. What kind of moron would you have to be to buy into that?

At the time, there was still a bit of shoemaking culture alive in the general area. Kitchener, a mere ten miles away, hosted the plant where Kodiak work-boots were built. Kodiaks had major brand recognition back in the day. They were hugely popular even among folks who'd never done a lick of work in their life. They looked great at the pub, and they were supremely comfortable. Their brand eclipsed Doc Martens right up until the invention of the Mohawk haircut.

My dear daddy, a German DP from a refugee camp in Denmark, almost invested in a shoe company in Guelph. He'd been hoarding his money from his job at Omark. He quit there shortly after getting his commemorative ten year wristwatch. Back in the day you got a Rolex for working in the factory for ten years.

He worked in that little shoe company for a few weeks and decided against making an investment. He felt the business was changing. More and more shoes were coming in from cheap foreign producers. He decided to go into real estate instead.

While he was busy making career decisions, another European DP was busy revolutionising the global shoe business. Thomas Bata was becoming "shoemaker to the world." That meant driving traditional shoemakers the world over out of business with a tsunami of mass-produced crap.

Meanwhile, an "old stock" Canadian lad in Preston quit high school to take a job at Weston's Bread. He started off driving a bread truck door to door in what is now known as Cambridge, Ontario. He rose through the ranks. By the time I got to know him, as the uncle of my wife at the time, he was a senior VP at Weston's. We had many fine times at his lovely home in Oakville. He was Galen Weston's faithful sidekick for many years, and it was universally assumed that he was destined to be the next CEO of Weston's.

Alas, a guy half his age with an MBA got that job instead. Forty years of ass-kissing went down the drain overnight.

So let me draw these disparate strands together. I was nosing through my weekend Globe today, and I came across an interview by Jeanne Beker with Alex Weston. Alex married Galen Weston Jr., son of Galen. His family has a net worth estimated by the folks who concern themselves with this stuff, as somewhere north of ten billions.

Alex is the granddaughter of Thomas Bata. Family net worth? Somewhere north of four billions.

So here is the question Jeanne Beker had for Weston:

You and your husband, Galen Weston Jr., have two children, aged six and seven. How are you juggling having a young family, working and keeping it all together?


I don't give a shit about how the children and grandchildren of billionaires "keep it all together." I'm sure they make out OK.

What I would like to know is how single mothers working two jobs at our niggardly minimum wage are keeping it all together.

Can you help me with that, Jeanne?

But back to that shoemaker thing. I had no idea when I was making or not making career decisions fifty years ago that the world would soon be awash with billionaires and the children of billionaires and their heirs who think nothing of spending five grand on a pair of bespoke shoes.

Guess I missed the boat on that one.

No comments:

Post a Comment