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Who Am I ?

John Cullen

I’d like to start with a “thank you” to Vern Hall, for introducing me to this great Probus Club! I enjoy the monthly meetings, and the special interest groups, I encourage all to join one or two of these groups.

I read somewhere that we can look at our lives to date in three stages - Learning, Earning & Yearning. So, I’ll talk a bit about my learning, earning & maybe some yearnings,… hopefully, holding off on the whining.

A BIT OF BACK GROUND FIRST: I was born in England in 1945 of Irish-Scottish parents.  My Dad worked as a technician in Quality Control in A.V. Roe in ’45. In 1950, the family returned to Scotland where he worked for Rolls Royce.

In 1957, we immigrated to Toronto where my Dad had found work related to the Avro Arrow Project. He loved Canada right from the get go and never thought about going back to Scotland even though he had to seek other work in 1959 when the Avro Project was cancelled. I believe some others in this club met a similarly fate with that Project.

LEARNING: With regard to my learning I’ve certainly learned in life you can’t accomplish much in life without the support of others.

From 1960-65, I went to Michael Power, a boy’s high school in Toronto. After high school, I worked for Canadian Kodak for a year on the Inside Sales Desk and then came down to Waterloo (1966 to ’69) for university, earning a General B.A. from U. of Waterloo, with a major in Psychology. 

My wife Barbara was born in Kitchener. We met in 1967 at UW and were married in 1969. We then returned to Toronto where I continued to work for Kodak. I had worked there every summer during my university years.

Soon after graduation, I was promoted to the Systems area at Kodak as an ‘Assistant Systems Analyst” reviewing “work processes” in various departments.

Looking back on my formal schooling, I was perhaps not the best student academically, doing the minimum to get that BA.

I did come to regret that attitude, and years later I returned to UW’s Independent Studies where, for 9 months, with the help of advisors, I developed and enjoyed my own course of study that included: politics, philosophy of education & jazz music. Brian Hendley was one of my Advisors in those days.

But it seemed, back in the 60’s, that I lived more for my weekends when I was part of an amateur rock group, called “ The Knaves”.

Yes I know, “ you never heard of the Knaves!” Well, there were many such groups but, believe it or not, some of the guys actually wanted to make a full-time career of the music business!

Well, I guess I was interested in a more conventional career, because I dropped out of the band in1969, to focus on my career; …. and, of course, on my great marriage!

Note! (My wife helped me with “certain aspects” of this talk!)

Anyway, I also never heard from The Knaves again for 25 years! Then, in 1995 I got a call from one of them inviting me to join them in a 1st annual musical “Get Together”, just to play the old 50s-60s tunes. As I had continued to play guitar & sing a bit in local groups here, I agreed to join them.

These days, we still get together to remember & perhaps “mis-remember” how good we were back in the 60’s! We weren’t that good .. but we had fun!

BACK TO EARNINGS:  In order to use my Psychology training a bit more, I left Kodak to become an Employment Counselor in the Federal Manpower Dept. in the TD Centre in downtown Toronto.  

I had various other roles in the Fed Gov't from 1972 until 1987 concluding with leading the Ontario, Entrepreneurial Local Initiatives Program for three years.

But by 1986, I’d grown tired of some of the policies of the Government, and so I applied to University of Waterloo and was hired as a Staff Relations, or H/R person. They were interested in my Employment Equity training.

Some said to me at the time, that  going from gov’t to a university was essentially “ same monkeys.. different jungle.” But I enjoyed UW. I worked in that H/R role for 3 years then I moved to the UW Coop Education Dept. as a Co-op Coordinator.

One of my achievements there was to develop a Marketing Role within the Co-op Dept. A year later, when we had hired an experience marketer, I moved on to help grow our International Co-op Program dealing mainly with American employers and also counseling students who planned to work outside Canada.

Each term I would travel to various locations in the US where 150-to-200 of our co-op students were employed on their work-terms.
The Program grew from 250 to over 500 students working outside Canada each 4 month work term.

In 1996, I had another new idea! With the support of the UW Coop Educ. Director & two enterprising UW Professors, I developed a new Initiative called Enterprise Co-op. The general idea was to help mentor enterprising students who wanted to run a business during their senior work terms. But I knew the Initiative wouldn’t go anywhere without some key internal support, which these three gentlemen generously provided.

In 2001, the Enterprise Co-op Initiative finally got significant funding from the Dobson Foundation of Montreal thanks to the efforts of David Johnson, our dynamic UW President.

Also in 2001, I re-signed from my “employee” status at the university and became a Self-employed Contractor with the title of Lead Business Consultant for UW’s Enterprise Co-op. I retained that role until I retired in 2010.

Over those last 10 years of work with Enterprise Coop, we met with about 1000 students (about 100 a year) who had expressed some interest in running or starting a business venture during their senior work term.After listening to their ideas & plans, we agreed to work in depth with a 100, of those 1000 students, over those 10 years.

We could not provide all the mentoring they required, but we did the initial vetting & then linked them with experienced local entrepreneurs, marketers, accountants & lawyers .. who might provide them with some limited pro bono assistance and advice.  That seemed to work well, most of the time. Willard Ellis of this club, was assigned by the Dobson Foundation to assist us in the  set up of the E Coop Initiative and we appreciated that assistance.
In a 2008 survey, conducted by (CBET - a UW Centre for Business, Enterprise & Technology) they found that 44 of the 100 students, that we had approved for E Coop, were still active in some form of entrepreneurial activity. Some 4 or 5 are highly successful in business today. One student, Ted Livingston, recently gave a significant donation back to UW to assist future enterprising students.

One of my earlier work accomplishments, back in 1993, was to propose the merger of the annual Career Fairs of the 3 local universities and the community college. Again, with the help of others, “ K-W Partners in Employment” is now the largest Career Fair in Canada.

I have had volunteer roles over the years. For example, I helped do the pitch to the United Way, along with another volunteer, to have Anselma House included in their roster. That pitch was successful.

Currently, I am on the volunteer Board of PEAR at UW Renison College. PEAR is an Experiential Learning program, aimed at seniors.

In terms of SPORTS I love & play tennis and golf. I got out March 15th this year! 

My wife & I have also joined the new YMCA in Waterloo. Recently,I asked the Y to consider offering a seminar on Pre-Season Golf Stretching Exercises and they actually hired someone to offer it!

So learning & earning are covered. As far as YEARNINGS, well Travel is a big part of our lives now. Barbara & I have travelled a bit in South America, Africa & India as well as in Europe and Canada.

I have two daughters, both living & working in Waterloo. One’s married … but no grand kids yet. Like most of you, I yearn for my family to live productive healthy lives.

I also yearn to stay positive in my own outlook and to “count my blessings” each day .. a bit more than I used to do.

Things are challenging for everyone economically and otherwise these days but my daughters both have good jobs, and my wife & I have reasonable health & happiness …and we are, hopefully, aging gracefully!

On a more personal scale, Music is vital to my health. I sing bass in the Waterloo Police Male Chorus & in a Global Christian Choir at WLU called INSHALLAH.

I also play guitar & sing in a little combo called .. THAT TRIO ! Again, I sure you have not heard of them either, but we play 40s, 50-60s, plus country & spirituals & fun little songs for Senior Centres & Homes.

Well, so much for  John Cullen’s “ Who I Am”   Cheers! … and thanks for listening.