Are You Prepared For Unforeseen Events?

July-August 2009

THE HIGH PITCHED WHINE of the fuel pump and fuel injection system warming up at the turn of the key indicate the machine’s anticipation of ignition. A brief pause after this pre-start up ritual, a squeeze of the clutch, and I thumb the starter button located on the right handle bar. The high speed electric starter motor sound is brief as it brings life to 996 cubic centimetres of twin-cylindered combustion space. Life at idle for this v-twin bike is a quiet whine, subtle as to not disturb the neighbours and cement their opinion that the arborist next door is both a maniac and adrenaline junkie.

If, on the other hand, the neighbours pause a moment and catch the warm up twist of throttle that brings the two pistons (which are eternally trying to throw themselves in opposite directions), to 9,000 rpms, their original opinion would quite possibly be resurrected. The Suzuki SV-1000 growls, daring the rider to find a useful function for the 120 hp generated at the rear wheel.

I check my pockets – phone, license, ownership, insurance – all in place. Having never thought that “chicks dig scars” was a sensible argument for gambling with natural selection, I don my jacket, helmet and gloves. (Ironically, in some US states it is law for those below the age of majority to wear a helmet when riding a bicycle, however such safety measures are considered optional for those who are age of majority and engaging at interstate cruising speeds on a motorcycle.) Today is the Victoria Day Holiday. I have one hour, then my wife, daughter and I will visit and watch fireworks with extended family.

Pulling out of the drive, I check left, right, then left again releasing the clutch and smoothly whining the twins to 5,000 rpm, switch to second and cruise north through town. I love motorcycles. I greatly enjoy riding too, though the mileage on my iron horse (actually more alloy than steel) might indicate otherwise. This ride would last an hour, yet would change the course of my life for the next six weeks…

Nearing the end of my allotted time, I flash past the houses on Kennedy Road, just a titch above the speed limit but not demonstrating to the locals how not to share the public roads responsibly. The primary attention getter when riding a motorcycle is the acceleration, which is simply a result of the power to weight ratio. But even more enlightening is braking, an experience which can only be experienced having felt the first parameter. (If anyone can demonstrate the latter before the former, I would pay handsomely to attend the demonstration.)

Approaching Queensville Side Road, I let the silver dart carry its weight to the apex much later than any sensible car driver would and apply the brakes. A light squeeze brings 189 kg of machine and its dejected operator to a 40 km/hr speed in a heartbeat.

I am not an aggressive rider; however a silly little indulgence of mine is the sensation of using a bit of my motorcycle’s capabilities to exit corners. Upon exiting this particular corner, I am at or only slightly above the speed limit as I return to my cruising pose and continue enjoying the scenery. This same little indulgence, while rounding the corner from southbound Kennedy to westbound Queensville Side Road, resulted in me applying power only a moment before observing a small strip of sand in my path. The resulting tire spin and almost immediate termination of spin as the rear wheel once again found the more appropriate friction surface, forced the Suzuki to decline my invitation for a quiet trip home, most succinctly expressed by it falling to the ground.

Generally, I observed this to be a less than positive last five minutes of ride time; however, the severe burning sensation in my left foot kept telling me to stop being so selfish and pay it heed. And over the next four hours, I and members of Ontario’s medical profession unfortunately did exactly as the burning sensation demanded.

Medical diagnosis: a fractured left navicular. New-found knowledge: only 25% of the human body’s bones are found in the foot.

Now, let’s make this anecdote more relevant to those who may not attend to various hobbies that encourage the potential for annual Darwin awards nominations (if you’re not familiar with this popular list, visit I am an arborist – a self-employed arborist. See, now you’re listening. Advanced Tree Care is a small company of three employees with the highest demand for skilled production work falling on my shoulders. My associates are incredibly hard workers, yet their level of experience limits the complexity of the tasks they can accomplish as well as reduces the level of production. My fractured navicular not only wounded me, it wounded my Achilles heel. The reality is that without me, less work gets done and my immediate fiscal success is seriously threatened.

To those who are entirely dependant on personal labour to support themselves, what are your strategies to deal with unforeseen injury and illness circumstances? The obvious answer is to ensure one is covered with a short term and/or a longer term disability policy. This will protect your personal income. As well, a policy can be obtained that will cover lost income to the business. But what about those five weeks of work that you still have scheduled to do? How will you manage keeping those clients un-serviced for extended periods of time?

My career has been a blessed one. I have been mentored by some of the very best arborists, the result being that I am a good arborist. But now I wear a new hat – in fact I wear a lot of hats. But like many skilled tradespersons who strike out on their own, I have had little mentorship as a business person. Imagine being a school teacher, quitting, and becoming a tree worker overnight. The road to developing skills will be longer and rougher without the guidance of an experienced traveller. Luckily, I do have a mentor now. Neil is a business consultant and I have been working under his guidance for over a year now. One might say I am an apprentice yet again.

The irony is that in his guidance he has promoted the strategy that Advanced Tree Care be a refined machine that will run effectively without any one cog. A specific example being the case in point, that if I were injured, commitments to clients would be met, obligations to vendors would be fulfilled and growth and prosperity would continue for the machine and its team members. This strategy is Neil’s strongest argument for business growth. My untimely encounter with the sunny side of the asphalt is simply an astounding confirmation of the need to consider a strategy for that “event” just out of sight over the horizon. Assembling a team of individuals who have many talents that overlap, in the same manner that the Olympic rings do on the Olympic flag, will allow the team to cover more ground as the Olympic rings cover more surface area. How uninspiring would the Olympic flag be with just one solitary ring?

There is a more severe event to consider when strategizing for business growth. A couple of years ago, a business associate had an accident that cost his life. He too was an arborist, self-employed and wearer of “all the hats.” The tragic loss was detrimental to his business, and placed his family in a position that none had likely considered at length. What to do with the business? Choices had to be made by the family, yet the resources were few and the “machine” was broken without the owner/arborist. A broken machine such as this is hard for an inexperienced family to repair, and even harder for the family to sell. Had there been a team of people aligned for the growth of the machine and committed to working together, a variety of more positive choices would have been available that may have eased the strain the tragic loss presented.

Still Hobbling
Currently I am still in an air cast, and many important people have stepped up to share my load. My crew deserves accolades for their response to this period of perturbation. As well, one of my closest friends has made sacrifices to help keep this machine moving, producing and servicing. Thanks to Mark, Dave and AT!
Lastly, what about the business side of things down the road? I am being guided by a good mentor who will help create a strategy whereby the lives of me, my family and my team will be akin to water. And life’s surprises will be like rocks in the stream over which we simply flow. What about your business?

Epilogue. The bike is fine. I only broke the clutch lever and scratched a removable hard bag. No, my lovely bride has not demanded it be sold. Yes, she approves the purchase of some upgrades to give it better performance. Ride safe, folks!

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