Buster, our dad, our mentor, our inspiration

Young BusterWhen our father, Buster, first started his own practice as a quantity surveyor, we were young boys, James was 13, Richard was 11, and Tim was 6 years old. Dad made what must have been a very big decision to leave a senior position with a firm and start up a business. With us children, a house on the suburban fringe, a mortgage, and our mom looking after us, that is what he did. Then again, as immigrants to Canada, our parents came to Toronto to live the “Canadian dream” and must have been at least somewhat used to the idea of beginning anew. Nevertheless, this journey began from an office in downtown Toronto that he shared with his colleagues, architects Jack Diamond and Barton Myers (aka Diamond & Myers). At our ages, we were more interested in the CN Tower being constructed outside their King Street office windows, but soon enough the scenery changed, literally. The realization that long working hours to be a top-notch estimator, running a small business, and the daily commute for work meant that he would never see his family.

Buster and Monica Wedding PhotoWith that, dad’s office switched to 33 Centre Street in Richmond Hill, the family home, and more specifically, Tim’s bedroom. Fifty years before work from home became a thing, there we were, dresser drawers and the bed replaced by a Xerox photocopier, a telecopier, a pre-cursor to the fax machine, an electronic typewriter, and two painted doors laid flat on homemade bookshelves for desks.

For a guy that had no technology savvy himself, our dad was forward thinking enough to be among the first in business to adopt the use of a PC in the ‘70s. What he lacked in tech savvy, was more than made up for by James whose gift for programming had him writing the firm’s first measuring programs while in middle high school.

Family PictureWhen most kids had dads who went off to work each day, we grew up in a home that doubled as a workplace. A regular crew would show up to the house for work each day that eventually included an executive assistant, a consultant quantity surveyor, and rotating co-op students. We would come home from school for lunch, and we would find ourselves eating a sandwich with the team. They became family.

Work was part of family life, they were intertwined. The boundaries moved to keep up with the business but with that came a deep-rooted understanding for the innerworkings of a business. It was an apprenticeship. An apprenticeship that was part happenstance and part by design. Dad believed in involving us in various business or family projects. Richard got drawn into hands on renovating and carpentering down to the last nail. Later, he could out-price the pricing guy. On many occasions, Tim sat in the offices of architect’s meeting rooms while dad conducted business. If there was big push to get an estimate out, all hands were on-deck to work a battery of digitizers, photocopiers, binding machines, and sometimes to get into a car, or even a plane, to deliver it.

Family PictureThe dedication to excellence in the business was simply understood, and the reputation grew. From double shifts (i.e., midnight shifts) to business around the kitchen table, all the push to get complex estimates done was managed within a family environment where we were all able to play sports, travel together, and pursue our own interests and passions. For our dad, he painted with oils and watercolors. He designed sets for the local theatre group and got involved with Rotary. Our mother, who excelled at tennis, ran the inter-county tennis league, sang in local musical productions, cooked, gardened, and of course, supported our dad. Somehow with the long hours, a work-life balance was maintained.

Looking back, we see the influence and the inspiration on us. We also recall moments that stuck with us where dad showed us the business financials and said to us that understanding “these” (i.e., financial statements), and business finance, was powerful. It was a kernel of insight to understanding a realm that was outside of the family business. It eventually led to pursuing excellence in our own professions, which were started with the dogged determination and forward vision of a unique individual, our dad. James and Richard joined our father to continue building Vermeulens into North America’s premiere construction economics firm that it is today. Tim is Partner and Co-Founder of Structured Financing, a private finance firm, one in which the family heartbeat of entrepreneurship aligned with the many businesses and owners he has helped to finance. Now all three of us are leading firms where everyone is working industriously from home at a desk in the living room, with family like team support around us, and embracing forward technology at each turn, we see a familiar form taking shape; one that began 50 years ago.Image placer