|He Got Started When He Quit|
When Harry Steele grew up in the tiny Newfoundland outport of Musgrave Harbour, there were no roads, no electricity and the nearest rail connection 60 miles away was cut off six months of the year.
"If you went outside you had to do it by horse, dogteam or on foot. You weren't really part of the outside world. I think that makes you self-sufficient. "
If self-sufficiency is what it takes to become one of Canada's major industrialists, Harry Steele has it in spades. Nowadays his name rings like a bell buoy across the waters of Atlantic business.
After serving in the Royal Canadian Navy for 24 years, he retired in 1974 as Base Commander at Canadian Forces Base in Gander. That is when many men sit back and let their arteries harden but for Harry it was really just the beginning:
"I was glad I got out of the navy when I was still young enough to tackle something else. I think the military gives you very good training and I consider that joining the navy when I was young was a good idea, but many men make a mistake by staying in over 20 years. Your initiative becomes stifled; it makes you too conservative. That didn't happen to me."
It certainly didn't! In the late 70's Harry spearheaded the development of Eastern Provincial Airways which he sold to Canadian Pacific, (now Canadian Airlines International) in 1984. Four years earlier he had established Newfoundland Capital Corporation Limited, (NCC) a holding company with interest in transportation, communications and hotels. At 61 years old, (1991) Harry is young and vigorous, and bursting with energy. It was difficult holding him long enough to tape our interview. He has strong opinions on the free enterprise system and has been compared with Ayn Rand (The Fountainhead, Atlas Shrugged, etc.), business tycoon Conrad Black, and Lord Beaverbrook (the former Max Aitken, a fellow Maritimer who owned British newspapers and became Lord Beaverbrook).
He had quit Eastern Provincial Airways as Vice President of Marketing because he disagreed with the way the airline was being run. It was losing money and Harry didn't approve. He returned little more than a year later, bought it, and turned it around making profits as high as $4.4 million. He had a similar experience with Clarke Inc. which NCC bought in 1981. The return on investment went from a negative 9% in 1982 to a positive 46% in 1986.
Harry's communications division publishes 41 newspapers and specialty magazines, and operates 15 radio stations across Canada. He thinks the opportunity for young people to get ahead is better today than ever before.
"There's great opportunities now because times are tough and when times are tough opportunity is born."
He doesn't think it is necessary to have a financial pillow to get a leg up.
"It certainly wasn't there in my place. My mother and father never had a bank account up until the day they died."
His best advice for young people heading out into the business world or launching a career in any profession?
"It may be trite to say it, but the first thing to do is to look after yourself physically. Stay away from drugs and alcohol. That's the best piece of advice I can think of to give any young person. "
A graduate of Memorial University, Harry was given an Honourary Doctorate degree from Saint Mary's University in 1983.
Altogether, not bad for a boy from the outports who rose to become one of the biggest movers and shakers in Canadian communications. He has no regrets about his life and would do it all over, except maybe getting out of the navy sooner.
"It was a stroke of fate that Paul Hellyer helped me make that decision. He advocated unification of the Forces and I was dead set against it. I guess I can thank Paul Hellyer for helping me get started in my career!"
Another Canadian Achiever who got mad and quit one career and made a bigger success in another.
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