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You Bet Your Glass: October 2011

The amazing career of Bernie Leaman (Part 2)


October 31, 2011
By Frank Fulton

Topics

In my previous column we looked at
Bernie Leaman’s start in the glass and metal industry up to the point
where Ian Moore announced his promotion to president of Commercial
Aluminum at the end of 1976.

In my previous column we looked at Bernie Leaman’s start in the glass and metal industry up to the point where Ian Moore announced his promotion to president of Commercial Aluminum at the end of 1976.

Bernie found himself in the right place at the right time when the greatest construction boom we’ve ever experienced started in the early 1980s and Commercial Aluminum rode the wave to a period of amazing growth and profitability. When Bernie took the helm in 1977 Commercial had 25 people on staff. Ten years later that number had grown to 110 people. Commercial took advantage of the boom by adding new products, growing its customer base and expanding into new markets.

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Bernie has always had a strong belief in people, their desire to succeed, and a willingness to give them a break. He gave many glaziers their start in business by extending them credit, while making it clear that his trust was not to be taken lightly.

When a fledgling glazier went to meet Bernie to set up an account for the first time, he would show his new prospective customer a stack of cheques that had been bounced on him over the years, and he made it very clear that he had collected and made good on each and every one of them. If you were thinking about scamming Commercial, you had better think twice, or you’d have Leaman on you like a pit bull on a pork chop. “You can’t be in business and stay in business if you are a dishonest person,” Bernie would say.

In addition to growing the number of customers, Bernie grew the product line to include sliding mall doors, curtainwall profiles and vents, in addition to the entrance door and framing systems. Seeing the potential for market expansion during the boom, Bernie opened a branch of Commercial in Calgary, manufacturing the same product line that had been developed in Toronto. Herb Hetzner was dispatched from Toronto to head up the Calgary operation, which grew to a staff of 20 in a few years.

Throughout his time in business, Bernie was a strong supporter of the Metro Toronto Glass Association, the predecessor to the OGMA, and served on its board for eight years as secretary, treasurer and eventually, president. To this day, he has a plaque hanging in his home office dated June 22, 1977, honouring him as Man of the Hour. It hangs right beside the inaugural Lifetime Achievement Award bestowed upon him in 1998 by OGMA.

Bernie participated in the association because he loved being around people in the industry. “For people in the glass and metal business, you had to be involved in the MTGA or you were just an outsider looking in,” he said. “It was a great place to be, a fun place to be, and it was where you had to be to know what was going on in the industry.”

When asked about the highlights of his career, Bernie cites all the marvellous relationships and friendships he cultivated with customers and suppliers during his career. “I have no negative memories whatsoever about my time in business. I loved every minute of it.”

While sitting at his desk in his office following lunch one afternoon in 1986, Bernie felt a throbbing pain in his left arm and pressure in his chest. He was suffering a heart attack. Instead of calling an ambulance, he opted to have one of his salesmen, Richard Moulaisson, drive him to York Finch Hospital where he was admitted and coaxed back to health.

Bernie returned to work within a few months but a second heart attack in 1989 knocked him out of the box for good. Doctors told him the stress of work, should he choose to return, would inevitably kill him. Bernie made the wise choice and opted for retirement.

Today, Bernie continues to enjoy life with his wife Mary in Woodbridge, Ontario, puts up with the occasional medical malady, and still sees a lot of his cronies from business. “Everything I am today I owe to what I learned during my years spent at Commercial Aluminum,” he says.


Frank Fulton is president of Fultech Fenestration Consulting. He has been in the industry for 30 years and can be reached via e-mail at fultech.fc@gmail.com.


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