Thursday, February 22, 2007

The Secret Origin of the CFIB

I’m sorry I missed the 35th anniversary party last year of the Canadian Federation of Independent Business. It’s truly a milestone worth celebrating.

Here’s a link to a speech by founder John Bulloch last year recalling the “untold story” of the CFIB’s founding. Such a big, nationwide marketing machine, you'd think there’d have been some strategy behind it, right?

Nope. Like most small businesses, it started as a half-formed notion and grew shakily, almost anecdotally. With lots of “fake it till you make it” moments that will be familiar to anyone who ever launched a business.

Here’s a highlight:

"I created a national Board of Governors in early 1971 although the CFIB was not incorporated until August 1971. They were friends who had helped me organize [tax-reform] Rallies across Canada and they allowed me to use their offices as CFIB virtual offices. So the image was of a powerful national organization. The reality was a family business financed with the help of my father that was soon to deplete its cash reserves and line of credit. What I thought would be viable after 10 months took 18 months, and the feelings of sheer terror associated with failure lived with me each day during that eight-month period…

"Like most small business owners trying to create something new, you are a ‘Jack of all Trades’. I took off the monthly trial balance, wrote Mandate questions and articles often working through the night at the Toronto Star library, and then sold memberships every Friday to pay my own income. And on top of all this, commenting to the media on every public issue, when half the time I did not really know what I was talking about.

"Mary and I used to come over to the office at night. She vacuumed the rugs and I cleaned the washrooms. To save the cost of an envelope, the first Mandate ballot was designed to be something members could fold over and staple. How was I to know members would put close to ten staples on each ballot to ensure no one saw how they voted?

"This created the first big function at CFIB--taking the staples out of the ballots which were sprinkled over the floor of our offices. I can still hear the sound of staples being sucked up by Mary’s vacuum cleaner..."

Read the full story here.

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