Business is anything but usual
By ELIZABETH CHURCH in TORONTO and WENDY STUECK in Vancouver
Thursday, September 13, 2001
On the first day after the horrific terrorist attacks in New York and Washington, it was anything but business as usual at companies across Canada.
Events were cancelled, meetings delayed and deals put on hold. Most people returned to work Wednesday, but many who did admitted that their minds were not entirely on their jobs.
"Everybody is back. Really, what are our options?" said Brendan Caldwell, president of Toronto-based Caldwell Securities Ltd. "It's either come downtown and try and do some good and get some work done or stay at home glued to the television."
With markets closed, airplanes grounded and traffic held up at border crossings, many firms found that their usual course of business was simply impossible.
"With nothing coming in, and nothing going out, it makes for a pretty slow period," said Garry Vastila, operations manager at the Vancouver office of shipping company SDV Logistics (Canada) Inc.
Mr. Vastila said his office typically moves anywhere from 1,000 to 5,000 kilograms of cargo each day. Wednesday, that flow was down to a trickle.
The slow movement of goods across the border meant slowdowns at Canadian auto plants as well.
At General Motors of Canada Ltd., about 1,000 workers on the day shift at the auto maker's pickup truck plant in Oshawa, Ont., were sent home after four hours because of a parts shortage.
Afternoon and evening shifts were expected to operate normally, GM Canada spokesman Richard James said, and the company's three other Canadian assembly plants were not affected.
Ford Motor Co. of Canada Ltd. did not open its pickup truck assembly plant in Oakville, Ont., also because of a shortage of parts.
In the office towers of Toronto's Bay Street, the usual lunchtime crowds returned Wednesday, but in most places, the talk was quiet and groups of people crowded around any television sets that were on.
"I think subdued would be a good word to describe it," said Frank Tingle, who works at Sleuth and Stateman Inc., a tobacco and men's accessory shop in Toronto's Stock Exchange Tower. "It's on everybody's minds."
While markets were closed, some in the financial community said they were busier than usual Wednesday getting ready for whatever might come their way when full trading resumes.
"I would say starting this morning the pace has been even busier than usual," Dwayne Dreger, vice-president of communication for Toronto-based AIM Funds Management Inc., said in an interview Wednesday.
Like many in the investment community, he said his firm also has employees with close ties to the New York investment community and some of those people are coping with their own personal losses.
"We have not asked employees to come in if they personally find it difficult to do so," he said.
Many in the investment community used Wednesday to catch up. "We're touching base with clients and trying to keep them informed, but generally our phone lines have been quiet," said Tom Bradley, president and chief executive officer of Vancouver-based Phillips Hager & North Investment Management Ltd., which manages about $35-billion for institutional and individual customers.
"With [North American] markets closed, and clients still watching their television sets, it's giving us time to gear up for what could be a very busy week or two."
The business disruptions also meant some deadlines had to be extended. For the second day running, the deadline for bids for the Fairweather clothing chain was extended - this time until Friday at 2 p.m.
Already, "several" sealed offers for Fairweather have been received, said Robert Harlang, a vice-president of Richter & Partners Inc., interim receiver of parent Dylex Ltd.
At least one U.S. group is interested in bidding for Fairweather and its offer has been delayed because of the problems south of the border, a lawyer for the receiver said.
The two-day closing of the Toronto Stock Exchange also may mean Flex-N-Gate Corp. of Urbana, Ill., will extend its $1.65-a-share takeover bid for auto parts maker Ventra Group Inc., which is scheduled to expire by midnight tonight.
"We certainly have a right to mail an extension in the circumstances," said Timothy Graham, president of VTA Acquisition Co., which was formed to make the bid on behalf of Flex-N-Gate. He said the firm will probably have a much better idea Thursday of how many shares have been tendered and thus whether the bid needs to be extended.
At firms outside the financial community, the grounding of flights played havoc with plans.
"The person I was suppose to meet today is in Cincinnati," said Axel Thesberg, a senior partner at accounting firm KPMG LLP.
Mr. Thesberg said the firm has employees "stuck in various cities" across North America and predicts that even when flights resume some staff will be reluctant to get on a plane.
"At least for a while, I imagine a lot of meetings will be done by conference call."
Such feelings were evident at travel firms, where agents fielded calls from worried customers, some of whom wanted to cancel their vacation plans or business trips.
"Everything has come to a halt," said Don Renshaw, president and owner of Vancouver-based Renshaw Travel Ltd. "Everybody is a little anxious."
Mr. Renshaw noted that even one of his own employees, who had planned to fly from Vancouver to Disneyland this week, was having trouble convincing her friend to come along.
"I think in the short term, yes, this will have an effect," Mr. Renshaw said. "I think people will be thinking about cancelling."
In Vancouver's film industry, there was talk of cancellations as well, this time of projects that might offend viewers, given Tuesday's events.
Mark DesRochers, director of the British Columbia Film Commission, said he heard Wednesday that producers of one locally shot television series had decided to shelve an episode that would have focused on a terrorist incident.
"I am not too sure of any long-term impact [on the B.C. industry], but I would imagine on a general theme that the content of some shows would change," Mr. DesRochers said.
Back at Caldwell Securities, Mr. Caldwell said his staff is just trying to digest Tuesday's events and are thankful that their colleagues in New York were safe.
"It's a very, very difficult situation," he said.
With files from reporters Marina Strauss and Greg Keenan