Sid Levine

By John Paul Jarvis

I took over a lens and camera distributor in Montreal in the late ’70s to transform it into a subsidiary of a multinational company with head office in Santa Monica. Sid Levine was the obdurate Operations Manager.

Montreal was morphing into a business backwater after the 1976 election of a separatist government in Quebec. Quebec was forfeiting its intercontinental cachet and the future for foreign ownership was tenuous.

My mission was to revive this sleeper and transform it into the realm of current business practices, of course, profitably.

A tall order, but being young and ambitious I didn’t see any reason why not. The employees presented some ‘challenges’ to use the business vernacular of that era, compounded by the fact that the operation was not computerized. All of the information that should have been resident in a CPU was in Sid Levine’s head. As Operations Manager he had no back up and typed all orders on a vintage 1948 Underwood. Sid was twice my age, the brother in-law of the previous owner and inured in his ways. We were as different as chalk and cheese.

Sid’s desk was festooned with heaps of paper, orders, letters of credit, inventory reports, receiving documents, product allocations, all pertaining to the operation of the company. If you asked him for a specific document he could place his hands on it instantly, but they were just piles of paper to anyone else. I determined quickly the key to the transformation was Mr. Levine.

Sid worked Saturdays and I contacted his wife and had her pack a dummy lunch and invited him to an afternoon Expos game. Sid was so adroit with figures, he could calculate the batting averages for each player while at the plate. Our mutual love of baseball was evident, enjoying a great afternoon with beer and ‘chien chaud’ as hot dogs are referred in Montreal. He kept asking “why are you doing this?” Because it’s Saturday, Sid.

He was anxious about his bonus with the ownership changes and I said, “don’t worry, you’ll get it,” to which he responded, “will you guarantee that”? I did. He reluctantly developed trust.

The company prospered beyond expectation and my plans to move the operation to Toronto came into effect with Sid graciously retiring, with all bonuses paid and recognition as a key employee.

The first year after the move the national sales meeting was at the Four Seasons in Toronto and we minted a new award for the top sales person, the “Sid Levine Award” with Sid’s old Underwood as the trophy.

We flew Sid and his wife in to do the inaugural presentation and he pointed out that “that machine had created more orders than all of the sales team combined.” He was right.





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