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So long, and thanks for all the fish

Saying goodbye after two decades at Canadian HR Reporter
Thomson Reuters on Kennedy Road in Scarborough
I've been commuting to this office in northeast Toronto since 1998. The drive, I won't miss. The people? Very much. Photo: Jason Zhang

By Todd Humber

When people ask me why I’ve stayed with Thomson Reuters for so long, I think back to the morning of Aug. 5, 2014.

I was sitting in my office, sifting through the morning headlines as I’m apt to do. There was a soft rap on my door. When I looked up, I saw Don Van Meer, the president and CEO of Thomson Reuters Canada.

“Do you have a minute?”

When the president of your company asks that, you always say yes. I nodded. He walked in, shut my door and sat down. In his right hand he had a folded copy of Canadian HR Reporter, opened to the page with my column.

It was titled “In praise of bereavement leave.” It was one of the more difficult articles I’ve ever written, as it was penned on my return following the passing of my mom.

“I’m so sorry. I had no idea she was sick,” he said. We chatted about life, about the relative importance of work and what truly matters.

It was only a few minutes of his day, but it spoke volumes about the culture of my organization. Culture, I have learned, is a fragile beast. It’s an orchid, incredibly picky and difficult to feed. When it blooms, it is amazing. But neglect it, and it inevitably — and quickly — withers and dies.

I was floored that Don took the time to read my column. Good HR was important to him, and that top-down magic is the fertilizer every culture needs. Upon reading the last word, he stopped what he was doing and made a beeline for my office. It meant a lot.

Time to say goodbye

This is my last column for Canadian HR Reporter. That is a hard sentence to type. I’ve spent more than 20 years of my life commuting to this building. I was a fresh-faced 26-year-old when I first darkened the doors, and I will walk out for the last time on April 12 with a grey hair or two (maybe three) poking out.

Thomson Reuters announced on April 1 it had sold its Media Solutions Canada business to HAB Press, a subsidiary of Key Media. That includes Canadian HR Reporter, Canadian Occupational Safety and a list of legal titles like Canadian Lawyer and Law Times.

While all the staff here were offered positions with the new company, I declined. I am incredibly proud of the work I have done here since 1998, and this felt like a good time to move on and open a new chapter in my life. It is equal parts exciting and terrifying.

I have had the privilege of working with some incredible professionals over the last two decades, some of the brightest people anyone could ever hope to meet. It would be impossible to list them all, but if you’ll indulge me I’d like to mention a few.

The people

Karen Lorimer comes first and foremost. No offense to my next employer, but it will be tough to rip the moniker of “best boss I ever had” from her. She was a true mentor, both formally and informally. When I made the leap from managing editor to publisher, I was outside my comfort zone.

She gave me the space to make mistakes, the coaching to correct them and the advice I needed to help grow the business. In an era of shrinking media, that was no small feat. She was a perfect combination of firm but friendly, and nobody knows the publishing industry better. Our friendship will continue.

John Hobel was not only my boss for a good chunk of my career, but he was also a buddy. An avid and talented guitarist, we spent many a night in his basement studio with me playing a passable piano. He coached me from being a writer to taking on a leadership role with direct reports. He passed in 2016 and left big shoes to fill. I miss him.

I get the most joy from watching my own team, the people I had the privilege of hiring, grow and excel as journalists and professionals.

Amanda Silliker, editor of Canadian Occupational Safety, is a superstar. It has been fun to witness her evolution from a junior writer to a true editor who has taken ownership of her publication.

Sarah Dobson has guided Canadian HR Reporter with her steady, unflappable hand. She’s my everyday reality check. She would always tweak a word or two in my column and, frustratingly, make it better in the process.

Jeffrey R. Smith and I started on the same day at Thomson Reuters in 1998. He has grown into one of Canada’s foremost experts on employment law and tackled new products and projects with enthusiastic competence. Perhaps most importantly, though, he introduced me to good beer. I used to hate beer but, as is Jeff’s way, he said “You just haven’t tried the right one yet.” He fixed that on a winter’s night at the Bier Market on Esplanade in downtown Toronto with a cold and frosty Hoegaarden. It was a revelation.

Paul Burton, sales manager, is the newest addition to our ranks. We did the conference circuit together, travelling to New Orleans, Chicago, Houston and other cities in recent years. He was the Yin to my Yang, and I’ll never forget the nights we spent sitting and chatting on San Antonio’s Riverwalk, melting in the 40C heat, following a long day of working a tradeshow.

But there are so many others. Angela Scappatura, Shannon Klie, Asha Tomlinson, David Brown, Lesley Young, Mina Patel, Pamela Menezes, Bill Hunter, Lynda Fenton, Kim Pascoe, Steffanie Munroe, Stephen Hill, Dave Escuardo, Jill Grove, Jean Cumming, Lisa Drummond, Rob Symes, Marcel Vander Wier, John Dujay, Gord Sova, Brian Kreissl, Bill Naskos, Doug Walden, Ben Wentzell, Annie Chong, Derry McDonell, Grant Daly, Jamie Watt, Wayne Parro, Joseph Galea, Tim Wilbur, Gail Cohen, Alexia Kapralos, Jennifer Brown, Gabe Giroday, Aaron Green, Keith Fulford, Donna Dickson, Jackie Bowman, Peter van Hezewyk, George Pearson. I have fond memories of you all and am a much better person for knowing you.

I’d be remiss not to mention Kathy Liotta, who evolved from a pesky and mildly irritating sales rep (10 good ideas a day, every day) to a great friend and now to a partner. I look forward to what our future brings.

Thank you

It’s impossible to sum up 20 years in a thousand words. But I just want to say thanks.

Thank you to the readers. You’re the reason why we exist. It is my hope you learned something to make your workplaces and your careers better in the pages of our publications.

Thank you to our partners. The advertisers and sponsors that support our work have been fantastic, and many of you have become close friends. The fact my Thomson Reuters email address doesn’t work anymore changes nothing. I look forward to continuing our conversations.

I leave more convinced of the benefits of good HR than ever. There is no more powerful force in any organization than treating employees well. The return on investment is astonishing. On the flip side, bad HR will inevitably destroy any organization.

I will leave on Friday thankful I got to spend so many years with so many great people doing work I loved that also mattered.

I stole the title for this column from John Hobel. He was a massive fan of the Hitchhiker’s Guide to the Galaxy. I had never read it, and was flummoxed by the headline when he handed his very last column in for editing. He lectured me for not reading the series, and promptly lent me his copy.

Uttered by the dolphins on their departure from Earth as it was being demolished to make way for an intergalactic bypass, it remains a favourite way to say goodbye.

So long, and thanks for all the fish.

© Copyright Canadian HR Reporter, HAB Press. All rights reserved.

Todd Humber

Todd Humber is the former publisher and editor-in-chief of Canadian HR Reporter, the national journal of human resource management. Follow him on Twitter @ToddHumber
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