By Ted McIntyre with Bob Schickedanz

It’s been a unique term for OHBA’s current leader

The term “unprecedented times” seems on the tips of everyone’s tongue these days, and so it is for the Ontario Home Builders’ Association and its enduring president, Bob Schickedanz. 

Next month at the annual Meeting of Members, OHBA representatives will weigh the merits of extending the term of the association’s leading man…again. Schickedanz is already the first OHBA president since William Docherty (1976-1978) to hold the post in consecutive years. Nobody’s ever held it for three.

In many respects, though, it was fortuitous to have had Schickedanz, a partner at FarSight Homes, take the wheel of the association in the autumn of 2019. Who better to help steer OHBA through the relentless storm of COVID than a man whose temperament is as serene as a millpond?

But is Schickedanz game for a third term, or is it time to move on?

OHB: How’s business at Farsight Homes?

Bob Schickedanz: “I said to my brother Rick a little over a year ago, in the grips of the pandemic, ‘I don’t think we’re gonna sell another house this year.’ Boy, was I wrong. 

“We actually didn’t have a lot going on pre-pandemic. We had one smaller project in a community called Beeton. It’s now sold out, so we’re building those units, battling the challenge of getting materials to complete the homes. One thing COVID has shown us is how vulnerable our supply chain has become. We take it for granted, but when it gets disrupted, all hell breaks loose. You can’t find stuff, and when you do, it’s ultra-expensive. I’m curious when the dust will settle and if there will be less volatility.”

So is it worth stocking up?

“I’ve heard of distributors and larger general contractors anticipating what their workload will be and, if they have the space and resources, stockpiling materials to eliminate bottlenecks and keep the machine running. And I’ve heard of smaller builders, knowing they need things but not right away, getting them while they can.”

Tell me the positives during your presidential tenure.

“A highlight was how our association and industry pulled together to find a solution to the circumstances we found ourselves in after COVID hit—to complete homes for people, many of whom had nowhere else to go after being contractually obligated to move after selling their own homes. And helping the Ontario Ministry of Labour develop health and safety protocols. We kept adding pieces and communicating with locals. Another positive was, looking back 18 months later, how our whole sector had a very low infection rate—a testament to the efforts by members in dealing with work in a COVID environment.”

Is the worst part of your tenure not getting to interact face to face?

“It’s definitely been a low point. I take great pleasure meeting members from across the province. When I began my tenure in September 2019, I hit the ground running and visited a fair number of locals and engaged in various meetings and awards nights. It was terrific! And then the door slammed on us. And the focus became Zoom and Team meetings and figuring out how to navigate through this.”

And then a second term was foisted upon you.

“Yes, but I was not only willing and pleased to do it, I consider it a great honour. We also still have a family business to run, but my brother and nephews have picked up a lot of the slack.”

Has it been hard to delegate that responsibility?

“You can kind of do it remotely, but it’s not the same as huddling together as a team and strategizing.”

So what happens if you’re offered a third term?

“They’ve asked if I’d be willing to do it, and my response has been that I’d be again honoured, provided the membership and board agree to it. My term has been unusual to say the least, but there are others in the heirarchy who have been working diligently in support, and when I step aside it’s their turn to take the role of president. I don’t want to be viewed as an impediment to that.”

And If someone else takes over, they’ll be missing that gala recognition.

“It’s not just important for the membership to recognize the incoming president, it’s the fact that we’re all kind of rooted in the same base of entrepreneurial companies that work really hard. So it’s also an opportunity to celebrate with your family, employees, trades and suppliers. It’s all part of the journey. So if you take that off the table, and walk in with just a whisper, it doesn’t do the role justice.

“And another thing with my trusted First V.P. Louie Zagordo is that, because of the lack of travel and meetings, he hasn’t had the benefit to acclimatize to the role—seeing what’s going on and being mentored as I was by Rick Martins and others before me have been. I can’t even remember the last time I saw Louie face to face. Taking those pieces away makes it a bit more difficult to take on the role.”

You had another companion shadowing you at your early meetings—somewhat shorter than Louie.

“Yes, at Christmas of 2019, my family gave me a leather-clad stuffed elephant—probably a foot high and 16 inches long. When I was assuming my role, the OHBA narrative was ‘the elephant in the room’—regarding the need to build a million homes in 10 years. I took the elephant to meetings when I travelled, collecting as many signatures on it as I could from our local executive officers, presidents, industry leaders, MPPs, cabinet ministers. We had a great run from Christmas to March, until COVID shut things down. I still haul him out for a Zoom meeting once in a while. I look forward to taking him back on the road soon.

“My last face-to-face meeting was in Ottawa in early March. Days before that I was involved in a skiing mishap—I got hit from behind, which separated my shoulder. A couple surgeries during COVID time, but no big deal compared to what others have had to endure.”

Do you know anyone seriously affected by COVID-19?

“Nobody close to me, but I heard from a broader circle of folks who had family members who were infected, ranging from mild flu-like symptoms to month-long hospitalizations with continued after-effects. Just a stark reminder that we all share the responsibility to keep our family, friends, neighbours and communities safe.”

What have you gotten better at during this extended presidential role?

“I’ve never been a great stand-up-in-front-of-the-crowd sort of speaker. I wouldn’t say I’m quite comfortable with it today either, but I think I’m getting a little better at it.

“And I’m getting better at Zoom meetings—I’ve learned to unmute myself. That seems to come up with someone in every meeting.”

One advantage of the pandemic has been more family time than you were expecting with the job.

“I’ve always done a fair amount of travel, since our projects are spread out over Simcoe County and Durham Region. So there have been no council and committee meetings. Sometimes I’ll get, ‘What are you doing home so early?’ The time spent on the Board as Second V.P. and First V.P. was, in some respects, a greater constraint on time than the past 12 months have been.” 

So how was your wife Claritta when you told her about a possible third term?

“I haven’t actually talked much about the third term. I guess I’d better!”

 

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