What happens when duty calls?

Steve Brand is changing his job description from owner of Tekrider to Lt. Colonel, as he deploys on a voluntary six-month mission to Sierra Leone in Africa. “The country is in need, and I’ve never had a chance to deploy,” Brand said. “I’m a soldier first, a citizen of Canada second and a business owner third.”
Tekrider, located in Kinmount, Ontario, makes the Tekvest line of snowmobile chest protectors. The company also introduced a line of off-road body protection items last summer. In his absence, Brand’s wife, Nancy Brand, and Tara Lowe, along with a staff of 10 will continue to run the company.
“We’ve had to divide up the duties as best as possible. Nancy is involved with the company on a daily basis. Between Nancy and Tara, the two of them will share the majority of the daily tasks,” Brand said. “It will be business as usual.”
This is Brand’s first deployment in his 33-year military career. “It’s almost like a racer who’s been training to compete for 33 years and has never gone to the starting line,” he said.
While in Sierra Leone, Brand will support a British-led International Military Assistance Training Team, which will train and advise the new Sierra Leonian Army. He said his business skills will come in handy.
“There’s a lot of contact with former rebel groups, so it’s daily negotiation to keep the peace,” he said. “What we’re finding is that the reservists with business acumen are better listeners and negotiators with the belligerent groups, rather than the infantry-qualified reservists. In any kind of peace keeping or peace making, a soldier’s skills are tested quite routinely in negotiation.”
First Mission Accomplished
Before embarking on the mission, Brand made it his mission to visit all his vendors.
“People tend to jump to negative conclusions with these things,” he said. He said many vendors were surprised by his departure, but were also supportive of his decision. “Six months will go rather fast,” he said.
Since his tour is voluntary, Brand did have some choice in timing his leave.
“This is the best period of time for me to take some leave,” he said. “The shows and the marketing are winding down, and that won’t start up again until the spring.”
He’s confident in his staff’s ability to run the company. “Hey, sales may improve while I’m gone. I gave that as a challenge. By the time I get back in June, I’ll know who is needed here the most,” he said.
He’s also counting on being able to keep up, at least somewhat. “I’ll have access to e-mail from time to time. We’re all on satellite communication systems, too.” he said. “It’s certainly easier to do this now than even five years ago.”
Brand also is realistic that his absence will come with some cost. “Our company is in its eighth year, but it’s still a challenging and growing concern with lots of things to do,” he said. “I’m giving up six months of business growth to do this. We’re going to lose some R&D time, and I’m putting certain projects on hold.”
Durability testing will continue throughout the winter, he said, noting that he likes to have up to 50,000 miles on a product before he releases it.
“Then, coming in June and July we will continue to develop and grow the line. Things will not be stagnant for six months. It’s important to note that,” he said. “This has prompted me to be better organized than I usually am.”
And in a larger perspective, Brand feels his mission in Sierra Leone will help his business on a global scale. “We in the recreational products industry have a lot to lose if there’s another attack like the Twin Towers,” he said, noting how the economy took a dive following the incident.
One thing Brand won’t pack is his Tekvest — he’s already been issued his bullet-proof and machete-proof Kevlar vest.
“They could use a tuner-up in the styling and fit department,” he said. “It’s rather square-ish and uncomfortable.”

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