Wider Horizons

Part of my own personal mandate for doing this blog is to feature Lethbridge people who I think have interesting stories to tell. Tony DimnikThey don’t necessarily have to have climbed Mount Everest or saved someone from a burning car wreck. For me I’m intrigued by just hearing what a person’s journey through life has been. We all go through ups and downs, career changes and paradigm shifts. (Oh how I learned to hate the phrase paradigm shift.) I think we are often defined by how we deal with turmoil. How do you turn a negative into a positive? What kind of chances are you willing to take? Is a nudist camp the right choice?

I first met Tony Dimnik when I took Radio Arts at the college back in 1973. It’s safe to say he was a bit of a rebel back then and had some strong opinions. For example, he hated the fact that students were allowed to smoke in classrooms. So he decided to take an aerosol air freshener can to school and he would spray it in the smokers’ general direction when they lit up.

Tony would go on to work in radio and TV but when the money just wasn’t there (who knew there’d be no money in media?) he decided to do something about it. He went back to school and eventually earned his PhD in Accounting. He most recently taught at the prestigious Queen’s University in Kingston and has since retired.

I’m happy to say that I’ve stayed in touch with Tony all these years and I list him as one of my Top 5 most influential people in my life which is probably why he agreed to answer the questions I gave to him. If I said Top 10, I don’t think he wouldn’t have done the interview. And I think he’s got a great story to tell.

Correct me if I’m wrong but you were about one course short of getting a university degree when you changed gears, (gears that would often change during your career) and enrolled at Lethbridge College in Radio Arts. What made you decide to go that route?

After I graduated from Catholic Central in Lethbridge, I got a major scholarship to study physics at the University of Alberta. I had just turned 17 and it was my first time away from home. I had such a good time in my first year that I thought it better not to go back to Edmonton so I returned to Lethbridge to study English and Philosophy at the U of L. I started writing for the student newspaper, got involved in student politics, was the student rep on the university Board when we moved over to the other side of the river, and ran for city council. I continued to have a good time but eventually became disillusioned with university education. I dropped out only one course short of my degree. I wanted to make a statement. Then I went to work laying sewer pipe in Coaldale and earned enough money to travel to Europe for a few months. When I returned to Canada I still felt the same way about university so I decided to do something more practical and become a media personality. I wanted to follow in the footsteps of Bill Matheson who was my media idol. Before he moved to the big time in New York and Edmonton, Bill had a radio talk show and did television weather in Lethbridge.

Did you enjoy the college experience versus university?

I was older than most of the other students and so didn’t really fit in with the college social scene. But I really enjoyed the other students in radio arts and journalism. I still remember doing projects with the young, brilliant, and already short, Mark Campbell. We did a radio program comparing abortion to the killing of baby seals, complete with baby seal sound effects. And we did an exposé on how much ketchup was wasted by using individual ketchup packets. I felt very lucky to study with great teachers like Ian Mandin who ran the radio arts program and was a wonderful person.

College education was much more focused than university. Everything was designed to get you ready to work in radio. In comparison, university seemed aimless. The pace of studies was also faster in college. Almost everyone in radio arts had jobs before they finished the two-year program and indeed most of the students didn’t bother graduating because they were already working. I myself had to finish my studies while I was working. After not finishing university, I wanted to make sure that I got my college diploma.

What was your first radio job?

I got a job as the morning DJ at CKBR in Brooks. It was a small station so I did a lot of different things including writing commercials and reading the news. I was Tony Wade, country and western DJ in the morning, and sometimes I was Luke Walker with the afternoon news. I used different voices for Wade and Walker.

We would often go off the air when lightening hit our antenna. Our engineer would not reset the equipment until the skies completely cleared because he was once hit by lightning. When I woke up at 5 a.m. to go to work and there was a thunderstorm, I knew there was a good chance I would be able to go back to bed. We had lots of characters working at the station. Our manager had gone fishing in Mexico and brought back a marlin which he had mounted on the wall. Every time our engineer passed by the fish, he would look at it, shake his head and mutter: “Fish on the wall.” Every time.

Les Philpott was our old school newsman. I still remember one of his teasers: “Some dumb bunny stuck a cat in mailbox in Duchess….details at 9:00.”

CKBR was owned by Dinosaur Broadcasting in Drumheller. After a short time in Brooks, I moved to another Dinosaur station, CKKR, in Rosetown, Saskatchewan. During my time there I had a chance to work in all aspects of radio: writing and producing commercials, DJing, reading news and sports. I ended up being the production manager responsible for all on-air activities and then went into sales. I sold radio time in Saskatoon. Selling radio commercials is a tough job because you are dealing with an intangible product. Even tougher when your clients can’t hear their commercials. The CKKR signal didn’t reach Saskatoon so I had to convince clients that ads that they couldn’t hear would actually generate business when the rural audience travelled to the city.

One of the highlights of my time at CKKR was serving as emcee for big name country and western acts in Saskatoon. I hosted concerts with people like Merle Haggard, Loretta Lynn and the Statler Brothers.

There wasn’t much money in radio those days, and even less today, so after a few years I decided to take my media training and talent in another direction. I got a job in Regina as an information officer with the Saskatchewan Government. I only worked in government for one year. I really wasn’t suited for the job because I didn’t know how to keep my opinions to myself. I could see that if I didn’t quit soon I would be fired.

And that’s when I made a “Hail Mary Pass.” I use that term a lot but some people don’t know what it means. When a football team is losing and it’s the last play of the game, a quarterback will sometimes throw a pass deep into the end zone and pray that someone from his team will catch the ball. A Hail Mary Pass is what you do when you have nothing to lose. It’s a long shot, but it may be the only shot that you have to win.

You made a transition into TV in Regina and did weather there. Talk about that gig.

Let me paint a picture of how badly I was losing. I was working for the provincial government and expecting to get fired any day. I had applied for several jobs and got turned down everywhere. My wife, Judith, had broken her leg tobogganing and had returned to Lethbridge to heal. We were in the midst of one of the worst winters in Regina – we went through blizzard after blizzard and -30 temperatures. Struggling through the snowbanks one night, I lost my wallet. That night I decided that I had enough. I went back to my original objective when I went to the college. I wanted to be like Bill Matheson. Next day I called the local CTV station, CKCK, and asked if I could apply for a job as TV weatherman. The news director, Frank Flagel, was bemused by my call. “It so happens that we’re looking for someone to do the weather, and you can come out for an interview, but you should know that we’re looking for a woman.” When I went out to the TV station, they videotaped a sample weather presentation, and a few weeks later Frank called and said I had the job. Frank was a lot like Ian Mandin – a good person both professionally and personally.

Life was good as a TV weatherman. Everyone in Regina knew me and most people liked me.

In the afternoons, I selected the videos from our national news feed and then directed the supper newscast. And then I did the late night weather. Weather is really important in Saskatchewan and I did my best to have as accurate forecasts as possible. After the supper newscast I would drive out to the airport to pick up the latest weather satellite photos which came in on wet faxes. They had photos that were actually printed as photographs and I would draw an outline of Saskatchewan on them and use them in my presentation. I think I was one of the first people to use satellite photos on TV. I also added some educational weather facts to my presentations, talked about my personal life (we were expecting our first child), and told jokes. I watched the video of every one of my weather presentations and looked for ways to improve what I was doing.

But I still wasn’t making much money and so I approached the manager of CKCK Radio and suggested I do a talk-show. The radio people offered me more money to host “The Action Line,” but insisted that I would have to leave television. I never understood their logic. There are lots of cross-promotional benefits in working in both media. But there was some animosity between the radio and TV management and in the end I agreed to focus on radio and only work in TV as a back-up weatherman.

Do you care to talk about how you got fired there?

I ended up being fired from both radio and TV. In both cases it was for not being able to censor myself.

Terry Fox was in the midst of his run across Canada when there was talk of a movie being made of his heroic effort. A lot of actors were said to be interested in playing Terry and at the end of one of my fill-in weather forecasts, I commented that a lot of actors would give their right leg to get the part. You could say that I was pushing the boundaries or just that it was a stupid thing to say. In any case, Frank told me I shouldn’t had said what I did and stopped calling me to fill in on the weather.

The firing from the radio station was because of “personality conflicts.” One Christmas I played Santa Claus at the radio station Christmas party and I had the station manager sit on my lap and pointed out all the naughty things he had done that year. He didn’t appreciate that. Shortly afterwards I had a meeting with the production manager who insisted that I should do more Jerry Springer type shows. I wanted to do educational shows – one of my favourite topics was home insulation. Hey, it was Regina! The production manager asked me what I wanted to achieve in life and I said “Happiness.” He said that was weird. I replied that he was an uneducated idiot. I was fired shortly afterwards.

Was there a pivotal moment in your radio/TV career where you said, this isn’t working, I’ve gotta find another way?

Being fired gave me two insights. One was that on-air people had very little power in radio and TV. There was always somebody knocking on the door willing to do what you did for less money. You didn’t own your “means of production.” Two was that I needed to work in a place where I could talk back to the boss and not get fired.

With those two insights my wife and I sat down one cold winter evening and did a 10-year plan. We listed all the things we wanted to do in the next 10 years and used a pair-wise comparison tool to prioritize our list. By the way, years later I taught an MBA course at the Rotterdam School of Management and when I told the students about the tool I had to use they put it on Excel. I’ll give you a copy.

Anyway, number one on our list of things to do in the next 10 years was to get out of Regina. We loved the city and the people but hated the cold.

Further down on the list was my ambition to get a university degree and to become a professor, discipline left unstated. I remembered what a professor had told me many years ago: being a university professor is one job where you can tell your boss to go $%#@ himself or herself in the morning and still have a job in the afternoon. That would work for me.

Why choose to get into accounting?

Accounting was the first course I took at the University of Regina, when I went back to school. I took an accounting course because everywhere I had worked I saw that accountants were making major decisions because managers didn’t know the numbers.

I was also curious how the accountants were able to turn big increases in revenues into losses at CKCK. We expected salary increases when we had good years at the TV and radio stations. One year we had record-breaking sales and I expected to get a raise which I spent in advance to renovate the bathroom. However, thanks to the magic of accrual accounting, at the end of the year there were no profits and no salary increases. How could this be?

So I took an accounting course, found that it was interesting and that I was good at it and ended up taking all the accounting courses available at the University of Regina and graduating magna cum laude with an undergraduate degree in business administration.

Did you know that when you decided to go back to university that you wouldn’t stop until you got your doctorate?

I did my research and found that there was a shortage of PhDs in accounting and lots of offers for every graduate. Since I wanted to be a professor, it made sense to be an accounting professor.

There were few opportunities for me as a practicing accountant. I was too old and too outspoken to be a CA.

So another Hail Mary Pass. On the advice of Murray Hutchings, the business school dean and another kind and capable person, I applied to the PhD Program at the Ivey School of Business, at Western University in London, Ont. I spent weeks preparing my application and weeks practicing for the GMAT exam. As I recall there were about 200 applicants for the PhD program and I was one of a dozen people accepted.

What was that feeling like the day you became DOCTOR Dimnik?

It was almost seven years from the time I took my first accounting course to the time I got my PhD. My wife, Judith McDonnell, was also working at her university education. We had two children. We sold our house, we sold our car and we borrowed money when rates were in the high teens. My media colleagues questioned my sanity: a television weatherman and talk-show host getting a PhD in accounting? Eight years of school? No way!

So on the day I got my degree, I not only felt good, I felt vindicated. And I learned that as long as you have a basic intellectual, physical and emotional foundation, you can achieve “impossible” goals if you focus and work hard and smart.

You did theatre over the years. Is it safe to say that teaching is very much like being on the stage?

Absolutely. Teaching has aspects of theatre, improv, and busking. This is especially true of executive education where you teach older, high performing managers. I often refer to executive education as edutainment.

Is it possible to make accounting sexy?

Do you have to ask? Try saying calculate or bottom line or rounding error or internal audit without thinking of sex. Oh yeah….accounting is very sexy.

You’ve had great opportunities teaching all over the world. What were some of your favorite places?

I’ve worked with dozens of international companies over the years. Here are some of my favourite places: Brisbane and Perth in Australia, Paris and Grenoble in France, Newcastle in England, and Zurich in Switzerland. I also taught at schools in Rotterdam, Lahore, Kranj (Slovenia) and Herstmonceux (England). And I’ve travelled across Canada for both academic and business purposes many times. The accounting PhD made all this possible.

You love to put comedy into your presentations. So, you’re saying accountants have a sense of humor?

Do you have to ask? Try saying calculate or bottom line or rounding error or internal audit without laughing. Oh yeah….accounting is very funny.

Changing careers and having a family at the same time can be stressful. Talk about how you were able to do that?

We’ve concluded that decisive change and short-term pain is better than indecision and lingering pain. If things aren’t working out, try to improve the situation and if your attempted improvements don’t work, then make a major change. We’ve acted on that principle in many other situations.

I often use the example of toilet training to make this point. When it was time for our children to be toilet trained we did some research and found a best-selling book that showed how to toilet train you child in 24 hours. The book outlined a method that required a parent to spend the entire day with the child and a potty. The method worked. Sacrifice one day and you can end the hassle of diapers. When we told our friends about the book, most of them said that they were too busy to spend an entire day toilet training. So they lived with diapers for another year or so. One day of “training pain” to relieve one year of “diaper pain.” You do the math.

Looking back at the way it all played out for you, would you change anything?

If I knew about business education and executive education earlier, I would have gone for my PhD earlier. But then I would have missed some of the fun of a media career.

You love the theatre. What are your top 5 favorite theatre experiences?

In terms of my own involvement in theatre, my favourite roles were Applegate (The Devil) in Damn Yankees, Bellomy in the Fantastics, and a lead character in A Thurber Carnival. The last two productions were done in College. I can still sing Plant a Radish from the Fantastics. That’s a duet I sang with the brilliant musical theatre star, Mark Campbell.

In terms of attending theatre, two performances stand out: Chitty, Chitty Bang and Our House. My son and I saw both musicals in London, England. The performances and the staging were amazing.

If you were giving advice to anyone about changing careers, what you would say to them?

Set aside some time to think about what you want to do and what you’re good at. Do some research on the opportunities that are available to you. Talk to people who are doing what you want to do. Ask for help. Then make a plan and commit to it.

Over the years I’ve counselled many students and former students in planning their careers. I give them four pointers:

 


  1. Dream. As they sing in the song Happy Talk from South Pacific, “You’ve got to have a dream, cause if you have no dream, how you gonna make your dream come true?”

  2. Tell people about your dream. People can’t help you if they don’t know how they can help you.

  3. Take shortcuts. It’s good to commit to a plan but when you see a shortcut, take it. For example, I always thought you had to get a Master’s degree before you can get a PhD. So after I graduated from the University of Regina, I applied and was accepted into the Masters of Accounting program at the University of Saskatchewan. I had come back to the University of Regina to pick up some stuff when I bumped into Murray Hutchings. When I told him my plans he suggested I apply to the PhD program at the Ivey School of Business. Their program combined Masters and PhD studies. Going the Ivey route saved us the trouble of moving our family from Regina to Saskatoon and reduced the time to get my PhD by at least one year.

  4. Be positive. People like to help people who are positive.


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Upon reflection of your whole life, have you developed your own Dimnik philosophy? If you did I’d like to call it Dimnikinism.

I’m sorry but you can’t use Dimnikinism© without permission of the copyright holder. I like your question because it reminds me of how I (and other people I see) end up in ruts. I once saw a cartoon that showed a guy digging a trench. The caption read, “Yes I’m in a rut, but it’s a comfortable rut.”

Is there something you still want to accomplish?

I plan to work at my writing, develop new relationships, have some fun and then die with dignity. The last one I’m not sure about. Our family has a history of prostate cancer and Alzheimer’s. If those things are in my future, I am hoping that I get Alzheimer’s before I get prostate cancer.

Finish this joke: Two accountants walk into a bar. There are two gorgeous ladies in a dark corner sharing a bottle of wine. One accountant looks to the other and says, “Are you thinking what I’m thinking?” The other accountant nods his head and says, ____________________________

“Weren’t those two in our Mother-Daughter swim class?” (The joke being that you assumed both accountants were male and that the gorgeous ladies weren’t mothers. More and more accountants are women and mothers. I know that’s not funny but then what did you expect? Something about double-entry bookkeeping?)

Wider Horizons
Mark Campbell
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