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"BCE" 2005 Obituary


BCE o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2005-02-14 published
Klaus Dietmar WOERNER, Entrepreneur 1939-2005
The German-born tool-and-die maker with enormous willpower founded ATS, a Kitchener, Ontario, company that is now a global leader in automated manufacturing solutions, Sandra MARTIN writes
By Sandra MARTIN, Monday, February 14, 2005 - Page S6
A precision mechanic who arrived in Canada in 1960 with nothing but his skill, energy and ambition, Klaus WOERNER went on to become the founder of ATS, a specialized designer and supplier of automation systems, that now has 4,000 employees in 26 locations around the world and annual sales of more than $650-million. He was named Canadian Entrepreneur of the Year in 1997.
He wasn't a big man, but he was powerful. When he walked into a room, you could feel the crackle in the air. He could be impatient, and when he got excited his slight German accent became more pronounced, but he was very approachable and he never held a grudge.
"There was no way you could work with Klaus and not be Friends with him," said Ron JUTRAS, who has succeeded Mr. WOERNER as president of ATS. "He was a very good judge of character and he always had time for people. It didn't matter what your role was in the company, he would find a way to include you in social gatherings."
Although he wanted people in the company to bring him solutions, not problems, one of his best skills was problem solving. "He loved rolling up his sleeves and getting into a problem," Mr. JUTRAS said.
"Klaus could walk into a factory and he could see the opportunities to improve it through automation and how he could make a real difference," said Lawrence TAPP, chair of the ATS board, "and he recognized the importance of the trades and apprenticeships, which we really needed from a Canadian perspective."
"He was a business giant," said member of provincial parliament Elizabeth WITMER, former deputy premier of Ontario, "but more important, he was a very compassionate, generous human being who gave a tremendous amount back to his community, never expecting anything in return."
Klaus WOERNER, the youngest of three sons of Karl and Alice (GREMPER,) was born in Tiengen in the Black Forest area of Germany, just after the outbreak of the Second World War. Becoming a toolmaker was his dream but his hometown was too small to have an apprenticeship program. He went first to Waldshut to do an apprenticeship as a watch and clock maker and then to Switzerland to study tool and die making.
After completing a four-year apprenticeship as a precision mechanic at Braun Boverei in Switzerland, he applied for visas to Australia, South Africa and Canada, intending to immigrate to whichever country accepted him first. Canada won and he arrived in Montreal in 1960 with a job waiting for him, or so he thought, in aviation.
He showed up for work and learned his employer had shut down because of the cancellation of the Avro Arrow program the previous February. He spent his first 14 years in Canada working at technical jobs and as a watch and clock maker for jeweller Gabriel Lucas in his celebrated Sherbrooke Street studio. Meanwhile, he finished his high school diploma and then studied industrial engineering at night at Sir George Williams (now Concordia) University in Montreal. Through Friends, he met his wife Anna, then a nursing student at the Royal Victoria Hospital, in the mid-1960s. "He was very charming, very elegant and very ambitious," his widow said this week. They married in Canada's centennial year and moved to Toronto in 1969 because they were worried about the economic and political instability in Quebec.
He worked for Litton Systems, then went full-time to Ryerson Polytechnical Institute (now University) to complete his engineering qualifications before working at the Ford Motor Company's Oakville truck plant, installing assembly lines, and then working as an engineering supervisor at Electrohome Ltd., a television manufacturer, in Kitchener.
When Electrohome decided to wind down its television business, Mr. WOERNER went out on his own and, in 1978, founded Automation Tooling Systems (ATS,) a start-up company in Kitchener building specialized equipment to enable manufacturers to take advantage of new technology.
"The idea of going into industrial automation was really sparked at Ford," Mr. WOERNER told Canadian Business magazine in 1998. "I installed all these automated weld machines and welding robots there. It was really fun work."
From those early days of building specialized machinery for the automotive industry, the company has since designed and built more than 10,000 automation systems for telecommunications, fibre optics, solar energy and other industries.
ATS was always a family business. Mr. WOERNER put a $70,000 second mortgage on his house for cash flow, his wife Anna, who was raising their two children and working part-time as a nurse, put in half-days doing secretarial work. Sales reached $370,000 that first year and grew to $1-million the next. By 1984, the company had $4-million in revenues and was growing so fast that it was consuming cash as quickly as he produced it in sales. The company was profitable, but it needed more working capital than Mr. WOERNER could provide from a line of credit at his local bank. It was the bank which suggested to Mr. WOERNER that a chartered accountant might help him increase his financing capability.
"I came to his office, and the level of activity was mind-boggling," Mr. JUTRAS said. "It was a beehive of activity. There was a tremendous pulse and energy level."
Mr. WOERNER was wearing many different hats and working closely with a bunch of people who were committed to working with him and who shared his vision, according to Mr. JUTRAS. "It was inspiring."
Essentially, Mr. JUTRAS never left. He tested his boss early on to see if he really wanted somebody to help him on the finance side. "I made him spend the money on an ad in The Globe and Mail and when he did it, I said, 'I guess he's serious,' so then I asked him if he would hire me, and he said absolutely and I came to work with him [as Chief Financial Officer] and off we went." That was June of 1985, the year revenues hit $9-million.
"Klaus always wanted to minimize the bureaucracy and to have an environment that was very team oriented and didn't have an ivory tower. I can remember him articulating his vision early on and getting out the white board and mapping out where he wanted to go. It was exciting."
Mr. JUTRAS helped to find outside investment from Aer Lingus, which gave the airline a 75-per-cent controlling interest in ATS. Giving up such a big share of the company was very hard for Mr. WOERNER, but he knew he needed the outside capital. Then in the early 1990s, after having survived downturns in the automotive and computer electronics industries, Aer Lingus was itself struggling as a result of the rising fuel costs brought on by the Persian Gulf war. They wanted to divest themselves of ATS and Mr. WOERNER seized the opportunity to retake control of his company through an employee-management buy-back offer.
A business connection who became a friend is Robert WARREN, a lawyer in the Kitchener office of Miller Thomson. He was brought in by Mr. JUTRAS to help with the first annual meeting after the company went public in 1993, a move that brought in the capital to enable ATS to expand globally. From the beginning, Mr. WARREN was impressed by his client's energy, work ethic and loyalty to his Friends, customers and employees. "He was a horse," Mr. WARREN said. "He was so strong and he lived to work. You always knew where you stood with him and I can't think of a nicer man that I've ever had the pleasure of working with."
Although they didn't know each other at the time, Robert "Bob" FERCHAT worked at Ford doing financial analysis at the same time as Mr. WOERNER was working in the technical area. They met and compared notes in totally different circumstances when Mr. FERCHAT, who has held a number of executive positions at Northern Telecom and BCE Mobile Communications and other firms, was invited to join the board of ATS in 1997.
A self-described fan of Mr. WOERNER, Mr. FERCHAT said he had enormous will power and the energy to back it up and that showed both in the creation of ATS and in his ability to make it survive through the downturns in both the high-tech and automotive industries in the late 1980s and early 1990s. There were no layoffs at ATS during those tough times because Mr. WOERNER insisted on absorbing the costs of keeping his people working. "He was very loyal to his employees," Mr. FERCHAT said, pointing out that the ATS management buyout in 1993 was offered to staff, who responded on a broad level. "He wanted them to share in his wealth and he was frustrated if the stock went down."
"There were no airs about him," said John TIBBITS, president of Conestoga College in Kitchener. "He was very direct so you never had to do a 'song and dance' for him if you wanted something." Describing Mr. WOERNER as one of Conestoga College's best Friends, Mr. TIBBITS said the relationship with ATS began in the late 1980s with co-op programs. "It was symbiotic. As they grew, we grew, too, in a number of areas, a key one being robotics and automation," he said.
Over the years, ATS gave cash, equipment, program advisers, apprenticeship programs, even an engineering building, amounting to an overall gift of at least $10-million since the mid 1990s. And he strong-armed other community leaders to make big donations as well. At least 400 Conestoga graduates work at ATS.
ATS workers and students weren't the only recipients of the WOERNER family's generosity. Six years ago the family gave $5-million to Kitchener's Centre in the Square performing arts theatre. They tried to give the money anonymously but the centre wanted to announce it publicly to help in their fundraising. Nevertheless, they declined an offer to rename the facility in their honour. They also gave money to local hospitals, to the University of Waterloo to establish a laboratory for automated manufacturing research and $100,000 to Ms. WITMER's unsuccessful run against Ernie Eves in 2002 for the leadership of the Ontario Conservative party.
The WOERNERs moved from a house in Kitchener to a 23-hectare farm outside Cambridge in the early 1980s. That's where he practised his serve in highly competitive matches on custom-built tennis courts with his wife and Friends. That's also where, perhaps in an homage to the denuded Black Forest area of his birth, he exercised his green thumb by planting more than 100,000 trees over the years.
Less than a year ago his famous energy flagged and his strength diminished. Faced with a five-week wait for an M.R.I. in Ontario, he went to the U.S. and was diagnosed with small-cell carcinoma. He kept on working, often having chemotherapy in the morning and then heading straight to the office. His only concession to ill health was to work four days a week, staying home on Fridays to recoup his strength.
"If will power could overcome cancer, he would have beaten it," said Mr. FERCHAT, adding that the challenge now is to honour his legacy. "Nobody will be moving into his office or his parking space for a long time."
Klaus Dietmar WOERNER was born in Tiengen, Germany, on October 27, 1939. He died of cancer at home on February 7. He was 65. He is survived by his wife, Anna, two children and three grandchildren. A memorial service was set for today at Centre In The Square, 101 Queen St. N., in Kitchener, Ontario

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BCE o@ca.on.york_county.toronto.globe_and_mail 2005-11-23 published
Dearly loved mother of Douglas, Ted and Sharon, and their spouses, passed away quickly on Wednesday, November 9, 2005 in Toronto. Loving grandmother of Diana (deceased), David, Andrea, Tyler, Gordon and Susan. She contributed much to the corporate sector and her community through her many corporate, provincial and executive volunteer board directorships, including with BCE Inc. and the Ontario Board of Parole, and as Chairman and President of the Young Women's Christian Association Toronto, and Chairman and President of the United Way of Greater Toronto, in addition to her other corporate and volunteer board directorships. Her many contributions were recognized with a Citizenship Award from Toronto in 1977 and a Commemorative Medal for the 125th Anniversary of Canada in 1992 from Governor General Ramon Hnatyshyn. A memorial celebration is being held to honour her life on Monday evening, November 28 in the Victoria Room at the Cambridge Suites Hotel, 15 Richmond Street East, Toronto, starting at 6: 15 p.m. If you wish, a memorial donation may be made to the Young Women's Christian Association Toronto, 80 Woodlawn Ave. East, Toronto, Ontario M4T 1C1, or to a charity of your choice.

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