by Stephen Dafoe
On Dec. 13, Morinville resident Roland Blackburn will lay down his tools after more than four decades as an electrician. Blackburn started his company Jet Electric in 1989 and has decided to retire after 30 years, putting the business up for sale.
“Officially, it’s Dec. 13, but there is still going to be work lingering until the end of January,” Blackburn said, adding he stopped booking new work in November of this year in preparation for his retirement. “It’s not something that was spontaneous because it takes a lot of planning to get to the point where you can do this. It’s been a long time coming. It’s been over the past year that we decided what the date’s going to be.”
Blackburn, who turns 60 next May, has long known that he did not want to work in the trade he has loved for 40 plus years after the age of 60.
“It’s hard work. A lot of guys do it for 10 or 15 years, and then they move on to something else,” Blackburn said. “I’ve done it for 41 years. It is just something that affects your body.”
Wife Lorraine Blackburn knows what hard work the trade and running a business has been but said her husband took extra efforts where the family was concerned.
“He’s put in countless hours. Worked weekends and nights and stuff, but he never missed a dance recital, never missed a baseball game,” Lorraine Blackburn said. “He worked so hard in the winter. It’s not easy to work outside in the winter. He worked really, really hard for us.”
PLENTY OF PLANS FOR RETIREMENT
Now that retirement is on the horizon, Blackburn’s time will not be spent sitting on his back deck, watching the flowers grow. Blackburn has several things he wants to accomplish with the added time he is soon to have.
“I’ve got plans. I’m still young enough, and that’s another reason I want to do it [retire] now because I’m still young enough to do things I’ve always wanted to do. These are not things I want to do for a long time, but I want to do them so that when I get to be an older guy, I can look back and say to my grandkids, ‘Yeah. I did this, and I did that.'”
About five years ago, Blackburn got his Class 1 licence and had been driving a motorcoach in his spare time, including driving the Jets on road games from time to time as well as taking seniors on trips.
“I find that it’s a nice activity to do when I’m retired because it’s fun. You get to meet people. You go to hockey games. I’ve driven busloads of seniors to plays.”
Blackburn has also been driving truck part-time, hauling milk in for Ray Meunier. It is something he’d also like to continue in retirement a few times each month.
“That’s what I think is important. In the last few years, [I’ve been] learning what retirement’s all about,” Blackburn said. “It’s not about sitting on your deck and reading a book all day.”
One day after driving, Blackburn spoke to another motorcoach driver who had taken a couple of seminars on the what-to-do-with-yourself side of preparing for retirement.
“He said, ‘I’ll tell you what they told me: If you don’t have something to do in your retirement when you’re receiving a pension, you’ll be dead in 17 paycheques.'” Blackburn recalled. “I knew that I’m not the kind of guy that’s going to be able to sit on my deck and watch the grass grow.”
Over the past 30 years in business and 40 plus as an electrician, Blackburn’s daily routine has involved meeting people. It is something he wants to continue in retirement.
A pilot of 31 years, and a commercial pilot for 20 years, Blackburn will spend a good deal of retirement time in the air.
“I’ve never really followed through because I live here, I work here, and my family is here,” he said. “It didn’t really make sense for me to get up, go somewhere to go fly a plane.”
Over the past couple of years, Blackburn has been upgrading his training and achieved a floatplane rating. Through networking, he has made connections that could allow him to spend his summers flying people in and out of Canadian fishing lodges.
“I’m thinking if the stars align, what I’d really like to do – not for a long time, but just so I can tell my grandkids I did it – is go do some float flying for a fishing lodge somewhere. It combines what I like to do: flying and meeting people from all walks of life. It’s all going to be about having fun and fishing. Fish stories and telling tall tales. It’s doing something you are passionate about.”
BUSINESS COULD CARRY ON
Although Blackburn will be wrapping up work Dec. 13, finishing booked jobs through January, he is hoping another electrician might like to carry on the Jet Electric name and reputation.
“Jet Electric—we’ve built it and reputation-wise, I think most people would say it’s solid [in reputation and integrity]. It’s a perfect opportunity for any person that’s motivated to succeed. You have to be willing to work.”
GRATEFUL FOR HIS TEAM AND THEIR SUPPORT
Although Blackburn has been the face behind the company for 30 years, he realizes many people who have worked with him over the years have contributed to the success.
“There’s a lot of former employees. In this business, being a mom and pop shop, employees come and go because, in our business, the work comes and goes,” Blackburn said. “There are better opportunities than we can offer for a lot of these guys. If there was a young man or woman out there who wanted to get into the trade and wanted to learn and wanted to have the opportunity to get started—I think that is the part I played. I was there to help them get started.”
Blackburn went on to say he felt lucky that many of the employees stayed longer than he thought they would. “I’ve had the pleasure of working with a lot of really great young men and women,” he said. “They’ve all gone on to be successful in the trade and in other areas.”
His longest-serving employee, Mike Macintyre, has been with him 13 years, joining the company right out of high school. “He pretty much epitomizes to me what a good employee is,” Blackburn said. “Always comes to work, works his tail off. He really listens to what I’m saying and respects what I’m saying, and understands the business side.”
Blackburn also credits the many people who have taken care of the business side in the office with billing and other essential work to keep the trucks and supplies moving.
“I’ve had good ladies in the office taking the pressure off me so I can concentrate on my expertise,” Blackburn said.
The electrician and business owner is grateful for having the right staff at his side over the years. He is also appreciative of the many long-time customers he has had the opportunity to work for over the past three decades. Some of those builders have retired like he is planning to do, others are still in operation.
Looking back over the past 30 years in business and 40 plus working in the trade, he has much to be grateful for.
“You wake up one day, and you’re at this position, and you look back and go, ‘Holy, Man. That was a ride. You remember the good things, but you also remember the things that were tough. It boils down to people. Good people. That’s what gets you through, and that’s what gets you up and going every day.”