When I was a student, this computer at Waterloo University was the second most powerful one in Canada. It had one megabyte of memory. (Photo from the Internet)

At Blackwood Hodge I wrote programs in RPG using this form. But sometimes bored, I drew on the back (mouse over).

Million Dollar Error

Between semesters, while attending the University of Waterloo, I worked at jobs arranged by the university. In the fall of 1970, one such job was in Toronto for a company called Blackwood Hodge. Blackwood Hodge sold Terex earthmoving equipment, gigantic and expensive machines such as bulldozers and dump trucks.

My job was to write programs in RPG, a business language, but in fact I was given few programming jobs. Instead, my prime responsibility was to prepare and mail computer printouts, a lengthy process at that time. Dot-matrix printers produced pages in long streams on perforated paper. Usually the printouts comprised of multi-ply computer paper with carbon paper, so that I had to decollate the printouts, using a machine that removed the carbon paper. Then I “burst” the paper, running the printouts through another machine that pulled apart the pages. After assembling the printouts, I usually mailed a copy to other companies, including sister companies in Quebec and the Maritimes. We referred to the three companies as Blackwood Hodge Ontario, Blackwood Hodge Quebec and Blackwood Hodge Maritimes.

One day I mistakingly sent a price list to the wrong company. I had prepared a price list for Blackwood Hodge Maritimes and was suppose to send it to them, but I mistakenly mailed it to Blackwood Hodge Quebec. At the time, Quebec was about to purchase earthmoving equipment from us, Blackwood Hodge Ontario. But when Quebec learned that the equipment could be bought cheaper from the Maritimes (after seeing the Maritimes price list which they shouldn't have received), Quebec cancelled the deal with us and instead arranged to purchase the equipment from the Maritimes.

I learned the details of my mistake when I was directed to see Mr. Mundy, the president of Blackwood Hodge Ontario. I had only heard his name mentioned but had never seen him. I was just a minion in a huge company and never associated with anyone above a supervisor, let alone a stratospheric CEO. I was in big trouble.

I was quaking in my shoes when I entered Mr. Mundy's office. It was huge, the largest office I've ever been in. I nervously crossed the twenty feet of expensive carpet from his door to his desk. Behind an enormous desk, the president cut an imposing figure in an expensive suit, his face impassive as granite. Clearly he was unhappy as he explained the consequences of my blunder: our company lost a contract worth a million dollars ($5 million today after adjusting for inflation). I expected to be fired but after rebuking me, Mr. Mundy only dismissed me from his office. I was allowed to finish my work term with Blackwood Hodge. I haven't made any noteworthy workplace errors since then, and certainly none so costly.

Return to biography