The story of how a lowly door-to-door cable TV salesman became a titan of Caribbean and Latin American cable and wireless operations, soon to be worth US$6 billion, is a tale that properly belongs in a mini-series about a latterday Horatio Alger. But there’s nothing fictional about Brendan Paddick’s extraordinary achievement.
Act I The god of yellow slips
The scene opens to reveal our young hero standing valiantly at the crossroads of two lanes in Southern Harbour, rural Newfoundland and Labrador. He pulls his muffler close to his neck, checks his order papers, and trudges off in the direction of what he can only hope is opportunity.
It’s snowing (no, strike that, it’s raining — hard) and 22-year old Brendan Paddick, fresh from completing his commerce degree at Memorial University of Newfoundland, arrives at the first door, sodden and cold but unbowed. “G’day, ma’am,” he begins, careful not to kick the poodle that’s suddenly chewing on the only dress cuffs he owns (or, maybe it’s a kitten crawling up his inseam). “I’m wondering if I could interest you in a new service from N1 Cable TV.”
Intrigued, the homemaker offers him a cup of tea and a lassie bun as he continues to gently press his case, insisting that people like her — outport folk whose only TV choices in the mid-1980s are the CBC and if they are lucky, NTV, the then provincial CTV affiliate out of St. John’s — not only deserve more and better options; they can now afford them. His hostess smiles warmly and asks to hear more.
The camera pulls back to expose sun-dappled drops of rain lightly falling from a tree’s spring buds. A rainbow suddenly breaks free of the clouds. The voiceover begins…
What Brendan Paddick made in his first year as a door-to-door cable TV salesman
“That was how it started,” a much older Paddick, now 50, recalls. “Coming from Grand Falls, I grew up around places like Southern Harbour — places with only a few hundred people, usually fewer. As a salesman for N1, whose business model was to build a rural cable TV network where there wasn’t one, I knocked on the doors of literally every home in 151 towns. That was thousands and thousands of doors. I know people used to look at me and say, ‘Well, now, there’s Paddick with a business degree no less, going door-to-door, couldn’t find a real job.’ But, you know what? In my first full year of doing that, I made about $150,000. Of course, I kept it very quiet.”
Today, of course, he can’t stop talking — about the hardscrabble road to entrepreneurial success; about the valuable lessons he learned along the way from his Dad (an elementary school principal), his mom (a nurse turned stay-at-home housewife), and his wide circle of solicitous mentors and associates; and, significantly, about the deal that he and his partner, fellow Atlantic business titan John Risley, have just struck to merge their Barbados-based telecommunications company, Columbus International Inc., with the London-based giant Cable & Wireless Communications PLC. The move will almost certainly install a new behemoth in the Caribbean and Latin American marketplaces, where both companies have operated for years, with a capital valuation exceeding US$6 billion and annual revenues topping US$2.5 billion.
The camera pans back to the young door-knocker and his homemaker customer. Remember, he tells her, to stick her yellow copy of the cable work order in the window facing the road. That way, when the technician rolls by later, he’ll know which house he’s supposed to service. After all, he laughs, street numbers in these rural towns can be hard to find.
Paddick’s middle-aged voiceover narrates the scene’s denouement — the effects of which will transform the young version of himself into, arguably, N1’s winningest sales and marketing guy at an impossibly tender age.
“The next thing I knew,” he says, “is I’d have kids stopping me in the street saying, ‘Mom wants one of those yellow things for her window.’ It had nothing to do with cable. It was pure peer pressure. Before I knew it, there was this groundswell. They all wanted yellow slips for their windows.”
Act I ends as dozens of order papers snap dutifully into place along a rural Newfoundland lane and the camera catches a glimpse of a certain cable salesman driving off in the direction of what, he is now sure, is opportunity.