NORTH HATLEY DESIGN SERVICES IN MONTREAL AND SAUDI ARABIAN BUSINESSMAN SAAD GABR.
I had made a few good contacts at SNC during my brief time there.
On Friday March 11th, 1983 one of them, Jim Priest, referred me to this company and told me to contact Peter Leinwather. Jim Priest also told me they were recruiting for a project in Saudi Arabia., and gave me the company’s office address as:-
4th Floor, El Saber bulding, corner of Peel Street and de Maisonneuve in Montreal (actually 2024 Peel street).
This company was not in the Association of Consulting Engineers of Canada (A.C.E.C.) directory, 1981 Edition. I had been introduced some months before to the A.C.E.C.’s then-Director of Communications, Royal Galipeau, who very kindly gave me a copy of the A.C.E.C. Directory free of charge to assist me with my job search. A mutual acquaintance had directed me to Mr. Galipeau.
Obviously it makes more sense to deal with well-known companies about which information is readily available, but at the time the whole industry was in a deep slump so there was little choice but to go after whatever you could find.
That same day I phoned Peter Leinwather and arranged an interview with him on Monday March 14th 1983 at 2:00 p.m.
When I arrived, from what I saw of the inside of the building it was dirty, dusty and in need of at least a fresh coat of paint.
Anyway when I met with Peter Leinwather, he told me the firm was working on the design of a new University complex in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia. It was expected to be a 7-year project needing, ultimately, 500-600 people in Jeddah undertaking design reviews, supervising construction, commissioning and so on. This sounded good.
We also discussed my background and resume. At that time I had a 35-page resume, prepared with the help of Lalonde-George Careers Ltd.’s Montreal office – and in particular, their President Geoffrey Lalonde, author of the book 4 minutes to the Job You Want. A 35 page resume might sound out of place now, in 2006 - but back in 1982 and 1983 I actually got about 30 interviews on the strength of it, helped by certain good contacts.
I don’t remember all of Peter Leinwather s comments, though he did think my resume was too long. But what was a cause for concern was his comments concerning what I’d said about a previous employer in the U.K. who was on shaky financial footing due to problems with getting payment from clients for work done, notably the Nigerian National Petroleum Corporation; this U.K. employer also had problems with an Iranian client adding to the scope of work on a project and then blaming my employer on account of so-called excessive costs for engineering design and so on. Leinwather s stance on this was that I should …do (myself) a favour and leave this all out….
This, from my standpoint, meant they wanted yes men, or some such, who could just be manipulated any way they wanted with impunity. The whole thing smelled bad at this point. For this reason, I did not pursue it further. However Peter Leinwather was good enough to give me some contacts in other firms, which I followed up, though these did not lead anywhere.
Then, on August 24th 1983, there were two articles in the Montreal Gazette about a Saudi Arabian businessman named Saad Gabr, titles as follows:-
On January 4th 1984 there was a third article on page A4 of The Gazette about Saad Gabr, headed Worth millions, Gabr s furnishings seized. Picture:-
Extract from Item 1:- (Aug, 24, 1983)
By Rod MacDonell of the Gazette
North Hatley – Saad Gabr, who shocked this sleepy Eastern townships tourist town when he began buying everything in sight a few years ago, has boarded up many of his businesses and borrowed $38 million against all his properties here and elsewhere in Quebec.
Gabr is also being sued in nearby Sherbrooke by three former employees and several building contractors. The suits total more than $500,000.
The mysterious Gabr is currently in Saudi Arabia, said Joseph Cassar, one of his aides. He frequently travels to the Middle East and to the United Kingdom where he has several business interests.
Cassar says his boss is having cash flow difficulties caused by the delay of the second phase of the building of the multibillion-dollar King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia.
A Gabr firm ended work on the first phase of the project last month and Cassar said about 20 technical people remain on the payroll from a staff of about 60 engineers and architects when the initial work was in full swing.
But Cassar insists that Gabr is not going bankrupt and is not contemplating leaving Canada.
The financial constraints of Saudi Arabia because of the oil situation has led them (the Saudis) to be more careful with their money. The second phase is now open to public tender.
Gabr, 60, is a naturalized Canadian who settled in North Hatley 10 years ago. Town records show he owns 37 properties in and around the village including his $2.2 million house nestled in the woods about three kilometres from the village.
Many of his buildings are boarded up and deteriorating. North Hatley residents are upset because his properties are becoming an eyesore.
Even more significant, later on in this same article:-
Ronald Sutherland, a teacher at the University of Sherbrooke, says Gabr’s poor relationship with the community here is based on cultural differences.
He operates under an entirely different code. He hires and fires people as he pleases. He s held out on signing employees cheques out of meanness
So there it is. The multibillion-dollar King Abdulaziz University in Jeddah, Saudi Arabia referred to in this article was the very same project that Peter Leinwather interviewed me for.
No wonder North Hatley Design Services was looking for yes men whom they thought they could just push around as they pleased. And they thought they would get away with it because of the general economic depression in Canada that I was caught up in at the time.
It s a good job I had nothing to do with it.
Jim Priest, my contact at SNC, I believe genuinely thought he was doing me a good turn and had no idea of what was going on behind the scenes.