Fast and Curious: Short Takes on Random Things

It’s toady time!

I confess: I find Anthony Marlowe — CEO of MCI, savior of the Sydney Call Centre — fascinating. So much so that whenever things are slow, or I’m in need of distraction, I tune in to his Twitter stream to see what he’s been getting up to. And what he’s been up to most recently, as in last week, was attending the Republican National Convention (RNC) in North Carolina as one of six delegates from Iowa. Marlowe even got two minutes of C-SPAN fame as he formally cast the Hawkeye State’s 40 delegate votes for  Donald Trump:


I was going to say something snarky about how, given less than two minutes to speak, Marlowe still found time to brag about himself until I realized this was probably the most Trumpian thing a person could do, short of ranting about flush toilets or threatening to bomb North Korea, and imitation IS the sincerest form of flattery:

Mr. President, I’m a CEO and entrepreneur. On Election Night in 2016, I had 400 employees. Today, we have almost 4000 thanks to your explosive economic policies. In short, sir, you’re crushing it.

I wonder what kind of precautions they have to take in the West Wing when they’re detonating economic policies? Also — Marlowe had only 400 employees in 2016? Why did we think he was such a big deal just three years later?

My fascination with Marlowe has only grown post-COVID because he has seemed, for the owner of multiple call centers, blithely untroubled by the virus. He isn’t concerned about physical distancing:

Anthony Marlowe 3 May 2020 tweet

And he attended the RNC in person, traveling there from Iowa City in Johnson County, Iowa — a COVID hotspot, with 4,000 cases as of September 1:

Although it turns out Marlowe does have some concerns about the virus: he told The Daily Iowan in an email that the “timing” of the pandemic was “extremely suspicious” and suggested “an ulterior motive by an adversary remains an open question until experts in the U.S. know more about the coronavirus’ origins and evolution.”

And yet, despite China’s best efforts to disrupt the US election (which I think is what Marlowe is getting at there), he was heading to the convention “as enthusiastic as ever to re-nominate the 45th president of the United States of America,” telling The Daily Iowan:

“I would say that Republicans and our president are absolutely crushing it…And that both from an economic perspective, a law and order perspective, and a [sic] American exceptionalism perspective, that a wide group, all Americans, have a vested interest in not only giving this president and this Vice President, another four years, but retaining the Senate, and giving this president back the House.”

I’m not sure why he felt the need to specify that the “wide group” preparing to give the president another four years is “all Americans,” unless he’s trying to head off a competing conspiracy theory about the Russians supporting Trump but, no, wait…that’s probably exactly why he said that.

I  found myself wondering what a Canadian call center looked like from “a American exceptionalism perspective,” and that, combined with his weird COVID take, made me kind of nervous for his Cape Breton employees, so I emailed Todd Riley, general manager at the Sydney Call Centre, and asked how they were coping with coronavirus.

Riley told me “close to 50-70%” of employees are working from home and the call center has introduced “extreme precautions” for people working in-house — including mandatory mask wearing in all shared spaces. He says the only time workers are not wearing masks is when they are in their own cubicles, sitting six feet apart from each other. He says that while “a lot” of people were on CERB “due to health concerns,” most have returned and are working from home. I’ll never be a fan of call centers, but I did feel somewhat relieved after speaking with Riley, who seems to be taking it seriously.

(If you work at the Sydney Call Centre and would like to confirm or deny any of this, feel free to hit me up with an email.)


OOE Floats Restructuring Plan

Peter Ziobrowski, who watches Halifax harbor the way I just watched that second season of Dirty John on Netflix (read: like it was my job), alerted me to  a bunch of documents related to the restructuring proposal Andrew Prossin’s One Ocean Expeditions (OOE) has filed with the Office of the Superintendent of Bankruptcy in Canada. The documents, which have been posted to the Facebook group “Updates on One Ocean Expeditions,” include, among other things, an itemized list of the company’s assets ($1.07 million) and liabilities ($28.5 million):

They also include the actual proposal, encompassing a plan intended to “minimize the impact of the Company’s insolvency on its customers who prepaid deposits or fares for trips or cancelled voyages” by providing each with a credit equal to the amount of their claim to a maximum of $100,000 to be used to cover up to 50% of the costs of a future voyage.

John Geiger, CEO of the Royal Canadian Geographical Society. CBRM Mayor Cecil Clarke and OOE managing director Andrew Prossin in Sydney.

The company also intends “as soon as possible” to create a $600,000 fund “to be made available directly to eligible Unsecured Creditors despite any claims of Secured Creditors.”

Finally, it will pursue its litigation claims “which total in excess of $20 million,” with recovered monies to be paid first to secured creditors (of which there is precisely one, Export Development Canada, a “Crown corporation dedicated to helping Canadian companies of all sizes succeed on the world stage,” owed $2.8 million), then unsecured creditors.

Perhaps unsurprisingly, disgruntled customers are still looking at filing a lawsuit against Prossin and OOE. As one put it:

OOE has few assets and with the number of people owed money, we are likely to get nothing or next to nothing.

The most interesting document is the Trustee’s Report to Creditors (dated 21 August 2020), which includes the following explanation for OOE’s financial difficulties:

On August 24, 2018, the AI [Akademik Ioffee] ran aground in the Canadian Arctic, causing damage to the ship, and significant costs to disembark passengers who were subsequently flown home. 9 voyages were cancelled in 2018 before the AI repairs were completed and the ship resumed its scheduled voyages.

Under the AI charter agreement, OOE asserts that Terragelida is liable to OOE for losses associated with the grounding and cancelled voyages. OOE negotiated with Terragelida to settle its claim for losses related to the AI grounding, however, Terragelida contested its liability and withdrew from negotiations in April 2019. Terragelida purported to terminate the charters for both the AI and the ASV [Akademik Sergey Vavilov] and repossessed both ships in May 2019, causing OOE to cancel further voyages, incurring further significant losses and lost revenue. OOE disputed the termination of the charters for the AI and the ASV, and commenced arbitration proceedings.

OOE sought additional financing to support operations. In October 2019, the financing discussions deteriorated and OOE was forced to halt the operations of its remaining vessel, the Resolute. OOE was unable to make the monthly charter payments to Bunny’s, causing Bunny’s to terminate the charter and repossess the Resolute.

Since November 2019, OOE has been unable to operate any voyages and has experienced significant liabilities to customers and other creditors for the cancellation of scheduled voyages. In this time, OOE has been pursuing the arbitration proceedings against Terragelida, and seeking replacement vessels so the Company can resume operations.

RCGS Resolute (Image courtesy OOE)

RCGS Resolute (Image courtesy OOE)

It also includes a reference, under its “Plan to Resume Operations” (which, if it is able to restructure, OOE intends to do as early as June 2021) that made my hair stand on end. OOE says it is engaged in:

…discussions regarding a management contract of a notable marine facility on Canada’s East Coast. From discussions with the Company, the Trustee understands that Company has been approached by several major international travel operators to assist them in product development and delivery.

It couldn’t be the Sydney Marine Terminal, right? That would make no sense, would it? (I say that like “making no sense” would be an obstacle in this town. And I note the possibility occurred to Ziobrowski (who’s writing about the bankruptcy in the Chronicle Herald this morning.)

“All Affected Creditors” are meeting today — September 3 — at 10 AM (PST) to consider and vote on the proposal.


Fire sale

I was curious as to how much money the CBRM will receive from the province to build its new fire station, so I asked Labour and Advanced Education (LAE) spokesperson Shannon Kerr and she told me via email:

Where the sale agreement has not yet closed, we cannot disclose the amount at this time. We hope to provide this information in the coming months.

The province, you see, is “acquiring the lands” where the current station sits from the municipality and the money the CBRM is paid will, presumably, go towards the new station.

I find it interesting that the public can’t be told how much of its money will be spent on the new fire station for several months yet, but the contract to construct the station can be awarded (to Joneljim Construction) and work on it can begin.

Funny, that.


Regular schedule

As of next week, I will be back to my regular publication schedule — or at least, I will end my summer schedule.

I warn you now I may do something completely different this election season — I’m toying with the possibility of daily reports, with candidate interviews and information about issues. Picture my COVID Updates, only without any (or much) input from the premier and Dr. Strang.

I’m also considering offering my election coverage free of charge, like the COVID updates, because they would constitute a kind of public service.

Whatever I decide to do, YOU, dear reader, will be the first to know!

Now get out there and enjoy the long weekend, the water — I’m not even kidding — is great!

Bras d'Or Lake, August 2020