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Lunch with John Bakowski

It is a lazy autumn Friday, and Bell Canada's John Bakowski and I are lingering over lunch at a stylish Toronto eatery. The purpose here is an interview, but as the day lengthens and the place empties...

November 1, 2000  

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It is a lazy autumn Friday, and Bell Canada’s John Bakowski and I are lingering over lunch at a stylish Toronto eatery. The purpose here is an interview, but as the day lengthens and the place empties, I realize we have been chatting for hours and have not talked shop once.

Instead I’ve been absorbed in stories about his life, which he shares with an openness that is unexpected in this day of close-to-the-hip high-tech professionals. I learn that he is a nature photographer. I learn that he had one of his works on display on Parliament Hill in Ottawa. I learn that he spent 27 years as an auxiliary OPP (Ontario Provincial Police) officer.

Yet, lest this column be strictly filled with anecdotes of a life well-lived, I move the conversation toward the Canadian cabling arena. Not surprisingly, he speaks just as passionately about the industry — with the ease of a man used to speaking out about his views.

For Mr. Bakowski, RCDD/LAN Specialist, has spent 35 years in this business and has played quite a visible role in it through his long career at Bell Canada and his close association with BICSI.

Life at Bell

His extensive career really sounds quite simple if you merely consider that he graduated from high school in 1965, joined Bell Canada, and has been with the company ever since.

However, during those years he held a variety of jobs — from installer to repair manager to outside plant engineer to BIC Engineer. All were interesting positions, he says, but he really found his niche in 1982 when he was offered the opportunity to help start the company’s LAN cabling portfolio. He has continued in that realm and is now Product Manager – Cabling and Connectivity, a job that sees him handing all aspects of the company’s cabling and connectivity portfolio.

“Some people, after they’ve worked at a company for a long time, develop an attitude,” he says. “I’ve never had to reason to develop an attitude. I’ve enjoyed the jobs, I’ve enjoyed the people and I’ve enjoyed the opportunities that have been presented to me at Bell.”

His passion for seizing opportunity and connecting with people is also part of the reason he feels so strongly about his association with BICSI, where he has been a member since 1987. During his involvement, he became a member of the RSS committee and spent a five-year stint (1994-1999) as Region 5 (Canada & Global) Director. He currently holds the position of Secretary at the international telecommunications association.

With BICSI, he has also been given the opportunity to travel extensively and view the industry on global basis.

“I did a tour around the world with BICSI several years ago and it really opened my eyes,” he says. “I realized that yes, Australia has its unique situations, England has its unique situations, but when you get right down to the quick, guess what? There is a commonality of difficulties in the business, but there is also a common thread that ties everybody together — and its telecommunications. That’s what its all about — the ability to pass on information.”

Unlimited opportunity

Due to all he has seen, the jobs he has performed, and the industry transformations he has witnessed, one might be inclined to call him a pioneer. However, it is an accolade he brushes aside. “The pioneers are the people who came before me,” he insists. “I’m really following in the footsteps of people who were the pioneers, people who built the industry.”

Yet he has witnessed a lot of changes over the years, and says the most significant centre around the degree of choices we now have available to us.

“It used to be that you installed copper cable , you sent a signal down the pipe and if it got to the other end you were happy. Today that doesn’t even begin to open the book on what cabling is all about.” With fiber, wireless and other burgeoning technologies, the possibilities in this business are endless, he says. “Opportunity in telecommunications is absolutely unlimited. And I say that without fear of successful contradiction.”

I mean we’re wrapping the globe in fiber today. Somebody has to be here to know how to design and install that cable, how to maintain that cable, how to update the cable and the associated facilities. The potential is unlimited.”

Changing directions

This potential is something he is counting on as he plans his next move. Of course, some people might be ready to hang up the briefcase after 35 years. But when Bakowski, 54, is asked if he is considering retirement, he is incredulous at the mere suggestion of it. However, he says he is gearing up to move on to something else over the next few years, perhaps in either the training or consulting arena.

“I’m not talking about slowing down,” he adds. “I’m just talking about changing direction. I love the business, I love the public contact, and always trying new things.”

This carries over into his personal life, where he spends his leisure time trying out new pursuits, travelling and interacting with new people.

He says he and his wife Bonnie “relax” by kayaking, travelling and fishing. And he loves to travel (except for the daily 250-kilometre commute to and from his home in St. Catherine’s to his office in Toronto), whether camping in Ontario or trekking through Canada’s East and West Coast.

“I just to love meet people, talk to people. It’s all part of the communications business — listening and talking. Sometimes I talk better than I listen,” he jokes, “but I love it all.”CS

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