Mikestrathdee’s Blog


The Marketplace – November December 2017 issue
November 8, 2017, 7:06 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

The Marketplace November-December issue is now online. Fascinating stories about business incubators, a company that is working to rid the world of landmines, and news about MEDA initiatives. Have a look at the link below (and contact me if you’d like to receive the print edition:

http://www.meda.org/latest-issues/439-2017-6-nov-dec-themarketplace

 

As always, comment about the magazine are welcome

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Cyclists hit Myanmar for fundraising trip
November 7, 2017, 4:08 pm
Filed under: Charitable Giving, Generosity, Uncategorized

This article appeared in the November, 2017 issue of Faith Today magazine.

http://digital.faithtoday.ca/faithtoday/20171112?pg=13#pg13

Photo is by Steve Sugrim

Laverne Brubacher doesn’t consider himself an avid cyclist.

Before beginning training for this fall’s adventure, the longest bike trip he had ever done was 25 km.

But this month, the 73-year-old St. Jacobs man is one of 17 Canadians and three Americans who are riding 355 km through Myanmar in support of impoverished women farmers, people they have never met, in that South Asian nation.

Sixteen other people, mostly from the U.S., are exploring Myanmar on a bus tour in support of the same fund drive. Each participant has committed to raising at least $5,000. Brubacher set and achieved a goal of raising $10,000.

Overall, the Myanmar On the Move trip, sponsored by Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) raised $600,000. Waterloo-based MEDA is a Christian international development organization that works to provide business solutions to poverty. It currently has projects in 62 countries, including Myanmar.

Myanmar On the Move is an initiative of MEDA’s Improving Market Opportunities for Women (IMOW) project targeting rural women, providing them with market connections and prospects for employment to help them grow with their country.

That project will help 25,000 women farmers get their products to markets, something Brubacher calls “a pretty compelling thing.”

He is particularly impressed with the fact that all donations to the project are multiplied almost seven-to-one by Global Affairs Canada for a total value of $4 million.

Several of the participants are making the trip a family affair, including spouses or children. Leamington pastor David Dyck is riding with his son Andrew.

The cyclists’ adventure includes one day of trekking and 5 days of biking. Distances for cycling days will be 55km, 70km, 55km, 70km and 105km.

“The only thing that I’m concerned about is the 105 km one day,” Brubacher said of the prospects of visiting a part of the world that has seen a lot of political instability in recent years.

The retired renovator, former owner of the Menno Martin company, is active in leadership in many charities, as well as his home congregation. Fitting for a man whose business card read “chief servant.”Laverne-Brubacher-4



Preventing Prodigals
February 24, 2017, 10:15 pm
Filed under: Estate Planning, Generosity, stewardship, Theology, Uncategorized

 

By Mike Strathdee

(Published in January 2017 issue of Canadian Mennonite and the Jan/Feb issue of The Recorder magazine.)

Many of us are familiar with the the Parable of the Prodigal Son in Luke 15. There are great lessons in this story about grace and forgiveness, but I’ve never heard it used in the context of warning about giving children gifts before they are emotionally or spiritually mature enough to handle them properly.

We aren’t told how old the prodigal was when he made his disrespectful, audacious demand of his father, but clearly he wasn’t ready to handle money responsibly. When I heard that passage read some time ago, I couldn’t help wondering if the story could have been different if the father knew what we now know about human brain development. What was the father thinking? Could he have had any idea how poorly equipped his son was to handle the premature inheritance?

Science has taught us that even in well-adjusted people, it can take up to age 25 before the prefrontal cortex is fully developed. That’s important because this part of the brain helps people appreciate the consequences of their actions. In her book Payback: Debt and the Shadow Side of Wealth, Margaret Atwood argues that, knowing what we now understand about brain development, giving people access to credit cards too soon could be considered a form of child abuse.

Similarly, parents should consider whether allowing their children to potentially inherit more money than they’ve ever had before, as soon as they attain the age of majority, would be a blessing or a bane.

About 15 years ago, I was trying to make this point in an end-of-life planning seminar at a church in a small town. I was shocked to see a young woman stand up in her pew and say that she agreed with me completely.

Later, I heard the sad family story. Her father died when she and her brother were 19. Their mother had passed away earlier. They each inherited $60,000. It was way more money than either of them knew what to do with. Her brother chose particularly poorly, burning through all the cash and ringing up considerable debt in only 18 months. She is now determined to ensure that her children have a better understanding of money.

Another verse relevant to the topic of inheritances is Proverbs 13:22: “A good person leaves an inheritance for their children’s children, but a sinner’s wealth is stored up for the righteous.”

At first glance, this passage may seem to focus on skipping a generation and leaving everything to the grandkids. But when taken in context with other advice in Proverbs, we see that wealth can only be successfully transferred between generations if a values transfer comes ahead of the money.

Part of me wonders if we might have fewer prodigal sons and daughters, and fewer prodigal grandsons and granddaughters for that matter, if we were more explicit in modelling generosity and explaining our beliefs and habits. We can transfer good values to our children by educating them about responsible spending, good habits and about giving throughout our lives. We can also model generosity in our estate plans by including charitable gifts as if they were an extra child in the list of beneficiaries. Let your kids know what values are important to you and how you hope they will continue them with their inheritance.

Abundance Canada can help you design and carry out a generosity plan. Ask us how.

Mike Strathdee is a gift planning consultant at Abundance Canada serving generous people in Ontario and the eastern provinces. For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest Abundance Canada office or visit abundance.ca.



Where did all the money go? – old stories from the late 90s
September 4, 2014, 2:03 pm
Filed under: Business, Financial Management, Fraud, Investing, Uncategorized

Copy of K-W Record article, March 29, 1999 – front page, A1.

Shareholders left to wonder where money went

Mike Strathdee
RECORD STAFF
Monday 29 March 1999

Former executives of Struthers Inc. admit that they broke Ontario securities laws when they sold shares in a controversial swine-breeding company that is millions of dollars in debt and has left hundreds of area investors with virtually worthless shares.

“There’s clearly infractions,” Jason Struthers, son of company founder Ron Struthers, admitted in an interview with The Record.

Struthers Inc. is one of a handful of companies started by Ron Struthers to commercialize swine breeding and embryo transplant technology. Building on his father Stan’s breeding business, Struthers had offices in Guelph until last fall, until he was evicted for non-payment of rent.

Struthers Inc. is now largely based in South Carolina. Its Canadian presence consists of space in a lawyer’s office in Mississauga.

Jason Struthers, formerly the company’s secretary/director of international business development, and colleague Paul Allcock, who served as director of corporate affairs, say they ran afoul of securities law after receiving bad advice.

Under provincial securities law, a company must clear a prospectus, a detailed offering document, with regulators in order to sell shares to more than 50 shareholders. The Record has obtained a shareholders list which indicates that shares in several Struthers companies were sold or issued to more than 1,200 people, including 300 in Ontario and close to 200 within the Waterloo Region-Wellington and Perth County area.

Investors paid tens and in some cases hundreds of thousands of dollars for Struthers shares, which were sold at various times for $1, $3 and$4.50. Struthers Inc. stock began trading on the U.S. over-the-counter bulletin board at $6.50 a share last June, but quickly fell to only a few cents and never recovered. The shares last traded for 1.5 cents each, earlier this week.

At least two regulatory bodies — the Ontario Securities Commission in this province, and the Securities and Exchange Commission in the U.S. — are investigating the Struthers companies, The Record has learned.

The OSC has sent a five-page questionnaire to investors asking them about their investment knowledge, how they became aware of the Struthers companies, what information “were you provided with that induced you to make your investment,” in which Struthers business the investment was made, and who sold them the investment.

And the RCMP has interviewed a number of people in an effort to determine whether it has grounds to launch a criminal investigation. “I’ve been co-operating with the RCMP on this,” a haggard-looking Ron Struthers told The Record.

Struthers says he has met with RCMP officers a handful of times since an initial, four-hour interview two months ago. He wouldn’t comment on what the RCMP or securities regulators are looking into.

He did confirm when asked, however, that Revenue Canada has been looking at the books of the Struthers companies for the past three months in connection with money owed for employee payroll deductions.

“I don’t have the books, I don’t have access to the books, but I do know Revenue Canada has been in and done the audits.”

The OSC can ask a court to force a company to file financial statements and a prospectus. The agency can also seek an order directing a person to repay any part of the money paid by a security holder for securities.

Struthers raised at least $6.5 million US through the sale of shares over a period of several years. Shareholders have never received financial statements for the company, and only received share certificates early this year.

“You’ve got to understand something,” Jason Struthers said when asked about why the company didn’t comply with regulatory requirements. “When Ron started this company, he had zero knowledge of how a public company functions. We relied on counsel to do this; now it turns out that the information which counsel gave us was dead wrong.”

Allcock also pointed fingers elsewhere when asked about why proper procedures weren’t followed when shares were sold. “We were always advised that we didn’t need it (a prospectus),” he said. Our advice has been the pits. We could’ve gone to the variety store and got better advice.”

Jason and Ron Struthers were removed from the board and management of Struthers Inc. in a December restructuring.

Allcock, who said he and Jason raised the first $500,000 for the company, claims to have left the firm earlier in a dispute over the best way to raise money.

© Copyright Kitchener-Waterloo Record 1998

Copy of K-W Record article, March 29, 1999, business section, page C1.

Guelph contractor sues U of G

Unpaid renovations at SRI office prompt Van-Con’s $130,000-plus claim
By Mike Strathdee
RECORD STAFF

A Guelph contractor is suing the University of Guelph to recover payment for renovations he did at a university research park for swine breeding companies formerly operated by area businessman Ron Struthers.

Van-Con General Contractors is seeking more than $130,000 plus costs for renovations done to an office building at 150 Research Lane between October 1997 and January 1998.

The company, operated by Ike Van Soelen, received a judgment last July against Struthers Research Inc. (SRI), one of several companies started by Ron Struthers, a Cambridge businessman and former Pentecostal minister.

But after being told that SRI has no assets, Van Soelen decided to pursue a claim against the university, which has since rented the research park space he renovated to a Guelph marketing company.

Ironically, that firm has also received a court judgment against a Struthers company for work it never received payment for.

The university, in its statement of defence, denies any liability or responsibility for work done by Van-Con. In a cross-claim, however, it seeks to hold SRI and Struthers International Research Corp., another associated firm, responsible for any amount it is found to be liable to Van-Con.

It also seeks a judgment for $100,000 against Struthers “as damages for breach of contract regarding the agreement to lease between the university and Struthers IRC.”

Van Soelen says the university is benefiting from work he did in the building. He has also placed a lien against the property.

In its statement of claim, Van-Con alleges that a university official approved drawings and specifications for work done at the building, but at one point, expressed concerns about the financial viability of Struthers and instructed Van-Con to cease work.

The statement of claim goes on to allege that, subsequently, the official said the university “no longer had any financial concerns about Struthers,” and that Van-Con could proceed with its renovations “since everything was now in order.”

Van-Con also alleges that university officials “inspected the quality of work from time to time during the course of its progress,” and that Struthers was indebted to the university “for the rent of facilities elsewhere, in the amount of $148,946.00.”

A letter sent by a university lawyer to a former Van-Con lawyer indicates that Struthers’ tenancy in the research park “was terminated on March 4, 1998, as a result of arrears in the payment of rent.”

Earlier this month, a few days after the university filed its statement of defence in connection with the Van-Con lawsuit, the office of research issued a brief press release distancing itself from Struthers.

“In 1994, Struthers Research began investing in swine embryo research at the University of Guelph,” the announcement stated. “The University of Guelph no longer has a research contract nor any research involvement with Struthers Research and parties related in any way to Struthers Research. The University of Guelph does not have a licensing agreement with Struthers Research or any other Struthers entity.”

Larry Milligan, U of G’s vice-president of research, said in an interview that the university is “quite deliberately declaring that there is no linkage, that there is no licence for the technology in place.”

But more than a week after the announcement was made, a share-offering document available by fax from the South Carolina office of Struthers Inc., the U.S. parent firm of the companies named in the lawsuits, still indicated that the company “intends to take full advantage of it’s (sic) strong working relationship with the University of Guelph, a
world-renowned leading animal science institution.”

Doug Beatty, vice-president of operations for Struthers Inc., brushed off the U of G announcement. “They can say whatever they like,” he said.

“There’s things happening behind the scenes here. It’s unfortunate. They pushed Struthers out of Canada.”

Company founder Ron Struthers broke his silence on the events Thursday, and provided the Record with a copy of a 1994 contract between U of G and Struthers Research.

Money owing to U of G is for subsequent, related work, and doesn’t affect Struthers Inc.’s ability to commercialize the embryo-transplant technology, he said in an interview.

“Basically, the technology is basically there for the use of this corporation (Struthers Inc.),” he said.

U of G moved to dissociate itself from the Struthers companies following months of talks because “we’re not getting anywhere in clearing up the back debt” of more than $200,000 owed to it by Struthers, Milligan said.

Milligan said he has received a legal opinion which suggests that the swine- embryo transplant technology “is owned by the university.”

U of G hopes to recoup its losses by commercializing that technology, possibly through a licensing agreement with another firm.

Struthers Inc. has not publicly commented on its view of the millions of dollars in debts run up by Ron Struthers and other firms which bear his name. The company said in December that Ron Struthers no longer holds a management role with the firm.

A November share-offering document for Struthers Inc., which has shares quoted through the U.S. over-the-counter bulletin board, claimed that the firm is “not presently a party to any material litigation,” and that its liabilities totalled $1,510.

The document doesn’t refer to litigation or liabilities involving its subsidiaries. Struthers officials have not responded to written questions submitted earlier this year to Richard Lane, their New York-based lawyer.

Beatty said this week that “Struthers Inc. is a debt-free organization.”

He wouldn’t say whether Struthers Inc. has any responsibility for debts run up by its subsidiaries or Ron Struthers. “You’ve sort of blindsided me. I don’t know.”

Ron Struthers says company officials verbally promised him, when he relinquished control of the firm in the fall, that all of the millions of dollars in debts run up by Struthers corporations and promissory notes to shareholders signed by him would be taken care of. “I’ve been told that they (Struthers Inc. officials) have a block of shares set aside for repayment of debts,” he said.

But he can provide no proof that any such agreement exists, as he didn’t get anything in writing. “No. I didn’t. Just trusted them.

© Copyright Kitchener-Waterloo Record 1998

Copy of K-W Record article, March 29, 1999, business section, page C2.

Newsletter to Struthers investors long on predictions, short on details

By Mike Strathdee
RECORD STAFF

Struthers Inc. has a bright new future ahead, the company’s latest newsletter to investors says.

The pork biotechnology company plans to train a team of surgeons in embryo-transplant techniques at a major United States university and announce contracts with major swine breeders, the newsletter states.

But the four-page document, which can also be seen on the Struthers Web site, is long on predictions and short on specifics.

Titled “the Rooter’s News,” the newsletter refers to several upcoming developments without providing any specific details.

“The commercialization of the embryo-transfer technology, through relationships already formed with leaders in swine genetics in North America, will represent a positive cash flow situation for the company and will allow for future growth and expansion,” the newsletter states.

Doug Beatty, vice-president of operations at Struthers’ Charleston, S.C., office, said the company won’t be able to identify any of its partners nor the university where the surgical training will take place, until after April 2.

Struthers has had to sign non-disclosure agreements with the universities involved, as “they don’t want a slew of people calling,” he said in a telephone interview.

“Unfortunately, we couldn’t (identify partners) in that newsletter,” he said.

”We wanted to, but we couldn’t.”

Contracts will be solidified and signed when company officials visit Iowa, Missouri and Illinois in coming days, he predicted.

Company president Don Bowden, a veterinarian from Iowa, is handling the negotiations, the newsletter stated.

The company also plans to purchase a mobile operating theatre, a surgical trailer, from Alpha Omega, an Indiana company which builds mobile CT and MRI scanners, Beatty said.

Struthers plans to have a six-metre (20-foot) surgical trailer based in Canada as embryo-transplant work progresses, he said.

Company founder Ron Struthers, who has not had a management role with the company since a restructuring last fall, told the Record last week that he is “pretty happy with the guys in the States” and the way efforts to commercialize embryo-transplant technology are proceeding.

He remains interested in working with the company which bears his name.

“My offer to the company is that anything I can do to take the company forward, any knowledge I have, I will give it to them.

“I’d like to help grow the company if it’s possible, if there’s a place for me to be there.”

Struthers said that when he handed over control of the firm late last year, he planned to go to South Carolina and work out of the Struthers office there with current management.

But poor health, including several operations related to kidney problems, have kept Struthers in Cambridge. “At this point, it’s not certain whether they want me there (U.S), ” he added.

© Copyright Kitchener-Waterloo Record 1998

HEADLINE Company ex-president has ‘no idea’ where close to $4 million has gone
BYLINE Mike Strathdee
SOURCE RECORD STAFF
DNOTE Ran with related story “Shareholders left to wonder where money went: Former executives of Struthers Inc. admit they broke securities law” Page A1 “Guelph contractor sues U of G: Unpaid renovations at SRI office prompt Van-Con’s $130,000-plus claim” Page C1 and “Newsletter to Struthers investors long on predictions, short on details” Page C2

There are a number of mysteries surrounding events involving Struthers Inc. over the last year.

Shareholders who have contacted the Record wonder how shares in Struthers Inc., which began trading at $6.50 each last June on the U.S. over-the-counter bulletin board, quickly fell off to only a few cents in value, and never recovered. The shares last traded at 1.5 cents on Friday.

They also wonder why, if the company’s new management wanted to assure investors that Ron and Jason Struthers no longer held any management positions in the company as of early December, the share certificates which were issued to shareholders Dec. 29 were signed by Jason Struthers, secretary, and Ron Struthers, president.

The certificates were printed before the management restructuring occurred, Ron Struthers told the Record this week. “Maybe it’s even prudent,” he said. “Why waste another $15,000 to $20,000 (to print new shares)? Use up the (old certificate) stock.”

It is unclear why Ron Struthers agreed to relinquish control of the company without having a detailed, written agreement as to the royalty stream he is to receive for his past work. Ron Struthers says he trusted his longtime advisers to take care of his interests.

Struthers Inc. documents suggest Ron Struthers will receive royalties, but don’t specify the amount. “It’s never been flushed out,” Ron Struthers asked when questioned on the subject.

“I’m not (financially) in a point where I could go to a lawyer, or even hire one.”

Another unanswered question is the issue of what happened to the millions of dollars raised by the company, given that scores of creditors, large and small, weren’t paid for services rendered.

A Struthers Inc. offering document available to prospective investors through a fax-on-demand service states that the company had total assets of $2,824 as of Nov. 15.

Ron Struthers insists that all of the money raised from investors — at least $6.5 million US, by some accounts more — was used to pay expenses related to research and market development efforts.

But The Record has obtained a copy of a draft, unaudited consolidated balance sheet that states it was prepared for the management of Struthers Inc., dated July 31, 1998, months before Ron Struthers stepped aside from the management of the company.

That document, which investors have never seen, stated that the company had cash of $3,933,191 at the July 31, 1998, end of year.

“I have no idea,” Ron Struthers said Thursday when shown the statement and asked about the discrepancy. “I’ve never seen these documents (before).”

If the company had that much money last summer, “we would not have been in problems,” he insisted.

Companies which have stock quoted through the over-the-counter bulletin board in the U.S. are not required to make the detailed filings of their financial statements with regulators which other publicly traded firms must do.

Struthers Inc. is in the process of having its financial statements examined by auditors, company spokesman Doug Beatty said. “When they’re ready, we’ll post them” on the company’s web site, he said.

One of the reasons that the financial statements are being changed is because the company’s asset base is changing, he said. “There was a lot of stuff that went missing.”

Beatty did not elaborate.

Ron Struthers denied that any assets of real value remain unaccounted for when the company was evicted from a leased research farm south of Guelph in October. “Nothing’s gone missing that would influence those books by more than $5,000 or $10,000,” he said.

“There was no assets you could pick up and walk away with.”



How to plan your digital estate
July 3, 2014, 1:19 pm
Filed under: Estate Planning, Financial Management, retirement, Uncategorized

First published in Canadian Mennonite, July 2014

The most surprising “friend” request I ever received on Facebook came from someone I knew only slightly.

That may not seem unusual, except the person was dead. When I clicked the Facebook page, which has since been taken down, I found an unusual memorial. It spoke of being glad to be free of pain and cancer, missing family and so on.

This memorial, a digital legacy, is becoming common.

That incident may seem silly to those of us who didn’t come of age in the computer era. But the question of what happens to digital assets—anything stored in electronic form—is becoming a hot topic for lawyers, trust officers and anyone who helps people do end-of-life planning. Some people’s digital assets may be worth more than their cars.

The list of things that qualify as digital assets and often don’t get mentioned in a will is huge: text documents, photos, multimedia files, user licences, profiles for online accounts (Facebook, LinkedIn) and subscriptions.

In some cases—accounts at financial institutions and rewards programs—substantial amounts of money are at stake. Or someone just may want an account or pictures taken offline.

Changes in technology are way ahead of how we think about changes we need to make in estate planning. Soon we will need to add “tech savvy” to the list of qualities we want our estate trustee to have.

Issues we need to consider include making a list of our online accounts, passwords and security questions, and where the information that will allow someone to access these is stored: computers, mobile devices, flash drives or websites.

“Normal” rules of how trustees get access to information when someone dies don’t apply to the digital world, complicating this new list of things to think about. Each company has different regulations on how it handles the situation, and standards are mostly lacking.

Google may require a U.S. court order before it will disclose any information. Yahoo allows no right of survivorship or transferability on accounts. There have been lawsuits in the U.S. over these policies.

Shoppers Drug Mart won’t allow the transfer of rewards points from a deceased person, but will allow the estate to donate them to certain charities.

One Kitchener, Ont., lawyer is now asking clients to do beneficiary designations for Air Miles points.

A handful of U.S. states have passed laws to impose some order. Nothing of the sort is in place anywhere in Canada.

An easy and important step for estate trustees to take concerning electronic assets is to notify credit agencies about the deceased’s passing. Identity fraud is on the rise, and the risks increase with the amount of online activity.

If the potential complications of all this makes your head spin, you are not alone. Please pass the Aspirin. All the more reason to think twice when you are asked to serve as an estate trustee. Turning the job over to professionals and letting them worry about navigating these complications could be money well spent.

To help you keep track of a wide range of accounts and assets, MFC offers a free, downloadable Personal Information Directory at MennoFoundation.ca/PID.

Mike Strathdee is a stewardship consultant in the Kitchener, Ont., office of Mennonite Foundation of Canada (MFC). For more information on impulsive generosity, stewardship education, and estate and charitable gift planning, contact your nearest MFC office or visit MennoFoundation.ca.



Why Business Matters to God – And What Still Needs to Be Fixed
January 9, 2013, 9:50 pm
Filed under: Business, Environment, Generosity, Investing, Theology, Uncategorized, Work

Why Business Matters to God (And What Still Needs to Be Fixed)
Jeff Van Duzer Inter Varsity Press, 2010, 201 pages
For Van Duzer, business is about much more than the bottom line. “Business is intended to serve the common good by providing goods and services that enable the community to flourish and by providing opportunities for individuals to express aspects of their God-given identities through meaningful and creative work,” he writes in Why Business Matters to God.
The author is a lawyer and Dean of the School of Business and Economics at Seattle Pacific University. His keynote address at the opening of the 2012 Mennonite Economic Development Associates (MEDA) convention of in Niagara Falls in November was by far the highlight of the event.
Van Duzer’s reflections on business and why it does matter as part of God’s redemptive plan for humanity encompass the scope of the biblical narrative – creation, fall, redemption and consummation. His incisive analysis will give pause to entrepreneurs and church leaders alike, for a variety of reasons. He persuasively explains why the cherished notion of the free market, for instance, is a post-fall construction, given its dependence on scarcity. His analysis touches on the role of a providing a living wage and care of the environment in conducting business, among other considerations. “Business must concern itself with redemptive as well as creative work.’’
The even-handed approach that he brings to this work is shown by the fact that early reviewers – business people and theologians, all found something different to pick at. “Business associates criticized the text as being too negative about business… My theology friends, however, argued just the opposite.”
I often read while traveling, but have never been asked by strangers about what I am reading. This book elicited questions from several people curious about its message. Well worth taking in at several sittings and pondering at length.



UK government backs down on plan to cap
June 4, 2012, 3:32 pm
Filed under: Uncategorized

UK government backs down on plan to cap charitable donations http://www.civilsociety.co.uk/finance/news/content/12533/government_u-turn_on_charity_tax