From Rock Bottom to Business Owner
William Shakespeare once wrote, “Some are born great, some achieve greatness, and some have greatness thrust upon them” (Twelfth Night). Whether your definition of greatness revolves around your income or when you get to lean back in your chair and reminisce about where it all started, the origin of greatness usually comes from the success story that was never supposed to be.
In 1986, I was living alone in Ontario, Canada. I was 16-years-old, and my parents had left town in the middle of the night without me. I worked wherever I could, coming home every night to a tent that I had set up in a local park. In the winter, park officials would leave the heat on in the picnic shelter to keep the pipes from freezing. I would sneak in and sleep in the shelter to avoid the frigid temperatures.
A year later, I flew to Edmonton to attend my uncle’s funeral. While there, I met my future wife, Grace. I joke with her that the first place we said hello is the last place we will say goodbye. Around this time, I began working for a demolition contractor, swinging a sledgehammer for CAD$8 an hour, trying to save up for plane fare back home. Instead of going back, I married Grace, stayed in Edmonton and worked in demolition. When my son came along a year later, I was earning only CAD$9 an hour.
I remember staying up one night, thinking that if I was going to look after a family, I had to do better. I picked up a few other jobs, working day and night selling pagers and vacuum cleaners door to door. However, I knew that hourly jobs weren’t going to be enough to provide for my new family. I decided to raise enough money to attend night school, where I excelled in my construction-technology systems courses. I had the knowledge, but with a child on the way and overdue rent stacking up, I realized I wasn’t going to make it financially.
I returned to demolition for a few years, working my way through the ranks. From laborer to supervisor to machine operator, I made an impact in the company. A relative of mine suggested that I start my own company, or at least become a partner in his. I decided to buy in. Before I knew it, I owned 33 percent of the business, and things were looking up. I thought I had finally made it! I had finally achieved my greatness! Oh, how naïve I was.
On 14 December 1999, I was fired, voted out by the other shareholders. I didn’t have the money or the resources to fight the other owners. I went from the top of the world to the bottom of the gutter in the blink of an eye. That’s when I finally took my relative’s advice— I started my own company, B&B Demolition, the very next day. B&B stands for “Bigger and Better,” named by my son, Steven, at the age of 7. I couldn’t have put it any better myself.
In the beginning, my business operated out of the basement of my home, with only four team members and myself on staff. I had earned enough respect within my previous company to convince a few laborers to come work for me. Some still do. I put all the money I had into the company. If it failed, I would have jeopardized my entire family. Eight months to the day, B&B Demolition forced my relative’s company out of business. I believe that life should be lived without the lust for revenge, but even I can admit that pushing them out of the industry felt good. My company still operates to this day, and has since become an industry leader throughout Alberta.
I am proud to say that I have achieved my own personal form of greatness. I am the success story that was never supposed to be. Twenty-three years ago, I was living in a tent. I now own a multi-million-dollar company, and am a member of EO, one of the most prestigious organizations in the world. My entrepreneurial journey is still not complete, but it has already taught me so much. Looking back, I was able to make both my business and my life “bigger and better.”
Bill Knight (pictured) is president of B&B Demolition, LTD. Visit www.bbdemo.com or e-mail Bill at