by Kelly Spencer
Ian Fleming’s office sits in a new but modest one-story building at a rustic (but lovingly maintained) racetrack in small town Ontario.
The office walls are deep green like the countryside and one framed horse picture hangs on a wall.
Desk. Chair. Not much else.
There’s a printer loaded only with 11 x 14 paper.
The office has a door which presumably closes. But the broadest wall has a massive open face, fashioned with a makeshift counter just wide enough to rest a couple of elbows while in conversation.
The desk is dotted with thin piles of papers. An award of merit sits casually next to the monitor, angled awkwardly so you have to turn it to read it. It was recently presented to Fleming by the local hospital foundation for fundraising more than $250,000 over the past 10 years during Clinton Raceway’s biennial Legends Day event — a wildly-successful promotion Fleming created thanks to the help of Hall of Fame drivers such as his friend John Campbell.
Next to the award sits a peculiar item that is entirely out of place for this office and (seemingly) for this man. It’s the flashiest thing in the joint.
It’s a small can which in the early ‘00s held peas or pineapple chunks and was refurbished in a Kindergarten class to look like a jolly businessman. The cut-out of the happy chap in a suit and tie has been crudely coloured with crayon and pasted around the can to create a loving container for all of dad’s important business tools.
It was the work of either Claire or Will, pictured in a small frame next to the award. They’re recent university graduates, both on their way to big careers in high finance.
In 2014, they biked 7,650 kilometres across Canada to fundraise $40,000 for Canadian Tire’s Jumpstart program, which provides financial assistance to help kids participate in organized sports. (You may notice a pattern of extraordinary fundraising initiatives emerging here).
Fleming’s wife Jennifer accompanied them in an RV for the 50-day trek. She’s a personal trainer and opened her own gym (WorkHorse, of course) just across the street from the racetrack.
Ian Fleming works out there five days a week starting at 5:30 a.m. He speaks glowingly about his wife’s entrepreneurial spirit but doesn’t mention much about his own dedication to the gym. If you ask him about it, he’ll deflect, saying it helps manage his Diet Coke addiction.
You won’t hear from Ian Fleming in this story. I’ve known him too long to bother. On Aug. 7 he’ll receive the highest honour in Canadian harness racing. Adding his voice to this narrative about his accomplishments will require his acknowledgement that he has achieved great things. Attempting to capture that would be like trying to catch water in a net.
Humility is the undercurrent that threads through Fleming’s life and career. He was born, raised in, and is utterly committed to life in Clinton, ON. That life includes harness racing and Clinton Raceway which has been a cornerstone for most of his life.
He began as race secretary at his home track which evolved into managing the racetrack. In the ‘90s he created a centralized race office which still services most of the tracks in the province. And, he’s still the general manager of Clinton Raceway. During all of this, he was the racing and gaming manager at Western Fair Raceway for many years and began quietly fundraising for a number of industry causes as they popped up.
How much money has he helped raise for benevolent efforts both inside and outside of the industry? Who knows? If he’s keeping track, he’s not saying. Millions is a safe guess.
“He’s the kind of person that everyone respects,” said Clinton Raceway employee and local resident Jessica Carnochan. “Our community is beyond lucky to have him, and the best part is, he doesn’t think so. His modesty is something we can all learn a thing or two from. He doesn’t look for the spotlight and would rather help wherever needed, behind the scenes.”
Carnochan was hired by Fleming to manage the track’s marketing efforts in 2003, first as an employee, and later as a contractor with her own marketing agency, Bend Marketing. She also owns and manages a retail shop in Clinton. Fleming has inspired her every step of the way.
“I want to get a bracelet that has the acronym WWIFD. What would Ian Fleming do? That’s usually what I think first: How would Ian handle this?” she said.
Make it happen. That, said Carnochan is the chief lesson in the Fleming Camp. Motivating and supporting his team to this end is couched in humanity, realism and trust in their better judgment.
“He’s instilled in me that it is often better to beg for forgiveness than it is to ask for permission, and I take that with me in everything I do. Just do it. Work it out later.
“There are many things that attribute to him being such a well-respected boss, but I think my favorite is that perfection isn’t demanded. He’s aware that there are things that may go wrong, and that always makes me want to do those things better. He gives free reign to try new things and always hears you out when the idea may be a little off the wall,” she said.
“He’s taught me persistence, calmness, and how to work under pressure.”
He also sports an outstanding sense of humour which frequently (and effortlessly) churns out what many refer to as Flemingisms: bone dry one-liners laden with wisdom.
• Never ruin an apology with an excuse.
• If you’re hellbent on burning a bridge, you’d better do it all the way.
• Never say things are working great (out loud).
• No one is as busy as they think they are.
• Weddings optional. Funerals mandatory.
• Put your finger down.
• Kids for sale.
• You can’t be everywhere.
• Before you respond, count to 10. If you’re drinking, count to 20.
“Whenever I leave the track to run an errand, I always ask if he needs anything, as I’m heading out the door,” said Carnochan. “He always says, ‘Just a little respect.’ Well, I don’t think it would be possible to have more respect for this man.”