• Rob Hornberger

Quarantine trailer serves as firm's temporary headquarters

Updated: Nov 7, 2020

Laval Tool executive works, lives, in Ruthven driveway

Jonathon Azzopardi, CEO of Laval Tool, has swapped his spacious office for a trailer outside his Ruthven home.

Jonathon Azzopardi, CEO and president of Laval Tool in Tecumseh, has a large, comfortable office — picture windows on two sides, a conference table, two desktop computers and a laptop on his desk. There’s a wide-screen television on one of the walls, as well as one piece of art — an early 1900s print of German airships.

Azzopardi, fresh off a business trip to France, is now under a mandatory 14-day quarantine and is running his multimillion-dollar company out of a cramped trailer parked in front of his home in Ruthven.

The family trailer, now an office, has running water supplied by a garden hose. The desk is a kitchen table.

“I was joking with one guy, he called and said we want to have a meeting at 7 a.m., can you make it? I said, ‘Let’s be totally honest here. When I get out of bed, five steps later I’m in my office.’”

Ironically, the trip to France wasn’t needed. When Azzopardi and two Laval executives arrived for their meeting in Lyon, they were told two of the five French Volvo executives they were scheduled to meet were either ill with COVID-19 or suspected of having the virus.

France, undergoing a resurgence of the virus, is under a strict quarantine which prevents the French from leaving their homes without obtaining a permit.

“We were literally walking into a meeting thinking: So who here doesn’t have COVID?” Azzopardi said.

“It’s a scary situation. So, we go through a day’s worth of discussions and at the end of it we didn’t even negotiate a contract because the people that needed to be there weren’t there, so the trip was quite disappointing.”

“I’m a physical sort of person. I miss not being able to hug my wife and kids.”

Laval is looking to supply composite truck hoods and roofs to Volvo when it opens a new production plant in United States.

Azzopardi’s quarantine ends Friday morning. Combined with the time spent in France, he will have spent three weeks separated physically from his family.

“I’m a physical sort of person. I miss not being able to hug my wife and kids,” he said.

Azzopardi said it was initially tough establishing a regular work routine in his new driveway office. He wanted a set schedule and made sure every morning he was out of bed, shaved and dressed for work by 7 a.m. After that, he said, it’s similar to any workday, minus the face-to-face interactions with employees and staff.

“I prop myself on my desk and I go through my emails. I’m talking to as many people as I can, lots of meetings — virtual meetings on Zoom,” he said.

Azzopardi makes his own breakfast and lunches but his suppers are made by his wife Ashley, who leaves the meal at the trailer doorstep, knocks, waits and then has a brief chat with her husband before returning to the house.

“I sort of feel like Uber Eats or Dash Delivery,” said Ashley. “It’s emotionally tough. You know he’s out there eating alone having a meal we typically share as a family.”

Azzopardi does go inside the house to use a washroom, but the washroom is off limits to the rest of his family.

Azzopardi, who chairs the Canadian Association of Moldmakers (CAMM), said a good part of his day is spent dealing with border and election issues and putting out “little fires” dealing with COVID.

He said his job can be stressful but unlike his previous work regime he can’t go home, be with his family, unwind, and then put the stress into perspective.

“When you go to work and you’re dealing with stressful situations, you come home to your family and you’re reminded why you’re dealing with the stress at work and the other things you have to deal with during the day,” he said.

Azzopardi said he communicates with his wife and children Christian, 18, Calista, 15, Corbin, 10, and Cora, 7, by text, phone, video conferencing or a simple wave as the kids march off to school.

The 41-year-old has started playing online chess with Corbin and said his youngest daughter Cora is becoming more adept at using social media as a communication tool.

Azzopardi said doing business abroad and then going into quarantine is not sustainable.

“It’s going to break relationships that we may never re-establish,” he said.

“People won’t go live in a trailer for two weeks if they have to visit the States. There needs to be a long-term solution.”

Last year, Azzopardi was recognized by Automotive News Canada as one of the Canadians to Watch in the auto sector.

He was given the award after work expanding the market for products made by CAMM members to places like India, Brazil, France and Germany.

Laval Tool — which has 60 employees and five presses — makes parts for the auto sector and innovative products from composite manhole covers and hemp-based cinder blocks to bathtubs and shower stalls.

The products Azzopardi went to France to sell were truck hoods and roofs.

He said he is confident his company will sign those French contracts.

Laval Tool does $10 million to $12 million in sales each year.

Ashley Azzopardi said the quarantine will end when everyone wakes up Friday morning. She said the family of six will likely have a group hug to mark the family reunion.

“He’s a big hugger, so we wouldn’t be able to escape that even if we wanted to,” she said.

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