Where Are They Now?

De Boer Gerrit
 
De Boer Gerrit
 
De Boer Gerrit
 

 

Gerrit De Boer

Gerrit De Boer was born in Holland and moved to Canada in 1953. This iconic man has built not only Idomo Furniture International, but also lasting relationships around the world and television commercials we will never forget. He returned to Memo this spring to tour the school and share memories.

Gary, as he called himself throughout his school days, grew up very near to York Memorial, on Greenbrook Drive off Keele St. Who would have guessed that the boy who played with cows across the street from his house would become such a well known man world-wide? Mr. De Boer came to York Memorial in 1965 for grade 13, and graduated this same year. He went on to the University of Manitoba, receiving his Bachelor of Environmental Studies. When asked about his best memory, De Boer jokingly responds with, “You mean the girls I dated?” After a laugh, he continues to tell us about the Latin course that used to be offered in room 208, taught by Mr. Kennedy, who was De Boer’s favourite teacher. While he admits that his marks may not have been the greatest in Latin, it was his favourite subject. When De Boer received a concussion from an encounter with a pile of bricks, Mr. Kennedy allowed him to take his final exam at a later date. But this good deed did not go unrewarded. Later in life the two men met up by chance on a plane, and Mr. De Boer gave Mr. Kennedy his seat and took the teacher’s much less comfortable place in the back of the plane! Mr. De Boer’s interest in architecture shone through as we walked throughout the building and he commented on not only the stained glass windows, but also the wooden inlay to the left and right of the stage and the indented wall along the main hallway with a fire hose placed above a water fountain. Things the students of today and of years past may never have noticed.

Mr De Boer’s first job was in his own father’s furniture store, De Boer’s Furniture. De Boer worked on the sales floor of the store, which was originally located on Weston Road. Later, De Boer opened up his own company, Idomo Furniture International. Known for its less expensive furniture of good quality, the company has been operating for 40 years. The success of the company is certainly due to De Boer’s emphasis on his responsibility to his customers, his employees and his business. He values fair treatment in all three of these areas. As well as this, De Boer speaks Dutch, Latin, German and French, which greatly helped him on his travels and with his contacts. “The more you speak in somebody’s language for business, the more they appreciate it.” He also believes that his business deserved to come first. But does a businessman as busy as Mr. De Boer really remember his furniture? It turns out the answer is yes. He specifically remembers his invitation to Brazil. Instead of attending official event after official event as was expected, De Boer went ‘shopping’ and came home with twelve containers of leather furniture, and a host of new business contacts he had met at the furniture shows he attended instead. This whole venture occurred when he was just twenty five years of age.

Mr. De Boer has spent most of his business life travelling around the world to find furniture. In his first year of business he went to thirty different countries. Throughout the years De Boer’s typical business trip meant going to nine or twelve cities in sixteen days to attend furniture shows, with thirty five or forty hours of travel before he reached a hotel. However, De Boer was certainly capable of combining business with pleasure. Despite visiting Paris as often as eighty times a year, De Boer still finds it stimulating, especially the architecture of the Musée Brandi and the Musée D’Orsey – an old railroad which is now a museum. De Boer also enjoys Bangkok, where he stayed in a hotel along the river and where some of his best commercials were filmed. One shot in which De Boer was sitting bareback on an elephant was made more difficult when the elephant discovered it was free to roam and chose to stroll off camera, with De Boer still on-board. In another commercial shot, the local talent De Boer always uses to film for him decided that they should have a number of takes before final shooting, while De Boer stood nervously with a 10 foot python around his neck – a python that was growing impatient as well. Despite his adventures, De Boer says he is now glad to be done travelling, as he can now spend more time with his wife and twenty seven year old daughter.

Mr. De Boer shared many other interests with us throughout the tour. While he appreciates politics and would love to run, he views party leaders as dictators, so instead chooses to stay involved through social actions. Black and white photography is another interest, said to “show who you are, there is no colour arguing with you.” Mr. De Boer is also a mentor – he has participated in several micro lending projects in which he helped to fund entrepreneurs abroad so they could start small businesses and has helped small communities by bringing wood to small villages to build houses. But perhaps one of his biggest interests is social responsibility; how you mould yourself to help society. “My strength is my diversity, me weakness is my diversity,” he says, then proceeds to ask, “Why do you study?” This question makes one truly consider the implications of why we study – is it because we are told to, or because we wish to be the greatest we can be? With all these great achievements under his belt, it is no wonder the businessman is ready to retire.

However, “the company is my image,” he comments as he tells me that he will not be selling the company, but simply letting it go. When Mr. De Boer was just fourteen years old, he had three life goals. One, to build a pipe organ; De Boer is currently building an organ of four hundred pipes – a project that will take ten years. Two, to build his own house; a solar house constructed by him now stands in the woods. And three, to go to the moon. As the interview comes to a close I realize just how much this man has seen. While I may never see or learn as much as he has, I’m privileged to have received just a token of what he knows. While Mr. De Boer has not yet reached the moon, I’d be shocked if he didn’t make it there someday.