I've known David Ingram for just about 28 years; ever since I was introduced to him as "a guy in a suit who knows UNIX" by a mutual friend, Ken Turtle. I ended up moving my business into his office where I not only worked with my other customers, but worked with David and CEN-TA as his Information Technolgy Manager. Our close association grew into a wonderful and deep friendship as well.
During all these years I've driven and been driven in something like 30 different vehicles that David has owned. Some of them were "my" vehicle while I was working as his site manager or during tax time. Others I was in for fun or as we drove to various events.
David's tax, real estate and travel businesses all ran out of his office on Lonsdale, downstairs from the North Shore News office. He had offices across Canada, and even in California, where he had a CEN-TA Travel office. Around most of these offices you'd find one or more cars, trucks, vans or the motor home parked with signs on them telling you about CEN-TA.
David was not a typical entrepreneur. Yes, he had his fingers in all manner of enterprises, and yes, he ran them himself for the most part, but he also took great pleasure in seeing one of his many managers or partners grow to take on business of their own, even if it was in competition with David's.
It is impossible to relate all the stories and vigniettes I heard and experienced around David in anything less than a large book, but some of the more memorable ones, both personal and second hand, might give you more insight into this huge, caring man.
First of all, for most of his later life and all the time I knew him, David really was fairly huge. I don't think I ever saw him weigh anything less than about 265 lbs., and much of the time he was well North of 300 lbs. His most affectionate moniker from many of us was "the rotund one" and he wore this like a crown. He liked big cars - Cadillacs and vans. But was also fond of sports cars. The most notable was "Gun Fighter," a race-built Datsun 240Z that I drove for a while at one point. That car could go! Right up until we got told that the frame had rusted out enough that the shop could no longer do a wheel alignment; which we discovered after a fairly high-speed run up the sea-to-sky highway to Squamish one day. Nobody drove the car after that.
David had many different businesses and did many different things over his career, but he started out taking veterinary medicine and doing strange things like harvesting bull semen and impregnating cows with it.
In Winnipeg he owned a coffee house where the likes of Joni Mitchel and Neil Young practiced their craft before they made the big time.
At home in his early years he sat in on coversations between his insurance executive father and the likes of "the father of social medicine in Canada," Tommy Douglas and other politicians. His political contacts grew from that point - and at one point seem to have gotten him out of a fairly serious speeding ticket I'm told.
As an executive of H&R Block he opened something in excess of 600 offices across North America. He'd get into town and go to the nearest used-car lot looking for a Cadillac or similar vehicle, purchase it, drive it for a week or two, then either give it to the new store manager or abandon it. "This was less expensive than renting, and even an old Cadillac gave me better prestige than a new Ford rental" he told me.
After he took over CEN-TA and turned it into a cross-Canada tax and real estate business, he bought and sold thousands of MURBs (multiple Unit Rental Buildings) and had his own plane to jet him from office to office.
He recognized (from consulting with one of his tax clients) one of the most significant (and most poorly understood) Canadian tax manoeuvres, making your mortgage interest tax deductible, before it was popularized by Fraser Smith (who learned of it from Fred Snyder, one of David's co-seminar and radio hosts, who has documented that he learned it from David) as "The Smith Manoeuvre." Of course all his vehicles were tax deductible too, since they were all purchased with the express intention of promoting the business. But even the ones he let his employees use were treated "by the book" as far as taxes were concerned. You see, if your employee gets personal use of a vehicle, they have to be taxed on a percentage of the original cost of the vehicle - a percentage that does not decline over time. That percentage of a full-price, new vehicle can be significant, but the cost is based on the price to the business, not the original retail price, so a used car bought for $2,000 has much lower tax than the original $60,000 new price would entail. Smart David!
He hosted and co-hosted radio programs and live seminars on tax, real estate and investment for many years, and had his own cable TV show in the Vancouver area from which he won awards in competition with the rest of North America.
David liked vehicles and owned 23 of them in the last year of his life, all at once. He'd purchase used Cadillacs and Jeep Cherokees and all manner of "interesting" vehicles on E-bay and bring them into Canada where for the most part they were used to promote his tax business through the use of signs on the sides. Some, like his Sherrif's car, found their way into various parades and processions including the Gay Pride parade and the 911 motorcycle ride for peace.
One local TV program he was on highlighted David's habit of coming to the studio in the same suit but a different vehicle every day. David's vehicles have always been one of his quirks. In fact, during his bankruptcy hearing (see this article) the judge remarked upon hearing that David had abandoned cars in many cities across North America and could not account for their whereabouts. Said David, "but it made economic and business sense at the time. I was in a town for a week or two at a time, and it was cheaper to buy a used Cadillac, drive it for the time, and abandon it, than it was to rent a lesser car; and the prestige of driving a Cadillac was huge. I had insurance that covered me no matter what I drove."
Of course David also had "Deducktable," his vernarable motor home with his picture on the back and the CEN-TA logo and information on the sides. During family vacations this vehicle brought in enough inquiries from new cross-border tax clients that it more than paid for itself and all the
trouble fun that David had keeping it running.
David loved his vehicles and had great hopes of turning the CitroŽn Maserati in his front yard into an electric vehicle. He also had one of only a small number of Jaguar coupes that had been cut down in back into a utility wagon, a full-size Hearse, several motorcycles and more. All but the motorcycles were purchased with the intention of turning them into marketing vehicles for his business and when in public were decked out with his combined Canada-US flags and company signs.
I'm going to miss seeing him in his red Cadilac coming down the street to one of the many seminars and trade shows we attended together.
Richard C. Pitt