Almost all successful entrepreneurs experience challenges. Some may experience trouble finding their career path before ultimately deciding to become an entrepreneur, while others may fail at many ventures time after time before finally finding success. While most successful businessmen may experience challenges in one way or another, it would be hard to find one who has faced and risen above those challenges like Frank O’Dea. Frank O’Dea was born in 1945 in Montreal. Growing up in Montreal West, Frank O’Dea first discovered alcohol at the tender age of 13. Reflecting on his early days drinking, O’Dea says to InsideToronto in a 2010 interview, “I didn’t know I was going to be an alcoholic of course, but I loved the taste and the feeling of alcohol and I drank it at every opportunity.”
By the time Frank O’Dea was 18, he was getting into trouble and 2 years later, his father sat a 21-year old Frank O’Dea down and told him for the good of the family, Frank would have to leave. However, his father would not outright throw him out on his own, as he arranged Frank a job in Southwestern Ontario as a salesman in the paint industry. While Frank O’Dea would move to Toronto full of hope, confidence, excitement, and would get off to a good start in his first few months, Frank O’Dea would start drinking again. O’Dea would ultimately lose his job as a paint salesman, and lose the next job and the job after that. It was after this Frank O’Dea would experience the darkest times of his young life. O’Dea would find himself either sleeping on a park bench or a flophouse at night, and panhandling during the day. His daily goal was to earn 99 cents a day panhandling, which was enough to buy him a bottle of wine. While Frank O’Dea was panhandling, a storeowner at College Street and Spadina Avenue took an interest in Frank O’Dea, offering him some work. “I didn’t show up everyday, and sometimes I was there for an hour. If it was nice outside, I’d panhandle outside instead,” Frank O’Dea told InsideToronto. However, 1 day when he was working in the store, O’Dea heard an advertisement on the store radio, which only played 1 station. Frank O’Dea told InsideToronto that while he doesn’t remember what the exact message was, he recalls “the tagline was, if you’re having a problem with alcoholism call us, we’re in the book.” While the advertisement didn’t impact Frank O’Dea right away, he’d later have an awakening moment around Christmas of 1971. Reflecting on this moment in his interview with InsideToronto, Frank O’Dea took responsibility for his life saying, “for the first moment in my life, I could see I had to do something about this. It wasn’t bad luck; it wasn’t bad employers. Once Frank O’Dea realized it was his lifestyle that was the cause of his problem, he gave up drinking and began the road to recovery. However, the beginning of that journey was not easy.
Reflecting on this time period in his interview with InsideToronto, Frank O’Dea recalls that time being a struggle as well. “For the first 6 months I was completely unemployable. I couldn’t just go get a job, my synapses just didn’t work that way.” Frank O’Dea would turn to a self help group, and after being turned down by many places as he had a resume that mainly consisted of panhandling, he finally found an employer that was willing to give him a shot. From there on in, things would drastically improve for Frank O’Dea. By 1974, 3 years after deciding to get sober, Frank O’Dea had landed himself a good job selling construction equipment. However, it was volunteering for a political campaign where he’d meet another volunteer named Tom Culligan. They developed a friendship and had instant chemistry working on the campaign together. Frank O’Dea and Tom Culligan would subsequently form a business partnership together, co-founding the coffee chain Second Cup. Like many business relationships, Frank O’Dea and Tom Culligan began to have different opinions regarding their newly founded business. “We started to fight,” Frank O’Dea explained to InsideToronto. In explaining his decision to let Tom Culligan buy him out and leaving Second Cup behind, Frank O’Dea stated he was experiencing resentment and he needed peace from the situation. It would have been easy for Frank O’Dea to turn back to drinking, however he would channel his emotions in a much more healthy way this time around, ending up at a Jesuit retreat. During this time, Frank O’Dea told InsideToronto he realized he’d come a long way, as he now had “self-respect, a job, a family, and friends…and far more than I could have even thought of.” After his initial Second Cup venture, Frank O’Dea would be involved in the creation and management of several other businesses and charitable ventures.
In 1986, Frank O’Dea would be heavily involved in the founding of Proshred Security, a document shredding service. Today, Proshred is an international business, with operations in Canada, USA and throughout Europe. Frank O’Dea also had a hand in the founding of Samaritan Air Service, an air ambulance service, in 1989. In the non-profit sector, Frank O’Dea would also make a huge impact, becoming a founding president of the Renascent Treatment House, a drug and alcohol rehabilitation centre. In 1988, Frank O’Dea would found, alongside Peter Dalglish of Street Kids International, whose main objective is for kids who grow up on the street to lead better and safer lives. Initially founded as a Canadian charity, Street Kids International has since expanded its operations into many foreign countries. In addition to Renascent Treatment Centre and Street Kids International, Frank O’Dea was also instrumental in the 1999 creation of the Canadian Landmine Foundation, whose main objective is to “raise awareness and funds to end the human and economic suffering caused by anti-personnel landmines.” Frank O’Dea offers insight into his success in a 2014 interview with DurhamRegion.com. When addressing what keeps him going as opposed to stopping with his early success with Second Cup, Frank O’Dea told DurhamRegion,com “I’m all about big ideas. The Second Cup was a big idea and let me tell you, Proshred was even bigger. We took that across Canada, into the United States and even into Europe. It was big, and same thing with the Canadian Landmine Foundation, that was big. That was worldwide.” Frank O’Dea concluded, “I like big ideas. That’s what keeps me going. Being a founder of several ventures isn’t easy, and when Frank O’Dea is feeling the pressure, he reminds himself how his life once was. “I didn’t have much on the streets”, Frank O’Dea told InsideDurham. As a matter of fact, all I had were the clothes on my back and sometimes hardly any of those. I got through that with help from people, of course, people like the folks at the Fred Victor (Centre), I got through all of that. So when I run into tough times now, whether it’s in my personal life or my business life, all I have to do is look back at those times.
Frank O’Dea has also become a sought after public speaker, doing speeches for several organizations throughout Canada and beyond. “I really enjoy speaking to small and medium businesses across this country” Frank O’Dea told DurhamRegion.com. “There are so many of them doing such a wonderful job and I love sharing my experiences with them.” In addition, Frank O’Dea has also published two books. The first one, titled When All You Have is Hope, came out in 2007 while the second one, Do The Next Right Thing: Surviving Life’s Crises, was released in 2013. Frank O’Dea has also received several awards and honors over the years. These include the 1991 Ontario Volunteer Award, given the designation as a Life Board Member for the Renascent Treatment Foundation in 2005, and receiving two honorary Doctorate of Law Degrees, one from Royal Roads University in 2005 and the other from Carleton University in 2007. In 2004, Frank O’Dea was named an Officer of the Order of Canada. “Frank O’Dea is a champion in bringing additions awareness, issues and recovery to the forefront”, said Michael Dean, manager of addition services at Toronto’s St. Joseph’s Health Centre. “His message is about new life, and that recovery is possible.”
Written By: Chris Cunneen