After a long and successful 41-year career at SED/Calian, Terry Rohrke is retiring on February 28, 2022. Terry retires as the Vice President of Test, Aerospace and Defence but when he started, he was in the production department, testing and repairing satellite receivers at the company office at 2414 Koyl Avenue in Saskatoon.
“I had a newly printed Tech diploma, and six job offers available for choosing—none of which were in Saskatoon which was a fundamental requirement at the time,” says Terry. “I reached out to SED with a short resume and no experience. It took a number of calls with the production manager before he finally said, ‘so who are you anyway?’ But my persistence paid off and I started May 4, 1981, at $14,004 per year.”
As you can well imagine, there have been massive changes in Calian since Terry started.
“Just think about how much technology has changed over 40 years,” adds Terry. “Calian has always been on the forefront of using and leading development of state-of-the-art technologies in a number of high-tech areas. When I started, computers existed, but only as large mainframes. There were no PCs, no internet, no email, not even cell phones. But satellite technology was being progressed and SED was involved. And some things haven’t changed. We maintain deep roots in satellite technology, have passionate, caring leaders and staff, and we get to make a difference for our customers and in the world.”
It's remarkable that Terry has been able to keep pace with the rapidly changing technology. In satellite communications, Calian works up to and beyond 40GHz.When Terry started, 4GHz presented significant challenges. In software, considerable automation and intelligence is built into Calian’s existing products and systems. In the 80s, software wasn’t considered a revenue driver. When Terry started, SED had an agriculture products division. That was spun off into Field Technology and eventually sold to Flexicoil. We’ve now come full circle with the acquisition of Intragrain. And Calian wasn’t involved at all in the defence industry. Now, across Calian defence projects provides a significant percentage of our revenue.
“What I admired most about Terry was his tenacity,” says Calian, Advanced Technologies President Patrick Thera, who worked with Terry for 35 years. “There was a time when we didn’t have anyone representing the defence business, so we asked Terry if he’d do it. He studied the business, came up with the approach and then executed it. He’s always been a great team player, he was easy to work with, and he never backed down from a challenge.”
In a career spanning over four decades, Terry has had a lot of memorable moments here.
“An early proud moment for me was when the project I was working on finally completed a two-way voice link through the Anik B satellite. I was instantly hooked on the adrenaline of that success. We later installed this system in the Eagle Plains Hotel on the Dempster Highway in the Yukon tundra right near the Arctic Circle—essentially in the middle of nowhere. It was too far to drive from Whitehorse to Inuvik in one day, so a hotel was built along the gravel highway. We provided a satellite phone and data capability where previous communications were difficult through multiple terrestrial repeaters. We provided Vancouver dial-tone in the Arctic, via satellite. This was before Globalstar, Irridium, VSATS and the internet. They thought we were heroes,” Terry says with a laugh. “Now, we take this capability for granted.”
Another chance meeting has stuck with Terry through the years. “A retired soldier was touring through our Saskatoon facility, and he saw the man-portable surveillance radar that we build for DRS. He said he loved that thing. When I asked him why, he said that when those units were deployed in Afghanistan, he could sleep. We often think about the challenges of building the units, securing the parts, vendor management, profit margins, and how it is a complex, compact C-band pulsed doppler radar. He didn’t care about any of that. He cared that he could sleep without being killed. It reminded me of the importance of why we do what we do. I was proud to be associated with the technology that keeps our war fighters and country safe.”
Terry mentions that continuing with Calian for his career has always been an easy decision. Calian has always been large enough to be on the leading edge of amazing developments, but also small enough that he was able to get involved in an intimate and substantial way. The company has provided many opportunities for Terry to learn and advance his career doing meaningful work with passionate people. And it fills him with pride to see his staff succeeding in their careers at Calian. He recalls waking up in many workplaces in Asia, Africa, Europe and the Middle East thinking “Wow, who gets to do this stuff?”
Terry’s division will soon be led by Russ Beaudin although, according to Patrick, Russ may have to grow a moustache to truly fit the bill.
“Over the past five years, as both a customer and an employee, I have seen first-hand how passionate Terry is about Calian—both the success of the company and the success of his team,” says Russ. “Customers have always been a priority and Terry has made many great relationships throughout his career. Terry has been an excellent mentor to me from both a business development sounding board perspective and in project execution. Terry has a wealth of knowledge and experience which is evident when you see him present to existing or future customers. I will personally miss Terry and wish him all the best in his next, most exciting adventure to date.”
So what will Terry do in his next adventure?
“I’m looking forward to spending more time with family. Perhaps work on a new pilot rating—multi-engine or float flying sounds like fun. I don’t play a musical instrument, so maybe I’ll learn the piano, drums, guitar? My French needs dusting off as well,” he adds. “My wife, Emily and I hope to do more fifth-wheel camping around North America and potentially some travel to Europe and Africa. It was Hemingway who said, ‘Travel doesn't become adventure until you leave yourself behind.’ For me, that means going somewhere interesting and fun without having to work each day.”
Terry said that the decision to retire wasn’t easy, he’ll certainly miss the people and the excitement of leading and succeeding through considerable challenges over the years. But he felt that the time was right to pass the baton to the next generation of passionate leaders at Calian.
“Terry has agreed to stay on as a consultant for a short period to help us transition his knowledge, so I’m ‘cautiously optimistic’ about his retirement,” adds Patrick. “In all honesty, I knew this day would come eventually, but I wish I had him for another 40 years.”