Tim Hortons franchisee leads by example

Angus McPhail
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Says hiring people with disabilities can be good for a company’s bottom line

When Mark Wafer bought his first Tim Hortons restaurant, he knew it wasn’t going to be easy. After working his way up the ladder in a company’s automotive section, however, he was ready for a new challenge.

“An opportunity came along to buy a Tim Hortons 20 years ago,” Wafer said.

“And hey, in Canada, it’s the Canadian dream, right?”

It wasn’t easy at first. Wafer was working seven days and more than 70 hours a week. He knew he needed another employee.

That’s when Clint Sparling walked in the door. Sparling has Down syndrome. Two things struck Wafer when Sparling came looking for a job.

“When Clint walked through the door and I realized he had Down syndrome, I was kind of intrigued by the fact that he just walked in by himself,” Wafer said. “But I also knew that if I turned him down he was not going to find a job elsewhere.”

Wafer knew the challenges people with disabilities can face.

With only 20 per cent hearing since birth, Wafer has never had trouble finding jobs, but keeping them, he said, was another issue.

“Once they discovered I was deaf, that became the crutch,” Wafer said. “Everybody else was allowed to make a mistake in the workforce, but if Wafer made a mistake, the deaf guy, then it’s the disability, so get rid of him.”

So Wafer took Sparling on as his first employee. It wasn’t easy at first, and Wafer didn’t even know how he was going to train him, as he was working so many hours as a manager. But with the help of Community Living Toronto, Wafer said, Sparling went on to become one of his best employees.

Today, Sparling is still part of Wafer’s team, and he owns a condo and is married. Wafer said his confidence has grown so much that when the two of them were doing a news conference, Sparling waited until every camera was turned on before he turned to his boss and told him something.

“I need a raise,” he said to Wafer.

Wafer said the time to act is now, and employers must start hiring people with disabilities, or the looming labour shortage won’t be fixed.

“If we look at the unemployment rate for people with disabilities in Newfoundland, it’s no different than anywhere else in the country. It’s still 70 per cent,” Wafer said. “We have a whole community of people with disabilities who have the skill set and are just looking for the opportunity.”

Wafer said the numbers show benefits to hiring people with disabilities. He now has 40 people with disabilities on his workforce, and he said their numbers of sick days are often lower, and their productivity is often higher.

“Education and awareness is No. 1,” Wafer said. “If we can get 200-300 business owners in a room and we talk to them about how being an inclusive employer affects your bottom line in a positive way, then they will listen, especially if the message comes from another business owner.”



Organizations: Tim Hortons, Community Living Toronto

Geographic location: Newfoundland

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Recent comments

  • gord
    November 02, 2013 - 00:01

    Yawn! Where's that driver with my Mercedes?

  • cheri lee
    November 01, 2013 - 19:30

    nice story...even better message. I am curious to know how many of his employess with disabilities work without a co-worker (a co-worker is an assistant paid for by the Community Living program or other subsidy).

  • Resourcesful Resource
    November 01, 2013 - 11:51

    Great Story! So few people, individually or collectively ever manage to break the Dicken's (Oliver Twist) syndrome - "...please sir, may I have some more?....". However, many times such authors are well meaning, but the message comes across as "....why some of my best friends are disabled!!....". They unwittingly segregate the very people they wish to include. A complete personality/talent/aptitude may include dozens or hundreds of attributes. The visual or functional traits may be only the visual or superficial ones. In this example, don't forget that some people - however "normal" - just can't do retail!! The speed and people contact stresses them out! A radio talk host/ hockey coach recently lamented that often the less skilled (minor) hockey players DON'T want to be treated as equal as the stars. They don't want to let the team down on those big OT faceoffs. Not everybody is academic. The less academic want to be included socially in the school but don't want to impede their friends - the class geniuses! [IMHO] It is very difficult for one to determine what is the best for oneself, much less another person. Very easy to get sidetracked when trying to help a person that society, school, employers, parents, church etc. [ and they often certainly do] mostly end up with some good PR for themselves. What do the children think? What were their dreams? Whatever mind and brain are, humans are driven by their heart - for better or worse!

  • Lori Savory
    November 01, 2013 - 11:32

    As the parent of a young person with a disability, I applaud Mark Wafer for speaking to this issue. I have had not only the privilege of raising a child with a disability, but having contact with many individuals who would be considered 'disabled'. Just like the population as a whole, they have abilities, aspirations and hopes for a full life. I plan to encourage and support my daughter to pursue a career when she graduates high school, and I am hoping that Mr. Wafer's speech will have worked to change minds and attitudes by the time she is looking for work. Employers who only see the barriers and inconveniences will have missed the opportunity to have employees who are determined, who think beyond the conventional and who inspire others.

  • david
    November 01, 2013 - 10:24

    Notwithstanding that this man may indeed be a really great guy, I don't know....calling Tim Horton's the Canadian dream is more than a little damning of an indictment of this country, and quite an accurate characterization of the even more destitute state of affirs in "booming" Newfoundandland. To aspire to work for a corporation -- yes, supplying the capital for the privilege of WORKING for them ---so that you can watch the citizens of your local community make themselves poor and fat while the majority of the profit is siphoned off to Head Office in Ontario. And in Newfoundland, this 'calling' makes one a "titan of entrepreneurship", as we have absolutely no successful ventures but this 'king' of fast food and Irving gas stations. But rejoice! There are some disabled people on staff, so god bless Tim Hortons! Let the paper coffee cups rain over the land like confetti of a ticker tape parade!