You could say that Doug Dreher’s business outlook is inflated, which is exactly the way he wants it to be. As General Manager of the Pioneer Balloon Company – an international manufacturer and distributor of high-quality balloons – his lofty goals tend to come with the territory.  

Things have changed considerably from the days when Dreher was a high school dropout working the factory floor at the Otis Elevator Company in Hamilton. With aspirations of being an accountant, he made the choice to go back to school, finishing his high school diploma at the age of 20. His next stop was McMaster University. 

“I only attended one year at McMaster,” says Dreher with a chuckle. “The campus was so disorganized, you practically had to park in Dundas and walk back to Hamilton. And I didn’t see eye-to-eye with the professors.” 

Still in search of his niche, Dreher underwent a battery of aptitude and personality assessments at Mohawk, which revealed that indeed, accounting was the field that suited him best. So at the age of 26, he embarked on a three-year course of study at Mohawk College to be a tax accountant, specializing in finance. Still working full time at Otis Elevator by day, he completed his required 36 credits entirely at night school. He was the third Mohawk business graduate to earn his diploma this way, and did it in the same amount of time he would have attending day school. It was 1976. 

“The academic training at Mohawk allowed me to absorb the on-the-job training.” 

Halfway through his second year of study, Dreher was promoted to the accounting department of the Otis Elevator Company.  

“The academic training at Mohawk allowed me to absorb the on-the-job training,” Dreher reflects. “The cost accounting systems (at Otis) were very defined. It would have been very difficult for a person to absorb them coming out of Grade 13.” 

Backed by his education and work experience, it didn’t take long for Dreher to start building his accounting career. 

“I applied to the Pioneer Balloon Company. They had heard about Mohawk, but initially were after an accounting designation. Fortunately, the fellow who interviewed me had a bad experience with a designated accountant, who knew plenty of theory, but wasn’t very practical. So the interviewer fought upper management to hire me, and won.” 

And so began Dreher’s life as a balloon man. Just one year after he moved to Pioneer, the U.S. and Canadian arms of the organization were rolled into one. The upper management at Pioneer searched in vain for a candidate to be their director of finance, finally discarding their pile of applications and hiring Dreher for the job, based largely on his Mohawk training.  

Just 18 months later, Dreher was promoted to the position of General Manager – unwillingly, at first. When the CEO arrived in his office to share the news, Dreher thanked him, but turned him down cold, feeling he wasn’t well suited to the job. When the CEO returned, Dreher turned him down a second time. The CEO finally sent his “henchmen,” as Dreher calls them, who convinced him to take the job. Again, he credits Mohawk for the well-rounded education that allowed him to make a rapid ascent up the corporate ladder. 

“If a person came in with a CGA (Chartered General Accountant designation) only, they wouldn’t have any exposure to marketing and Human Resources. At Mohawk, other courses offered along with Finance gave significant exposure to marketing and sales. Business is a three-legged stool, supported by manufacturing, marketing and sales. If one of those elements is missing, it can’t stand up.” 

To this day, 61-year-old Dreher remembers the “top-notch” instructors he met at Mohawk, naming Paul Jaggard and John Sedgwick among the best. 

“The teachers made accounting interesting,” says Dreher, lighting up as he talks about the experience. “Their class of instruction was the best because it came from the industry. Most of the instructors taught part time, bringing their industry experience and academics to the classroom. I’m doing the job I have now because my education at Mohawk was diversified.” 

And though his life has changed considerably from the time he graduated – Dreher has celebrated 32 years of marriage with his wife and has a 20-year-old son attending Wilfrid Laurier University – he has kept in touch with his old stomping grounds. Dreher has completed half a dozen additional courses through Mohawk to keep himself up to date on such issues as customs and exporting regulations. He has regularly used the campus Pro Corp Centre as a training facility for his fellow Pioneer Balloon employees, and has brought in Mohawk’s Human Resources team to train the Pioneer workforce on the job. 

“I’m connected to Mohawk at the hip,” he laughs. 

Given the scope of the Pioneer Balloon Company, the training boost from Mohawk has been a welcome asset. This international latex manufacturer prides itself on an 80-year reputation promoted to the position of General Manager – unwillingly, at first. When the CEO arrived in his office to share the news, Dreher thanked him, but turned him down cold, feeling he wasn’t well suited to the job. When the CEO returned, Dreher turned him down a second time. The CEO finally sent his “henchmen,” as Dreher calls them, who convinced him to take the job. Again, he credits Mohawk for the well-rounded education that allowed him to make a rapid ascent up the corporate ladder. 

“If a person came in with a CGA (Chartered General Accountant designation) only, they wouldn’t have any exposure to marketing and Human Resources. At Mohawk, other courses offered along with Finance gave significant exposure to marketing and sales. Business is a three-legged stool, supported by manufacturing, marketing and sales. If one of those elements is missing, it can’t stand up.” 

To this day, 61-year-old Dreher remembers the “top-notch” instructors he met at Mohawk, naming Paul Jaggard and John Sedgwick among the best. 

“The teachers made accounting interesting,” says Dreher, lighting up as he talks about the experience. “Their class of instruction was the best because it came from the industry. Most of the instructors taught part time, bringing their industry experience and academics to the classroom. I’m doing the job I have now because my education at Mohawk was diversified.” 

And though his life has changed considerably from the time he graduated – Dreher has celebrated 32 years of marriage with his wife and has a 20-year-old son attending Wilfrid Laurier University – he has kept in touch with his old stomping grounds. Dreher has completed half a dozen additional courses through Mohawk to keep himself up to date on such issues as customs and exporting regulations. He has regularly used the campus Pro Corp Centre as a training facility for his fellow Pioneer Balloon employees, and has brought in Mohawk’s Human Resources team to train the Pioneer workforce on the job. 

“I’m connected to Mohawk at the hip,” he laughs. 

Given the scope of the Pioneer Balloon Company, the training boost from Mohawk has been a welcome asset. This international latex manufacturer prides itself on an 80-year reputation as a top-quality balloon supplier, with production facilities in Europe, Japan, Australia and Mexico. The Hamilton facility employs 200 people and is a fully functional company in the sense that it carries out its own manufacturing, printing and distribution departments on site. Balloons are produced 24 hours a day, seven days a week. In Hamilton alone, Pioneer turns out two million latex balloons on a daily basis. 

And through a printing technique developed at the Hamilton factory, a marketing phenomenon known as the “advertising balloon” was born. The inking technique allows balloons to be printed with lettering and logos in up to five colours, and inflates with no distortion. If you’ve ever been to a trade show or even a sale rack at the local mall, you’ve seen the Pioneer Balloon Company’s work in action. 

Dreher admits that although no workplace can be a party all the time, Pioneer does its best to keep up appearances. The office basks perpetually in giddy balloon décor, with staff members grabbing new designs off the manufacturing lines and inflating them just as soon as they appear. When tensions run high, nothing breaks the ice like a game of balloon bounce among the cubicles.  

Dreher’s management style – like his product – leans towards the relaxed. He prefers participative methods in the interest of maintaining employee loyalty and morale. 

“I don’t want people looking over their shoulder, I manage by consensus. We sit in the office, everyone talks and we convince each other. It’s not structured – I don’t believe in the ‘Monday Morning Sales Meeting.’ We don’t have to do that, the communication is very open.” 

Dreher counts his ability to choose outstanding workers among his assets -- a key element when building a team which does its best work in this kind of atmosphere. Throughout the ranks at Pioneer, attitude and integrity count. 

“Never has personal gain gone ahead of the betterment of the people who work for me. Key players are key players because I want them to be, and I truly, genuinely like them all.  

“What gives me the most pleasure in my job is seeing people grow. I have an intuitive sense of the people who have what it takes to excel. Once you’ve found them, you train them with the tools and knowledge they need, and watch them bloom like a flower.” 

Over his career, Dreher has enjoyed seeing the impact his company has made in the world around him. He has seen Pioneer balloons at weddings and funerals, quiet parties and city-wide celebrations. For him, the joys of the job are some of life’s simple pleasures. 

“Think of how a child’s face lights up when they’re handed a balloon, how they laugh and smile and bounce it around. That’s what my work is all about.” 

This story was originally published in Fall 2004 of the Mohawk Alumni In Touch magazine.

More Featured Alumni

Construction Engineering Technician - Building Renovation

Joal Roshko ‘10 grew up helping his dad on projects around the house. Knowing that he enjoyed building and creating, finding a career where he coul

Event Management - Convention & Meeting

Amanda White ‘08 is now committed to broadening the understanding of the Indigenous community at the college.

Advertising

When first-year Mohawk College journalism student, Jillianne King-Goddard, won the prestigious Michael Monty Scholarship from the Ontario Associati