They Don’t Call Him ‘Mr. Hamilton’ for Nothing
By Heather Romito
For most people who know Ron Foxcroft, it wouldn’t surprise them to learn that he began his entrepreneurial pursuits in high school. However, it might surprise them to learn that he was expelled for those pursuits.
Today, Foxcroft is a globally known inventor and owner of Fox 40 International. He also owns the successful Hamilton, Ontario-based logistics company, Fluke Transportation Group, with the famous slogan “If It’s On Time……It’s A Fluke”. He is also the proud recipient of a high school diploma from the very institution that expelled him. The diploma was granted to him on June 26, 2013 – 50 years from the date of his expulsion – and he still stays in touch with fellow members of that year’s graduating class.
Buying Fluke was no fluke
Foxcroft is thankful for the diploma, but even more so for the expulsion, which caused him to worry so much about his employability that he decided to become his own boss. He recalls his parents telling him that he “didn’t have to be the smartest guy, just the hardest working”. He took that to heart, and with a loan from a friend, he purchased Fluke Transportation in 1983. In 2020, Fluke celebrated their 100th year in Hamilton and was named Carrier of the Year by both Proctor and Gamble and Coca-Cola.
And while Fluke has become a well-reputed logistics company throughout Southern Ontario, it was his astonishing, long-time basketball refereeing career and resulting pea-less whistle invention that really thrust Foxcroft into the international spotlight. He began his refereeing career to help pay the household bills, and he ended up being the first Canadian to referee for NCAA Division 1 Basketball, including Michael Jordan’s first college game. He also refereed for the Olympic gold medal basketball game in 1976. In 2003, he began working for the NBA, and to this day, he serves as court-side administrator (i.e. the best seat in the house) at all the games.
All that time spent on the court led to Foxcroft’s next success story. After one too many missed calls due to pea-whistle malfunctions, he decided he would design a whistle that couldn’t fail. Soon after, the pea-less Fox 40 whistle was born, and in 1987, Fox 40 International was incorporated. Foxcroft’s whistle is now used by most major sporting leagues around the world and is sold in 140 countries. Foxcroft is very proud of the homegrown business and its continued roots in Hamilton. “We only manufacture our whistles – 12 models and 200 products – in Canada, right here in Hamilton.”
For the past ten years, Fox 40 International has supported the Pink Whistle Campaign. The campaign was created by Donnie Eppley of IAABO and Juliana Child, Vice President at Fox 40 who has been with the company for 27 years. In its ten years, the Campaign has raised millions for the American Cancer Society and NCAA Basketball.
Sharing the spotlight with his city
No matter where his numerous careers have taken him, Foxcroft always remembers where he came from and makes sure the City of Hamilton shares the spotlight with him. When the story of him being the first Canadian NCAA referee broke, followed closely by his ground-breaking whistle invention, he became something of a media darling. Any time he was approached by media representatives for an interview, he took the opportunity to promote the City, the Hamilton Tiger Cats football team, the Hamilton Bulldogs hockey team, etc. It was the media that bestowed upon him the moniker of “Mr. Hamilton”.
Over the years, Hamilton has certainly benefited from Foxcroft’s dedication to its growth and development. As the current Chair of the Board at John C. Munro Hamilton International Airport (HIA), he was instrumental in bringing Amazon’s new fulfillment centre onto airport property. The 855,000 square-foot fulfillment centre is scheduled to open in 2021 and is estimated to bring more than 1,500 new jobs to Hamilton. But the always-humble Foxcroft, refuses to take more credit than he feels he is due.
“I want to give the City of Hamilton and Panattoni Development Company all the credit for that. Five years ago, Hamilton put in the bid for Amazon’s second worldwide headquarters. We knew we weren’t going to get it, but there was a section built into that bid that stated that Hamilton and the Hamilton International Airport area would be an excellent fulfillment or distribution centre someday for Amazon. The credit goes to the City for their vision with that bid and to the developer for their negotiating skills with Amazon.”
Staying humble means hard work and teamwork
Foxcroft’s humility is rather remarkable given his many accolades. His involvement and contributions throughout the Cities of Hamilton and Burlington have led to him being named Citizen of the Year in both municipalities. He also received an Honourary Doctorate of Laws from McMaster University in Hamilton and the Queen’s Diamond Jubilee Medal. He’s been inducted into the Canadian Basketball Hall of Fame and the Hamilton and Burlington Sports Hall of Fame, and he was named one of ten Entrepreneurs of the Decade by Profit Magazine. Not bad for a ‘high school dropout’.
Foxcroft attributes all of his success to his team. “All of the awards I’ve won are not for me. They are for the team because I couldn’t have won or been named to any one of these awards without my team.”
Of all the honours he has received of late, Foxcroft was most taken aback by being named to the Order of Canada in 2018. In fact, he was certain he was being pranked by one of his sports buddies. It took an official email from the Governor General’s office to convince him otherwise. Foxcroft says, “When I got the email, I realized maybe it wasn’t a prank. I didn’t think I measured up to the previous award winners who were successful in medicine, engineering, world affairs. But I guess I did.”
With an average workweek of 80-100 hours, the 75-year old Foxcroft doesn’t have a lot of spare time on his hands. However, he has solved the problem of finding time for family by bringing them all into the business. Foxcroft’s wife has worked for Fluke from the very beginning and still works there in Finance and Administration, and his son Steve is Fluke’s Senior Vice President and Assistant General Manager. His son Dave is the President of Fox 40 and his other son Ronnie is in Sales, Marketing and Product Development for the company. He sees them all, every day.
And he has no plans of quitting any time soon. When asked about thoughts of retirement, Foxcroft said, “Oh, never. That scares me to death. I have too much to accomplish. I want to watch my people achieve. And I need to learn more about technology and become a better writer.”