U-Haul Pioneer Bobbie Swithenbank

In 1955, U-Haul expanded its operations to Canada, opening dealers in Québec, Ontario, Manitoba, Alberta and British Columbia, making U-Haul an international company. As U-Haul celebrates 60 years of doing business in Canada, we turn the spotlight on Bobbie Swithenbank, who was one of the most influential Canadian team member pioneers.

Bobbie Swithenbank-1989 retirement article
Bobbie Swithenbank

Bobbie Swithenbank joined U-Haul Company of Canada in 1966, but her work for the Company actually started a couple years before. She worked at a stationery store and had a lot of dealings with the marketing company president (MCP) of U-Haul Company of Canada, Wayne Boyko, doing dealer bulletins, letters and other mailings for him.

“When the bills became more than a person’s pay, he asked me to go and work for him,” Swithenbank said years later.

At the time, the marketing company consisted of Swithenbank, Boyko, two area field managers and a repair shop with a few technicians. Boyko traveled extensively as he worked to open new dealers in Canada, so while Swithenbank’s first official title was office manager, she basically ran U-Haul Company of Canada’s daily operations.

“I didn’t know the business, but I sure learned on the fly,” Swithenbank wrote in a journal shared by her family. “All of the phone calls came into our office, and I had to have an answer to all of the questions.”

As the U-Haul Dealer network in Canada grew, Swithenbank took on more responsibilities, including dealing with provincial governments on licensing and other issues. These duties required a lot of traveling throughout Canada, as well as trips to U-Haul headquarters in Phoenix once or twice a year, and Swithenbank loved it.

A proper title

Bobbie Swithenbank
Swithenbank’s legacy continues to be felt today, even though she retired in 1989.

In 1985, Swithenbank was officially given the title of president of U-Haul Company of Canada. U-Haul co-founder L.S. “Sam” Shoen told her she had been doing the work of the president, so it was time she had the title. Swithenbank said that was one of her career highlights. Another was receiving the Hap Carty E&E Award, the most prestigious award given by U-Haul.

Among those who worked closely with Swithenbank over the years was Pat Crahan, now-retired vice president of U-Haul Government Relations.

“Bobbie was a charming, competent person who contributed greatly to the success of U-Haul in Canada,” Crahan declared. “She was very knowledgeable of the laws and rules in Canada and was a great asset to me in my dealings with the Canadian government. She had a great sense of humor and was a pleasure to work with.”

“Working with Bobbie and learning from her knowledge and guidance of the licensing and government relations aspects of our business contributed greatly to my career with U-Haul,” added Kathleen Harrison, Repwest claims manager for Canada. “She was a mentor whose contributions to U-Haul Company of Canada made a difference in the development of who we are today. Bobbie was a loyal, thoughtful and kind person who was dedicated to her family and her U-Haul family. She was Canada’s Mrs. U-Haul.”

Swithenbank retired from U-Haul in 1989. In her U-Haul News retirement article, then-Vice President of U-Haul Human Resources Dick Renckly said, “Bobbie is one of the most cooperative and effective people I know. She’s very capable and very well-liked. And that’s not only as a businesswoman, but since she’s such a pleasant person.”

Bobbie Swithenbank in Camp X uniform
During World War II, Swithenbank was stationed at Camp X, Canada’s top-secret espionage training base.

Camp X

Before her U-Haul career, Swithenbank served in Canada’s military, joining at age 18 in the middle of World War II. She was stationed at Camp X, Canada’s top-secret espionage training base in Ontario. Camp X was where spies from the U.S. and other countries were trained, eventually leading to the creation of the CIA. Swithenbank learned to decipher messages from spies behind enemy lines and was promoted to the rank of Corporal.

Bobbie Swithenbank passed away in December 2012. Even though she retired more than 25 years ago, her legacy is still felt throughout U-Haul Company—in Canada and elsewhere.

Do you know anyone who left a similar mark on their workplace? Tell us about them in the comments section below.

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