Heroes of the pandemic: How one man’s obsession with painted drywall helped the COVID-19 fight

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Anybody who has known Dave Caputo for any length of time will have heard “The Rant,” an exquisite, well-formulated and not infrequently voiced diatribe against painted drywall. Caputo, by his own reckoning, has hated painted drywall ever since he was a child.

“When I would walk into a room as a kid I would see every nail-pop, every miss-painted corner, every corner bead that had been misplaced,” he says. “So I have this rant about the inferiority of painted drywall, and I had this idea of wanting to create a company for replacing painted drywall.”

Anybody who has known Caputo, for anything length of time, also knows about him and his ideas for creating companies. In the technology start-up hub of Waterloo, Ont., the 52-year-old computer science whiz/big thinker is about as close as it gets to being a celebrity, not that he’d ever tell you that. Caputo sold his first company, PixStream, for over half a billion dollars 20 years ago. A California-based private equity firm bought his latest company, Sandvine, a network equipment provider similar to the Nortel of old, for another half-billion in 2017.

It seems so obvious in retrospect

“Essentially, I went from working four days — in a day — as president and CEO of Sandvine, to four days of work a year,” Caputo says. Meaning he had lots of time to think about his first obsession — painted drywall — and his next move, which ultimately involved buying into MSW Plastics, a company based in Palmerston, Ont., renowned in agricultural circles for manufacturing panels hog farmers use to separate pigs and safeguard their herds from African swine flu outbreaks.

Caputo’s plan was to repurpose the company, rename it “Trusscore,” grab the reins as CEO and live out his dream of producing a recyclable, easy to install, durable, modular, green-alternative to painted drywall. His first day on the job was the company’s Christmas party, where he met 40 or so employees and spelled out his vision, a grand scheme that, like so many others, did not foresee the COVID-19 pandemic or the end of life as humanity once knew it.

Caputo called for a “pandemic response” meeting at the plant in Palmerston about three weeks ago, a crisis management spit-balling session, at the outset, which was concerned with drawing up plans to work remotely and possibly shuttering the plant. Plans changed abruptly, however, when one of Caputo’s colleagues mentioned that were his son to break his arm they would rather Google — “how to fix a broken arm” — and use duct tape to fix it, than sit in an emergency department waiting room for fear of the virus.