Man transforms minivan into solar-powered office after layoff

Robert Mah is on a grateful journey that began after becoming a casualty of a major downsizing at work.

“You feel like you’ve been rejected,” Robert says. “Like you’re useless.”

He was also his family’s sole breadwinner, with three young kids.

“I had to make money.”

So Robert invested his severance in equipment for a basement office. While he began earning contracts, he started dreaming of a way to escape the confines of what he called “The Cave.”

“I always wanted to buy that old beater van and get it all set up,” Robert smiles. “So you can go cross-country and enjoy life.”

Robert started realizing that dream after noticing a solar panel on sale at his local hardware store. He figured it could power small appliances, like a microwave, hotplate and cooler.

After he attached the solar panel to the roof of his vehicle and hooked up the appliances, Robert began designing and building modular furniture that could fit inside the van, transforming from a bed and storage containers into chairs and tables.

“It’s like a little RV in the back of my minivan,” Robert smiles.

Once it was fully equipped to take a big trip, Robert and his wife hit the road. They drove from Ottawa to Victoria, fuelled by a post-layoff positivity.

“If you have a frame of mind that this is the worst thing that’s ever going to happen to me, that it’s going to get worse and worse, then that’s going to happen,” Robert says. “But if you think, how can I make a benefit from it? How can I turn it better?”

If you think like Robert did, you also furnish your mini-RV with a mobile office, including two computer screens, so you can keep working along your trip.

“You can connect to any machine anywhere in the world,” Robert says. “So why do I need to be inside a factory to control it?”

So why not do what he’s doing now? Why not operate manufacturing equipment in Ontario while parked beside the ocean in B.C.?

“Surprisingly my main contract right now is the company that laid me off,” Robert laughs.

Although it felt like one of the worst moments of his life back then, Robert is grateful it inspired some of the greatest moments of his life ever since.

“It was like the best thing to happen!”