Best Managed Companies 2021

Mikisew Group of Companies

This Indigenous-owned oil sands venture is making history

Thirty years ago, when Mikisew Group of Companies began providing industrial services to companies working in the Alberta oil sands, the goal was to generate employment for members of the Mikisew Cree First Nation (MCFN). At first, fewer than 10 workers performed janitorial tasks for Syncrude Canada; a little later, dozens more maintained the roads and grounds.

Mikisew Group expanded its services throughout the ’90s: equipment operation, mechanical repair, construction. It started working with more companies, like Suncor, Husky and Enbridge. It even struck up majority-owned partnerships with the goal of undertaking ventures specializing in everything from aircraft management to environmental monitoring to emergency response. Today, Mikisew Group is a major employer, providing roughly $9.5 million in wages for MCFN members between April 2020 and March 2021.

That growth has been propelled by a few big swings in recent years. In November 2017, the Mikisew Cree and Fort McKay First Nations together raised $500 million to buy Suncor’s East Tank Farm development, which includes blending and cooling facilities, crude-oil storage and connections to third-party pipelines. “To our knowledge, it is the largest First Nation investment in Canadian history,” says Edward Courtoreille, CEO of Mikisew Group, which as the economic development arm of MCFN holds a 15 per cent interest in the project. “The investment also set the table for a lot of First Nations investments to occur since.” This past September, for example, six Alberta First Nations acquired an equity stake in a new natural-gas power plant; two months after that, a group from the Mi’kmaq First Nations purchased Clearwater, Atlantic Canada’s largest seafood firm.

And in May 2019, Mikisew Group finalized its own acquisition of Guthrie Mechanical Services. “It’s like David acquiring Goliath — Guthrie was one and a half times our size,” says Courtoreille, who has been with the company for 13 years. Guthrie is the third wholly owned business in Mikisew Group’s arsenal, in addition to its 10 majority-owned partnerships, together providing employment for just over 2,000 people. One-third of the workforce of Mikisew’s wholly owned businesses is Indigenous.

“We strive to be a well-run and effective organization that happens to be an Indigenous-owned company, not the other way around,” says Courtoreille.

Still, he adds, “the reason we exist is to generate profits that flow back into the Mikisew Cree First Nation to fund its infrastructure requirements, education requirements and health and welfare and to decrease the reliance on government support and funding.” That’s why Mikisew Group takes the long view when it comes to business, signing multi-year contracts and investing in developments like East Tank Farm, which will provide stable cash flow for the MCFN for the next quarter century. In fact, with more than 35 active long-term contracts, the company can expect significant future revenues — enhancing social programs, schooling, development and training for generations to come.