Why Canada's Fastest-Growing Company Keeps Innovating in Tough Times

A relentless focus on new ideas helped Western Manufacturing to the #1 spot on the 2015 PROFIT 500

Written by Murad Hemmadi
Lonny Thiessen at Western Manufacturing’s Hythe facility. Photo: Jason Franson

With five-year revenue growth of 25,719%, steel tank and oilfield equipment supplier Western Manufacturing topped the 2015 PROFIT 500 Ranking of Canada’s Fastest-Growing Companies.

That astounding performance owes much to the company’s customer-centric, long-term approach to innovation. “Even today, with the current state of the oil and gas industry, we’re still making significant investments into new technology and different ways of doing things,” says founder and CEO Lonny Thiessen. “In the slow and challenging times, differentiation becomes even more important.”

The company recently rolled out its Whale tank, a large, patent-pending fluid-storage container that saves money in the field. It’s these kinds of safety- and efficiency-boosting products that customers are willing to pay for even as they dial back their capital programs.

The Hythe, Alberta-based firm has been recognized for its supercharged growth before—Western Manufacturing topped the PROFIT HOT 50 Ranking of Canada’s Top New Growth Companies in 2012. At the time, Thiessen credited his startup’s success to outsourcing fabrication to subcontractors. Farming out manufacturing allowed Thiessen to meet customer needs while reducing the risk to his own business.

But Thiessen understood that adaptability was the key to continued success. Western Manufacturing wanted to add product lines that weren’t compatible with an outsourcing model. “They were things that it wasn’t practical for us to subcontract out because our subcontractor network didn’t have that level of certification or in some cases the sheer size of facility and infrastructure that was required,” Thiessen said.So the company acquired and leased facilities to produce those offerings in-house.

Growth comes with its own set of challenges. While the rocketing expansion of the company’s first three years in business was exhilarating, Thiessen admits the company also suffered for it. “There was pain that we felt from the shortcuts that we took—growing with minimal accounting staff and just the sheer workload that we took on,” he says. “We definitely did a less-than-perfect job of it. And some of that stuff came back and bit us in the ass.”

Thiessen has learned from those early mistakes. “We take a bit of a slower path and do our due diligence,” he says. While he still considers Western Manufacturing to be a startup, Thiessen has hired the kinds of employees needed to manage a maturing firm—an experienced accountant, HR staff and a senior advisor. He cites putting together that team as his greatest accomplishment to date. “If I was going to pat myself on the back and take any kind of credit for the success we’ve had to date, it would be for assembling and hiring good people,” he says. “That’s the only way we will continue the success—by rallying people that are much more intelligent and better at what they do than I am.”

Now that he’s diversified his product lines and assembled his team Thiessen—still just 29 years old—has ambitions to expand his customer base. “We want to be bigger than what the oil and gas business is allowing us to be right now, so we are aggressively pursuing other markets,” he says.



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