While many Alberta businesses were feeling the sting of a slowdown in the oilpatch last year, ONEC grew its revenues by 16%, increased its workforce by 45 employees and was ranked among the country’s fastest-growing companies by Canadian Business.
Since 2000, the Edmonton-based business has provided engineering and construction services for industrial projects west of Saskatchewan, such as power stations and water treatment plants. While ONEC wasn’t entirely immune to the negative effects of sliding oil prices, it was able to avoid massive damage through a smart strategy.
It sounds a little “Kumbaya,” but president and CEO Denis Wiart credits the company’s resilience to giving a voice to front-line employees. Twice a year, each department brainstorms ways to make the business better, whether it’s tapping into a new market or fixing a bottleneck. Without any nosy managers in the room, employees are free to nitpick the company’s strengths and weaknesses. Not only does this create a more productive and committed team, but it also provides a stream of new ideas Wiart admits “are some of the best I’ve ever heard.”
Last year, ONEC’s electrical engineers suggested the firm make a big push to do solar power installations, since demand was going up while costs were dropping. The executive team implemented their suggestion, sent employees out for training and even installed a solar roof at the headquarters. The requests began to trickle in. “Solar projects may be our largest number of proposals yet,” says Wiart. “We’re forecasting nothing but good growth.”
The maintenance and shutdowns crew, which does major repair work for a hydrogen production facility and metals refinery in Edmonton, also added to the company’s revenue by spearheading an effort to expand the department’s customer base. As a result, ONEC landed three new clients, including one out of province. “At one point, we had three shutdowns going on at the same time, which was more manpower than we’ve ever had to co-ordinate,” Wiart recalls. But the added logistical headaches were worth it for the major gain—the division now makes up a larger portion of overall revenues.
It’s not a fluke that ONEC’s employees are good at spotting opportunities. The firm has a program that enables employees to do at least one short-term placement with a customer. Everyone from engineers to welders to project managers has taken part in the program, sometimes for months at a time, helping clients in need of temporary workers. After their placements are done, employees return to their regular jobs with new insight into their clients’ inner workings. “It’s just about one of the best ways you can get to know a client,” says Wiart.