Paul Downey, the CEO and founder of Pliteq, is on a mission to find industrial uses for the world’s billions of scrap tires. His Toronto-based company, which makes products from recycled rubber, revealed in 2018 that it was in the process of securing a patent on a new invention, a rubberized mat that can absorb especially intense vibrations.
The mats are useful for stopping the spread of reverberation from CrossFit or weightlifting gyms. Along with an accompanying floor-engineering system, they would work well in high-rises with workout rooms. But if there’s a different sort of vibration that needs to be reduced—from subways to footsteps—Downey has a product for that, too. He holds seven patents, with more pending, for innovations in this area.
Innovation—along with an internal process to generate new ideas—is the lifeblood of this 13-year-old firm, which has a vast manufacturing and recycling plant in Vaughan, Ont., as well as sales offices across Canada and the U.S., and in London, Dubai and Singapore. The 225-person company sells a dozen proprietary products, including the “GenieClip,” a rubber and steel part used to reduce sound transmission through drywall and ceiling assemblies. Five more products are working through its R & D pipeline. Made from repurposed granulated rubber, most are geared to the construction trade, which requires increasingly sophisticated noise and vibration isolation components for tall residential and office projects. Pliteq has installed its products in more than 11,000 buildings worldwide.
Soon after the company’s founding, Pliteq supplied specialized vibration-mitigation systems for a large liquor store situated in the former Summerhill railway station in midtown Toronto. The heritage building, with 40,000 bottles of liquor in stock, sits atop a rattling subway and is adjacent to a busy freight corridor. Rogue vibration could have had catastrophic consequences.
Downey says his primary management challenge is finding talented engineers and marketers who can create and bring out new products. He knows this story from the inside: in 1990, while still in school, he heard about a calamitous tire fire in Hagersville, Ont., about 50 km southwest of Hamilton, which lasted for weeks and sent plumes of smoke into the atmosphere. Inspired to find a better use for old tires, he pitched National Rubber, then owned by Clairvest, a private equity firm, on a tire recycling operation, which became a platform for some of the earliest post-recycled rubber products. Downey cut his teeth in the product development game at National Rubber before going out on his own.
Besides the traditional recruitment channels, he has hired people he’s met on airplanes and at weddings, as well as through networks of professionals in the rubber and construction sectors. The pitch? Downey insists on giving his product developers plenty of latitude to generate new ideas, as long as they’re working toward specialized or highly engineered components that will command higher margins. He hastens to add that many product ideas don’t make it over all the testing hurdles, which include performance standards increasingly in use in the acoustics sector.
With such a gigantic supply of cheap raw material—the world discards three billion used tires annually—there’s plenty of runway for Pliteq to add to its repertoire. That’s why Downey has sought to create an environment that values creativity and freedom. At heart, Downey is still very much an inventor, despite serving as CEO of a global company. As he puts it: “Why would I build a company that I myself wouldn’t want to work for?”