Best Managed Companies

The Inland Group of Companies

A change in viewpoint can reveal a great idea

Inland offers 360-degree service by spraying down planes and recycling the used de-icer (Photograph by Aaron McKenzie Fraser)

The Inland Group doesn’t look the same as it did in its early days—it has morphed a lot over the three decades it has been around. It started in 1983 as a company that collected used engine oil for fuel in industrial laundries; then, in the early 1990s, it expanded to begin collecting used de-icing fluid from airports, and recycling it to be used again.

It was a good decision, says CEO Roger Langille. “Within three years, that [service] grew to be more than 50 per cent of our business.” And it was followed by other strategic choices about which industries to pursue—and which to leave behind.

As part of this change in direction, the Nova Scotia-based company invested in research and development to make that possible—and even chose to start manufacturing the trucks and distillers that were required. Then, during this period of innovation, it noticed that the companies who de-iced the planes were also looking at recycling de-icer, says Langille.

So, he says, “we just looked at it the other way.” Inland acquired aircraft de-icing vehicles and existing de-icing companies, and began to offer 360-degree assistance to customers. The company sprays down the planes, collects the used de-icer from the runways and turns it into recycled de-icing fluid. This is complemented by other runway services as well, such as snow removal. “Providing these turnkey services to our customers—bundling the environmental services and the actual spraying and de-icing—has expanded our business greatly,” says Langille. The company now serves 54 airports around the world, and has de-iced more than half a million airplanes.

To make the recycled de-icer, Inland starts by putting plugs in the drains on the runways. De-icing trucks then spray down the planes, and a large, specially designed vehicle drives around the runway to collect the runoff (picture a Zamboni on steroids). A fan contained on the truck blows air onto the runway at 300 km/h, which lifts off any water and leftover glycol—the main ingredient—which is then vacuumed up into the truck.

Then it’s taken to the recycling system, which filters, boils and separates the glycol, before it’s made into de-icer once again. It’s important to get each step right—ice and snow buildup on planes can affect their lift, add extra weight, and can incapacitate key pieces, like the wing flaps. And because of this possibility, the airlines have high expectations for the process, too. “We have a very good customer base. They’re very demanding, but that’s a good thing,” says Langille.

Its proprietary technology helps with the company’s success, but the real key, Langille says, is the employees. “The main thing that has helped us grow is the support from our customers,” he says. “We are basically a business-to-business operation—service providers to service providers. We are customer-oriented and provide great customer service. Our technology is the tool we use to do that.”

That’s why Langille is focused on training and retaining great employees, who help the company deliver on both great customer care and the precise technical requirements, he says. “We like to empower our people, to make sure they have the resources and the tools to do the very best job they can, and we let them do it, instead of micromanaging,” he explains.

The recycled de-icer that Inland produces is a win-win, because it’s less expensive, and helps the environment as well. It is nationally prohibited to spray glycol without a proper plan to contain the runoff (this is the case in many American jurisdictions as well). If the chemical ends up in streams or rivers, it can use up some of the oxygen supply in the waterways, potentially harming the fish and plants in the area. “It’s extremely regulated, and there are rigid requirements for what we do,” says Langille.

Every year, Inland treats tens of millions of litres of wastewater that contain glycol, keeping it out of local waterways. Offering a way to avoid glycol runoff decades ago was another key to the company’s growth, says Langille. “When environmental awareness grew in the early ’90s, we were at the forefront.”

That vision has helped propel Inland toward expansion and continued growth, says Langille. “Being in the position to take advantage of a developing market was critical to the growth of the company . . . It’s thanks to our ability to see where the growth is—that vision.”

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